Meet your merchant: Player’s Pizza a community hub with a new sports bar, live music and upcoming microbrewery
Player’s Pizza, Pasta & More
10161 Commercial Ave., Penn Valley
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday
In 1998, Dave Nelson was living in his hometown of Santa Barbara when he got a call from one of his oldest friends, former NFL player Rob Woods.
The former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman had opened Player’s Pizza, Pasta & More in a small town up north called Penn Valley. He wanted help running the eatery, and Nelson had studied hotel and restaurant management in school.
“Rob and I had known each other since we were 10 years old,” said Nelson. “Fortunately I was at a time in my life when I was able to move up here and help.”
When Nelson first arrived in the sleepy town whose only annual highlight appeared to be a rodeo, he had second thoughts.
“I looked around and thought, ‘Who would want to live here?’” he mused. “In 1998, Players and the Chevron station were the only buildings on Commercial Avenue. The center was brand new.”
But it didn’t take long for Nelson to fall in love with the beautiful countryside and most of all, its people. Two years later, when Woods decided he wanted to explore new opportunities, Nelson was more than happy to step in and buy the restaurant from his childhood friend. In 2000, he became the sole owner.
“I’d always wanted to have my own restaurant,” he said. “Times were tough during the economic downturn, but I’m so glad I hung on to this place. I saw what this place could be. When things turned around we were in a position to make some real improvements and bring things up to date.”
For more than two decades, Player’s has consistently been a community hub for families, little league teams, the Penn Valley Rotary Club, charity fundraisers, disc golf teams and more. The restaurant’s team and banquet room, which seats 45, is also used for birthday parties, family reunions, or simply friends who want to watch a sports game together on a high definition, wide-screen TV.
While the winning combination of appetizers, pizza, pasta, burgers, sandwiches and salads was hard to top, in 2016 Nelson bought the space adjacent to the restaurant and opened a sports beer and wine bar, boasting 10 big screen TVs and 19 craft beers on tap. An innovative “frost rail” runs the full length of the bar, enabling customers to keep their beers ice cold until the very last drop.
Well aware of the avid sports fans in the area, Nelson purchased the NFL Sunday Ticket, an out-of-market sports package that broadcasts National Football League regular season games that are unavailable on local affiliates. It also carries all regional Sunday afternoon games produced by Fox and CBS. Because there are often early games on Sundays, Players is now open for Sunday breakfast, featuring eggs, bacon, waffles and more.
“The new addition has been fantastic — the response has been great,” said Nelson. “It’s open to all ages. It’s been 40 years since a beer and wine bar has been added to this area.”
The “new” addition also features a “Wednesday Night Jam,” when local musicians now gather to perform individually or with other musicians.
“This has attracted a whole new demographic — it’s really taken off,” said Nelson’s girlfriend Tina Harland, who helps oversee daily operations. “It’s a huge hit with all ages. A lot of non-musicians come in just to enjoy the music.”
Nelson is quick to mention that his successes are largely due to a top-notch staff of 25 and his managerial team, which includes Jennifer Fellows, Craig Stokes, Brittany Jocius, Pam Sharp and Harland.
But Nelson isn’t stopping here. Now in the works is a new microbrewery, which will open with its own tap room in the same Commercial Avenue complex. Still in the early stages, Nelson said it’s too early to even estimate an official opening date. His number one goal, he said, is hoping that his additions to the business will please customers and enhance the area.
“Dave is humble,” said Harland. “He loves seeing all the regulars and knowing they have a new gathering spot. It creates community — people now hang out and socialize. It’s fun to watch — it’s been a real gift to this area.”
In the rare instances when Nelson is not at Player’s, he’s down visiting family in Santa Barbara or fishing off the shores of Cabo San Lucas. A metal life-sized replica of one of the Rooster fish he’s caught hangs in the bar, as does one of the surfboards from his youth. Longtime customers have donated other paraphernalia, which also adorn the walls.
“This place has really taken off and I’m grateful,” said Nelson. “There are now a lot of moving parts. For the past 18 years it’s been fun watching Penn Valley grow. We now have a lot of great restaurants. The best part has been the people. I’ve never lived in such a small community and I’ve never seen such amazing support.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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