By Kelley Atherton
Triplicate staff writer
The grills have been fired up, the lights flipped on and the "Closed" signs switched to "Open."
February is the month for restaurant reopenings in Crescent City. The Harbor View Grotto Restaurant and Lounge did it Feb. 8. Now, after two months of being shuttered, the Chart Room Marina and Restaurant resumed business Tuesday with new owners and a fresh start.
A commonality between restaurants around the tourist-friendly harbor is closing down during the rainy winter monthslocals stay indoors and tourists take off to warmer climates.
This break gives restaurants owners a chance to revitalize their business.
Chart Room owner Jennifer Wellman and her partner, Pat Rideout, said they received phone calls day after day leading up to Tuesday asking when they would reopen. Because of this, Wellman and Rideout are considering closing for only a month during the holidays later this year.
The down time is a chance to do deep cleaning and maintenance, Wellman explained. Plus, the darkened windows incite clam chowder and fish and chips cravings.
"Being closed appears to create some anticipation," Wellman said.
All of the Chart Room's employees were retained after the change of ownership.
"The beauty is to see them so excited to come back," Wellman said.
Some workers like the break
Most employees plan for their time off. It's a chance to spend quality time with their families during the holidays, Wellman said, adding some take part-time jobs in the meantime.
"It refreshes them as well," she said.
One of the morning cooks, Johnny Michael has been working at the Chart Room for five years. He looks forward to the time off every year. This past winter, he was able to enjoy the time with his newborn son. A nest egg, plus odd jobs, keeps him going during the hibernation.
Scott Casanova, another morning cook, said that the time off can be fun, at first.
"It's great the first week," he said while flipping an omelet on the grill. "Then half the time you're bored."
Michael agrees, adding he doesn't need that much vacation.
"I'm looking forward to only being closed for a month," Michael said of the plans for next winter. "Take a couple of weeks off and then get ready to go back."
Casanova and Michael have both worked in eateries since they were teenagersso they're used to the inner workings of restaurants. However, they do have hobbies. Casanova uses his time off in the winter to record music.
He plays in the local band, C.C. Walker, a country-infused rock group. Casanova said he plays "anything with strings."
Carol Hester has been a server at the Chart Room for 23 years and is used to the two-month shutdown. She goes to Idaho, where she's from, to visit her grown children. After working week after week, employees get burnt out, she said.
"We could stay busy," Hester said about staying open all year long. "These people work seven days a week, they need a break."
Suzanne Dyer, owner of the Harbor View Grotto Restaurant and Lounge, said that her establishment closes for two to three weeks at the end of January.
"We started to close it down mainly for a break," she said, explaining that since they're open every day of the week, she and her employees don't get much of a break.
However, this break turned into an opportunity to give the restaurant a once-over"intense cleaning and maintenance," Dyer said.
Where have all the tourists gone?
Wintertime is ideal for a break since there are fewer tourists. Dyer said the closure doesn't hurt her bottom line.
"It's awfully slow in winter," she said. "It costs every business to stay open."
Dyer's "uncle-in-law," Charles "Chub" Howe, first owned the Grotto in 1961. She took it over in 1979. Since then, the city has seen the mining and fishing industries slowly fade away, with the dependence on tourists growing, she said.
"There's nothing that helps restaurants, (at least) not enough to get through lean months," Dyer said about the lack of tourists during the winter.
For about eight years, Dyer kept the Grotto open all year. However, she then realized it was time to take a "sanity break." She added that she thinks customers understand restaurants' need to close for a little while.
Wellman and Rideout joked that the only problem they've had reopening the Chart Room was a late shipment of tomatoes and pickles. If that's their only problem, Wellman said, they're probably going to be fine.
"My eyes are tired, we've been burning the midnight oil," she said. "But, we're excited."
Rideout said that he would be more nervous if the previous owners, Mike and Debbie Chasteen, weren't helping them get started.
"They've been giving us the secret recipes," Wellman said, laughing.