Members of the wait staff were finishing their own lunch breaks at I Love Sushi when a fat stream of water began shooting toward the window just before 3 p.m. Friday.
“At first it was just a ray of water flowing,” employee Mikalaya Soward said. “It was forceful, but we thought it would quit.”
Instead, rocks started flying towards the window. A handful of customers lunching late jumped up from their tables by the window and ran to the back of the restaurant.
Then, the front glass shattered in the window and door.
When the owner saw what was going on, he yelled to staff to move their cars, according to employee Sudawan Geerdes.
It was too late. The force of the flying rocks and water broke out the windows of cars owned by two fellow employees, Geerdes said.
For a while, construction workers just stood and watched as water and rocks shot up as high as the restaurant’s roof, where the force of the ersatz geyser appeared to have damaged roof tiles, too, the women said.
Within minutes, the floor was covered in muddy water and rocks. The owners opened the door to the restaurant to let some of the muddy water flow out.
A Denton police officer arrived, blocked the street and advised the restaurant crew to stay out of the building.
An hour later, water was still bubbling vigorously out of the ground where a work crew had been preparing to do some utility work.
Instead of shooting in the air, the water flowed down Sunset Street toward the storm sewers at Alice Street.
Inside the restaurant, water dripped from tabletops, water-logged ceiling tiles sagged and shredded Japanese paper lanterns dangled from their wire frames.
While the owner made call after call on his smartphone, Soward and Geerdes stood under an awning of a side door at the restaurant and said they were a little worried about their jobs and making ends meet, since they wouldn’t be making any money for a while.
Surveying the scene and watching their boss on the phone, the two women didn’t expect to be called back to work anytime soon.
City employees responding to the emergency declined to comment, saying they didn’t have enough information about the incident to do so.
Calls to City Hall and the utilities department were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Denton is working with the Texas Department of Transportation and various contractors to widen U.S. Highway 380 through the city and make utility improvements in the area.
Staff photographer David Minton contributed to this report.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.