RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A North Carolina coastal community is heartbroken after a landmark seafood restaurant burned down over the weekend.

Ella’s Restaurant, a staple in the seafood-oriented town of Calabash, had been around for more than 70 years.

It was one of the first in the town that is now famous for its high concentration of restaurants featuring Southern batter-fried seafood known as “Calabash”.

The restaurant was packed with lunch diners when fire officials said the blaze started in the kitchen Saturday.

By the time fire crews arrived at the restaurant a few minutes later, flames were already coming through the roof. Firefighters were forced back by intense heat and flames as they tried to put out the fire, they said.

Smoke drifted throughout the town as many people stood by and watched the landmark go up in flames. One man stood nearby with pictures and photos he managed to get out of the building before the fire got out of control.

Ella’s Restaurant, featuring fresh seafood, dates back to 1950 when Lawrence and Ella High built a one-room restaurant in the Brunswick County town of Calabash, according to the restaurant’s website.

Over the weekend, the granddaughter of the founder wrote about the impact of the fire.

“72 years ago my grandmother ‘Mammy’ opened Ella’s of Calabash and my aunt Sheryl Ann built a thriving business. The tradition has continued through the generations,” Stephanie Graham Lilly wrote on Facebook.

Lilly said the business has helped raise many people in her family.

“I love my family and I’m lifting each one of you up in prayer. My heart’s broken. We don’t just see a building — it’s much more to us,” Lilly added.

Many in the area, that is at the South Carolina line, said they would miss the restaurant.

“That has been a staple of my family’s since the 50s. I hope and pray they are able to rebuild this landmark!!” Pat Causey wrote on Facebook.

“This makes me so sad…Ella’s was my favorite!! Literally the only place I’d go for seafood at the beach,” wrote Suzanne Huskey McLendon of Aiken, South Carolina.

For now, the staff of Ella’s is working at Beck’s Restaurant of Calabash, which is also owned by the same family that owns Ella’s.

Shaun Bellamy, one of the owners of Ella’s, told WECT that they plan to rebuild and reopen the restaurant.

“There’s never been a doubt that we’re rebuilding,” she told the TV station.