BENSON — Wild Dogs, a popular Benson restaurant, was destroyed in a fire early Friday morning.

“The fire started sometime around 2 a.m. and we were contacted at 4,” said Scott Badeker, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Gail.

Described by Scott Badeker as a “hot, fast-moving fire that gutted the inside of the restaurant,” the cause is under investigation.

Benson Fire Chief Keith Spangler said the fire department investigated the cause and origin of the blaze, found it to be suspicious, and then contacted Benson PD detectives for further investigation.

“This is a potential criminal investigation,” said Spangler, who added, “I hate to see anyone lose their business. I want to thank Mescal fire, Pomerene fire and Health Care Innovations for assisting.”

The fire’s cause and origin will be announced once detectives complete the investigation.

When the Badekers started Wild Dogs, they operated out of a 24-foot trailer for 7½ years. Two years ago they purchased the building that once housed Rebs Cafe & Coffee Shop at 1020 W. Fourth St.

In July 2018 Wild Dogs was recognized by Money magazine as one of the 10 best places in the country for a hot dog. Known for its Vienna all-beef hot dogs, varied menu, friendly service and roadside charm, Scott said he and Gail strived to create a family-friendly establishment with a fun atmosphere.

“Our goal was to be the place that our customers deserved,” he said. “I feel that we earned every customer and treated every single day like our first day in business, because it could be our last.”

When asked about plans for reopening the business, Badeker said, “It’s too soon to know what we’re going to do. We’re still likcking our wounds. This was a nice little place and I know we’re going to miss it.”

Reopening, Badeker said, is something Gail would have to want as well.

“This business was a team effort and we were equally involved at all levels,” he said.

Including the Badekers, six people are now unemployed as a result of the fire.

Artists Sharon and Doug Quarles also suffered serious losses because of the blaze, as their art gallery was attached to the building.

“A dividing wall between the restaurant and this space we were in actually protected about 60% of our artwork,” Doug Quarles said. “We’re going to have to go through everything and get a better idea of the overall damage, but considering how devastating this fire was, I think we’re pretty lucky.”

The Quarles have decided to walk away from the damaged building and will not be reestablishing a gallery in that same location.

“We’re very sad for Scott and Gail,” Sharon Quarles said. “They had a wonderful restaurant and have lost everything. Wild Dogs was very popular and this is a huge loss to the community.”