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Restaurant owners gear up for a sea change as the arena opens.
Local restaurateurs, confirmed foodies and people who simply like to dine out are anticipating what can literally be called a field day as the area’s farm-to-fork brand continues to gain traction—and credibility—throughout the region and even across the globe.
It picked up urgency when the owners and developers of both the Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons indicated that nearly everything served in the concession stands and bistros at both places would be locally sourced. Even restaurants that once shunned the idea of that as an impractical mantra are seeing an uptick in what customers demand.
Some places, of course, were all-in early on. “People often ask us where some of our food comes from,” says Henry de Vere White, a co-owner with his brothers of de Vere’s Irish Pub on L Street between 15th and 16th streets. “Well, we even make our own bacon. And brown bread.”
“And the cream for the Irish coffees,” his brother Simon says.
Asked if they expect the opening of Golden 1 and DOCO to have a positive impact on the family business, Henry says, “We fully expect people to bar-hop their way to Kings games.”
You can also eat your way to the new arena, no matter which direction you come from. While de Vere’s is situated a few blocks east of the new development, The Firehouse restaurant in Old Sacramento—which is as much a local institution as it is an elegant dining room—is also keeping up with the expected surge of new business.
“We’re kind of a little island unto ourselves down here in Old Sac, but we’re going to make it work for us,” says Lloyd Harvego, owner of The Firehouse and Ten22 restaurants—as well as the latter’s new grab-and-go coffee, sandwich, dessert and wine cafe spin-off, District By Ten22.
“We always saw a bump in our businesses when Kings games and concerts were held at Sleep Train Arena in North Natomas,” he says one recent afternoon at The Firehouse. It’s a rare quiet time here: an hour or so after the lunch crowd has left and an hour before the Happy Hour celebrants will swarm in, followed an hour or two after that by the fine-dining customers. “People would stop here before driving out to the arena or drop in for dessert afterward.”
With the new arena now “a five-minute walk from here,” Harvego says he expects good things from his venues’ location. He’s especially optimistic about District By Ten22’s promise, which features “all home-grown foods and drinks: coffee, desserts, wine by the glass, five different (craft) beers. It’ll be a very convenient place to stop in before and after a game or concert.” He says his team is developing specially themed menus for game nights.
Harvego, who bought and restored The Firehouse 17 years ago, adds that he, the city of Sacramento and other merchants are working out a lighting plan for the tunnel that connects Old Sac to downtown—and is “very confident we’ll have something in place long before Golden 1 opens.”
Even closer to the arena, at 1015 Ninth St., the owners of Blackbird Kitchen & Beer Gallery—a hipster hangout whose menu and chef-owner, Carina Lampkin, have been receiving Los Angeles media and industry attention—are “more or less rehearsing” for what will occur once Golden 1 Center opens.
Demetri Gregorakis, a co-owner of Blackbird, says, “We’re trying to figure out what the actual turnover [of tables] will be like. We’re using the summer Concerts in the Park series as a model because on those nights, we do 40 percent more business, at the very least.” The concerts—which have been reviewed as “downtown Sac’s largest outdoor happy hour”—have been held at Cesar Chavez Plaza, across from the original Sacramento City Hall, at Ninth and I streets.
“We’re trying to figure out what the flow’s going to be,” Gregorakis says. “We’re definitely expecting a lot of walk-ins. There’s already a buzz down here and increased foot traffic, even on the weekends.” Blackbird currently features a live DJ on Friday evenings and may do live entertainment on Saturdays, he says.
“We just have to see what people are in the mood for—before, after and even during the games.” Gregorakis says he also thinks “a lot of people who don’t have tickets to the game will still come here to grab a snack and a drink and watch the game on TV. They like being right next to the action—and there’s always the possibility that one of the Kings or the visiting team will pop in after the game.”
Some other notable restaurants expecting to benefit from being in the immediate sphere of the arena include:
• Empress Tavern, at 1013 K St., which calls itself a “carvery” because of its emphasis on locally raised beef, pork and poultry
• Mother, an upscale vegetarian place at 1023 K St., whose menu is nonetheless inspired by stick-to-your-ribs homey dishes
• Grange, the celebrated dining room at The Citizen Hotel, on the corner of 10th and J streets
• Ella, an indisputably tasteful venue—in terms of both its decor and menu—owned and operated by the Selland family of fine-dining sites
• Foundation, a basic but satisfying bar-and-grill at the ideally situated Fourth and L streets (a block from Golden 1 Center)
• Il Fornaio, a superbly designed Italian restaurant favored by law firms housed in the 20-plus stories above the dining room at 400 Capitol Mall, two blocks from the arena