Popular eatery changes hands | TheUnion.com

Popular eatery changes hands

Tofanelli’s Restaurant, housed in a downtown Grass Valley landmark building dating to the mid-1800s, is being sold to a Marin County restaurant family that plans to keep the name and expand the operation, adding a breakfast service and more summertime courtyard activities.

Frank Herwatt and his wife Kathleen have sold the 302 West Main St. restaurant they owned since January 2001 to George Frank Cooney and Susan Purdy, who own the Golden Egg Omelet House and neighboring Grant Avenue Bar and Grill in Novato. Purdy has developed 11 restaurants since the 1970s, selling the Golden Egg concept of 101 omelets to individual buyers, some of whom have used the brand in various California and Nevada locations.

Herwatt, a retired food technologist, says he and his wife decided in October 2005 to sell the restaurant after daughter Jennifer Trujillo, who ran the front of the house operation, decided to get her teaching credential and pursue a full-time education career. Her husband, Carlos Trujillo, has served as executive chef. Whether he will join the new owners is still unknown.

“We’re 65 now and when you see how much time we have left, we want to spend more of it with our four kids and six grandchildren,” says Herwatt. “We’re not going to move. The quality of life here is very good,” he says. The couple will baby-sit Jennifer Trujillo’s three children and do some volunteer work and traveling, and Frank Herwatt wants to put in more time in his favorite sport, fly fishing. Kathleen Herwatt, a clinical psychologist, will continue her practice in Pleasanton, where the couple lived before moving to Nevada County.

Final details of the transition are being worked out, but Herwatt expects the new owners to be running Tofanelli’s by the end of March. Real estate sources say the transaction is valued at $1 to $1.5 million. Cooney declined to give an acquisition price but did say they are considering applying for a full bar license to expand the beverage side of the business beyond beer and wine. Coldwell Banker Grass Roots Realty handled the transaction for the Herwatt family.

What changes are coming?

The new owners plan to open the restaurant at 7 a.m., seven days a week, for breakfast; serve lunch and dinner, and close when the last patron leaves, says Cooney. “Breakfast at Tof’s” will be the slogan for the early morning crowd, which will be able to order some of Purdy’s famous specialty omelets. Lunch and dinner will feature the fresh, seasonally influenced California cuisine that Tofanelli’s has focused on, with more attention being paid to the outdoor courtyard and the atrium.

“We would like to take everything Frank and Carlos have built and add our touches to it,” says Cooney. “They have done a beautiful job.”

“We would also like to leverage off the Center for the Arts. It is a beehive of activity day and night,” says Cooney.

Tofanelli’s will remain a family affair with Susan Purdy’s children, son Garrett and daughters Alicia and Karen, moving to Nevada County to work in the restaurant. However, the family plans to continue to own the Novato location, as well.

Cooney and Purdy discovered Tofanelli’s after making the rounds of local restaurants. When they found out Tofanelli’s was for sale, they couldn’t resist.

“We fell in love with the building, the location, the downtown. We love old towns and were pioneers in rebuilding Novato’s downtown,” says Cooney. A fire in 2003 caused them to do extensive rebuilding of their Grant Avenue property.

The couple bought a ranch in Auburn, where they will live. Cooney discovered the foothills as a reporter covering the 49ers’ training camp in Rocklin. He covered NFL sports for the Hearst Corp. for 30 years and is a member of the selection committee of the NFL Hall of Fame. Cooney operates a writer’s syndicated service, http://www.thesportsxchange.com online.

The landmark’s history

Tofanelli’s colorful history dates back to 1859 when the building housed a law office. Later, proprietor Gino Tofanelli operated it as a meat market and grocery store from the late 1800s until the 1930s. Frank Herwatt says he has a number of customers who remember the grocery store and recall “coming in and getting candy.”

The site went through a number of identities, including little cafes, until the 1980s when Sandra Janicott bought the property and operated it as a restaurant until selling to Herwatt in 2001. For a time it was called the Pine Cone Café but eventually Janicott returned it to its original name, according to Herwatt.

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