A fire broke out in a downtown Charleston gourmet restaurant on Christmas Eve, wiping out plans for Christmas dinner at Anson.

The restaurant at 12 Anson St. is in Charleston's popular Market area. Staffers were preparing for a Christmas dinner when flames ignited in the restaurant's kitchen about noon Tuesday.

Flames were erupting through the roof when Charleston firefighters arrived a few minutes later. Crews determined that a fire in the kitchen had spread, Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said.

The smoke smell was pungent inside the restaurant Tuesday afternoon. A representative of the restaurant's management who was working with fire inspectors declined to comment, saying they were still assessing the damage and had no idea when they might be able to reopen.

Retired pastry chef Julie Thigpen was helping at the restaurant during the busy holiday when the fire broke out.

"Grease caught on fire behind the grill and it shot up through and above our fire system, and it just took the whole back wall of the building," she said.

Thigpen said everyone in the kitchen is trained in emergency safety, so they quickly evacuated the building. The restaurant was not open at the time and no customers were inside, she said.

A group of about 10 employees watched from a nearby parking lot while firefighters battled the flames. Thigpen fought back tears, shocked by the sight.

"I love this restaurant. Everything about it is beautiful," she said. "Seeing this just makes me sad."

Restaurant staff called patrons after the fire, apologizing that the blaze had canceled their reservations.

Alexander Frech, 23, a senior at the College of Charleston, was one of the disappointed patrons.

"We've been going either to Anson or 82 Queen for years, and 82 Queen is closed this Christmas," he said. "We only found Cypress and Magnolia's open, and they're both booked."

Anson opened in 1992, with a style that was both upscale and down home; Southern and continental, according to a 2010 review by The Post and Courier. Anson has stood the test of time in a culinary destination where restaurants can come and go with some frequency.

The stylish atmosphere within the large brick building's walls prompted patrons to sit a bit taller and convey their best manners while enjoying a gourmet meal, Thigpen said.

The restaurant does a brisk holiday business, and a three-course Christmas dinner was planned from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday. When fire crews arrived, flames were coming from an exhaust vent on the roof, Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said. Crews determined that a fire in the kitchen had spread.

Julazadeh reported that the fire was under control shortly after 1 p.m. and that crews remained at the scene searching for hot spots within the building.

Several readers on the newspaper's Facebook page expressed concerns about the carriage horses that are kept in a barn next to the restaurant. The horses were taken for a short walk when the flames broke out and returned to their stalls, a worker in the barn said Tuesday afternoon.

Dave Munday contributed to this report.