COPS are treating a fire which destroyed an Indian restaurant just a few weeks before it was due to reopen as suspicious.
Forty firefighters including crews from Thanet tackled the blaze in the early hours of Saturday at the Lagaan Indian Restaurant in The Street, Ash.
A fire investigation team also attended the scene to search for clues as to its cause.
Restaurant boss Luther Rahman, 43, lives in Cliftonville and owns three other restaurants in Margate, Broadstairs and Minster.
He said: "I was closed for refurbishment. I was repairing a leakage in the bathroom and redecorating the restaurant. I’ve been told that someone was trying to get into my restaurant at the time of the fire. We only closed on January 13 and were due to reopen in early February."
Thora Andrews, 54, lives opposite the restaurant.
She said: "My son came in around 3am and told me that the Indian restaurant was on fire. I looked out of the window and there were huge flames coming out of the roof. The fire engines were already there."
Her daughter Davina Andrews, 30, added: "I watched fire services break into the house next door to get access to the fire because the property next door is joined to the restaurant. They evacuated houses on either side of the restaurant."
Mr Rahman, a well known and much liked restaurateur, along with his two sons were stunned by what happened to their restaurant, which has been open for five years. But the owner said the fire would not affect his plans to develop two properties in the rear car park.
Firemen described the restaurant as severely damaged and structurally unsafe. The cost of repairs is expected to run into be thousands of pounds.
Detective Sergeant Andy Chapman is appealing for anyone who knows anything about the cause of the fire to come forward.
He said: "The circumstances surrounding the fire are being treated as suspicious and an investigation is under way. I would ask anyone with information to please get in touch."
Witnesses should call Det Sgt Chapman at Ashford police station on 01233 896282 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.