California-style restaurant Wild Eye Pub looks to take over Empire House
July 4, 2017
Grass Valley's historic Empire House may soon be alive and kicking again.
Beth Moore and partner David Kuczora have been working for nearly 10 months to open the Wild Eye Pub, a multi-faceted restaurant venture that focuses on locally and regionally grown food, brewers, vintners and distilleries for a California-based cuisine experience.
If all goes well, Moore hopes to have the restaurant open by the end of summer.
"It's not our plan to fill the place with 150 diners every day and die doing it," Moore said. "Our vision is to have a limited-service restaurant, meaning we're not out there serving tables. You're coming up and ordering your stuff because most of our employees will be in the kitchen doing food prep. We would rather spend time preparing good, fresh, whole local foods than whipping everything out of a can and hanging out in the dining room asking, 'Can I get you some more water?'"
The Empire House at the end of Mill Street, near the Highway 20 overpass, most recently housed the Swiss House restaurant, which opened in 1985 and closed following the death of co-owner Lily Resch in November 2014.
The building has been a public house at that location since 1857. The rock-and-mortar wall basement has been in place since 1900. Above the basement is a narrow two-story building that burned down and was rebuilt in 1934. Upstairs are 11 hotel rooms that have been used for storage and office space since the 1960s.
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In the 60s, a one-story dining room was built next door, which will give the restaurant a footprint capacity of 144 seated for banquet dining. The banquet room in the back allows for about 200 people milling around. There's also a large kitchen that was upgraded about 30 years ago.
The partners still aren't in the building and the business is still not a sure thing, they said.
They are waiting for approval from the Small Business Association, which they say is apprehensive about their desire to get funding for both a business and to purchase the building.
The bank indicated they're accustomed to either proprietors who have the real estate and are looking to start a business or have a business and are looking for a building to purchase.
Moore and Kuczora are looking to do both.
"If they SBA doesn't approve this, it may all fall apart," Moore said. "We're just living on the edge right now. It's a great source of anxiety, but we're maintaining a great deal of hope."
There's also a nearly 10-application process to get Alcoholic Beverage Control approval.
"We've become application experts," Moore said.
Moore and Kuczora have a mixed history that gives the pair complementary skills necessary to make Wild Eye Pub a success.
The two have been together for six years.
"I have stronger financial and employment history, but I don't have any restaurant experience. … David is the kitchen guy. He was at Briar Patch for about five years cooking. He also cooked for several years at The Good Earth in the Bay Area and also Living Foods.
"And he helped start up a new restaurant, which is now an old restaurant, in San Rafael called Bogie's. He helped put the kitchen together, pick out the menu. He got that place up and running."
Moore, who is the administrator for the Facebook group Nevada County Peeps, serves as the transition specialist for the Nevada Joint Union High School District helping special needs students achieve internships and college opportunities.
Moore and Kuczora plan to take baby steps, starting with getting the restaurant open.
But in the future, they plan to open the available hotel rooms and create a shared kitchen, part of which is for rental, to utilize the excess space.
"In Nevada County, we have all these fabulous micro-entrepreneurs in culinary pursuits, which means you have people making tamales or wedding cakes or gluten free crackers … and they don't want a restaurant. They're not seeking that. But they have to have a legal, commercial kitchen to do their food production and be legal."
As for the hotel, that will take a lot of work.
"Once you get your feet on the ground, you can look at modified uses and work that out with Grass Valley later," Moore said. "Obviously, because they haven't been used for lodging for 60 years, there's going to be some code upgrade required. We don't want to tackle that giant project going into it."
To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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