Owner suspects angry customer burned down Floral City restaurant

Burned chairs, twisted metal, and decades of good times have been reduced to a pile at the Sleepy Hollow Restaurant and Bar in Floral City.

"Just a shame that it's... gone," said Jimmy Lee, looking at the burned building

Friday night, Jimmy Lee was DJing at the bar when he spotted smoke.

"I went over and opened the door and the whole wall was engulfed in flames," said Jimmy Lee. "I just shut down the music and was on my mic yelling for everybody to get out the front, that the bar's on fire."

He made sure about 25 people made it out safely. They had only seconds.

"It went up like a matchbook," he said.

"My daughter was coming around the corner," recalled Charles Lee, a regular customer who lives nearby. "She said, ‘Sleepy Hollow is burning down.’ I said, ‘No way.’ I looked outside and you could see the flames from my house."

The owner, Bonita Tholand, tells us that the kitchen shut down an hour before the fire. She believes a customer lit the flame.

"An individual came in with a dog and it was not on a leash and it was jumping up on people," Tholand said. "The bartender asked him to leave. And he got very upset and a lot of profanity, and said that he was going to burn it down. He was angry."

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office says the fire is being investigated as "possible arson," but so far, no arrests have been made.

"It was scary," Jimmy Lee said. "I can't wrap my head around somebody doing that with people inside. Just insane."

Not only is the building gone, but employees lost jobs, Jimmy Lee lost $6,000 in equipment, and hundreds lost a home away from home.

"This is like Cheers," Charles Lee said. "I'm sad 'cause it was a great place. It really was."

Over the weekend, people came from all around to help clear debris.

"They had like five tractors here and everybody cleaned it up. Two days, that's what friends are for," he said.

And, they're determined to help Sleepy Hollow re-awaken.

"We're gonna rebuild. We're gonna bring it back," Tholand said. "It's been there for so many years and it's gonna be stronger than ever."

Since the fire, Tholand said that there's been a massive outpouring of support.

She's set up an account at Brannen Bank in Homossassa for donations. In the meantime, the outdoor portion of Sleepy Hollow will remain open until they can fully rebuild.