Petaluma's Palace of Fruit declared loss after fire from joyriding teens

A landmark family business in the North Bay is a total loss, after a car crash and fire.

Palace of Fruit has been in operation for 62 years at the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Ely Road in Penngrove, outside Petaluma. 

Some joyriding teenagers put an end to that, at least temporarily.

"It's like losing a family member, because it's all I've known my whole life," said Palace of Fruit owner Kenny Eburtus, picking his way through charred tables, still stacked with fruits and vegetables, honey, olive oil and nuts. "My parents opened it in 1958, and I was born two years later and my baby crib was in the office because they took me to work every day." 

Palace of Fruit went up in flames about 3 a.m. last Saturday, when a speeding Infiniti sedan crashed through the building and caught fire. 

"Fire was really blowing out all sides of the building when we got here, so it went up quick," said Capt. Bill Adams of the Rancho Adobe Fire District.

When fire crews arrived, the 19-year-old driver and his thre passengers had already been rescued by CHP officers.

They were nearby because they had tried to pull the car over for driving 90 mph on the 101 freeway moments earlier.

The officers had to break the back window of the Infiniti to extricate the trapped occupants as they yelled for help.

"The highway patrolmen are the real heroes of this, they're the ones who pulled them out, who knows what would have happened if they weren't right there," noted Adams.

But the open air market, so familiar on the Sonoma County roadside, is in ruins.

What isn't burned is smoke-damaged, and the wood structure cannot be saved.  

It is surreal for Ebertus and his wife Gina, his high school sweetheart.  

"It's her history too, and all she says is what are going to do now?," said Ebertus.

I tell her, "we're going to rebuild and we're going to make it, that's what we're going to do."

Already the community is rallying for a rebuild.

A GoFundMe page has already generated almost $28,000 as of Tuesday night.

Many donations are accompanied by comments from generations of shoppers reminiscing about Palace of Fruit.

"It amazes me how much this place has meant to people," said manager Dan Green, who has worked at the store for 23 years.

"I remember my grandma told me back in the 50's, she would drive from Larkspur just to shop here."

Ironically, the aging market has picked up many new customers during the pandemic.

People who found the open-air shopping appealing soon realized it carried more than produce.   

"They say they didn't realize we had beer and wine and milk and groceries, they thought we were just a fruit stand," said Eburtus.

Among the longtime fans: the local fire crews who tried to save the place.

"When we're shopping for dinners at the firehouse, we always stop by the Palace of Fruit, so we're regular customers here," said Adams.

For a few days, people have been stopping by to check on Eburtus and his staff, express dismay, and show support.

"My main thing I say to them is 'we don't roll over, we're coming back,'" said Green.

And for customers who say it will never be the same without the old ambiance, Eburtus plans to salvage his original wood-painted signage to display in a new structure. 

"It just gets me in the chest, to see how much people care, there's a lot of good people in the world," said Eburtus.

As for the teens, two boys and two girls, responsible for such devastation?

"I don't have kids but good thing they aren't mine," said Eburtus.

"I was young once too, but I always had respect for people's property and the repercussions of my actions."

None of the young people suffered major injuries and the driver was booked into jail on felony charges of evading and reckless driving.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU