MANCHESTER — Ann Marie and Bobby James had just received their dinners while celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary at the Longhorn Steakhouse on South Willow Street.
Before either could lift a fork, though, city police and fire officials abruptly closed the restaurant about 4 p.m. Friday, saying its sprinkler and alarm systems were not working.
"We couldn't even dig in," Ann Marie James said. "As soon as the waitress put our plates on the table, we were told we had to leave."
Hunter Robinson, a spokesman for the restaurant chain, said in a statement that the restaurant "experienced a problem with our fire alarm system today and had some issues trying to resolve it, even with the assistance of the local fire department."
He said the system was repaired later Friday night and that the restaurant would be open today.
"This was a very frustrating day for our Manchester team, who didn't want to disappoint our guests or employees, and we feel badly about the chain of events that occurred. We want to thank the local fire and police departments for their help and patience today," the statement said.
City District Fire Chief Jim Michael said the Fire Prevention Bureau had offered to allow patrons already in the establishment to finish their dinners while a fire truck was parked outside in case of a fire, but a manager refused, saying she wanted to keep the restaurant open for its normal business hours.
"That didn't work out. She didn't want to be shut down," Michael said of the manager. "I guess it was fairly contentious."
Police Sgt. Richard Brennan said no arrests were made.
"They called us because they said the manager was getting out of control," Brennan said. "Officers went there to keep the peace and calm down the manager."
When the manager refused the initial offer, the Fire Prevention Bureau ordered the restaurant closed and asked all patrons to leave, Michael said.
"They can't operate the establishment without a working suppression system," he said.
Reached by phone, Robinson said he wasn't at the restaurant and couldn't comment on the reports of the manager's interaction with officials.
Several cars that pulled up to the restaurant Friday evening drove over to the neighboring T.G.I. Friday's restaurant. Manager Richard Davey said the Friday night dinner rush was up significantly because Longhorn Steakhouse was closed.
"We got a good push when the alarms went off," he said. "It helped us out considerably."