With Olive Garden and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain now open for business, the Yuba-Sutter region has gained some notoriety with its increased food and entertainment options.
How does that sit with other locally-owned and established restaurants? By and large, owners say they’ll be able to compete.
“I’m all for new businesses, it helps out the whole area,” said Justin France, owner and operator of Justin’s Kitchen in Yuba City.
France said he doesn’t think of Hard Rock as his direct competition, noting that the casinos typically battle each other for customers.
That said, France relishes any kind of competition because it forces businesses to stay fresh and keep improving their product.
“I’m trying to (produce) the best quality of food that people deserve,” France said.
Octavio Perez, owner of Marcello’s Italian Restaurant since 2005, said the key to keeping a customer base is maintaining a product that interests the consumer.
Perez said the restaurant is always developing new dishes with a variety of spices that appeal to the palate of Italian food consumers.
“We’re small but solid,” Perez said. “I think the community will continue to support us.”
Perez said he’s planning to check of his sales soon to see exactly how the restaurant did following Olive Garden’s grand opening on Nov. 15.
“I expect to lose some sales, it’s normal,” Perez said. “Everybody will lose sales.”
How he hopes to counter some of the glamor of Hard Rock and Olive Garden is to make some changes at Marcello’s.
Perez said he’s adding a few TVs in the sports bar area, which the restaurant has never had before, for customers looking to watch sports while eating. He also plans to expand his private banquet room with televisions, as well as add some weekend musical entertainment. Perez is also planning to expand the bar area and eventually put in a divider to separate the dining room from the sports bar.
“It’s what the customer wants,” he said.
The entertainment will likely begin one day a week on Friday, Perez said.
He doesn’t bemoan the big businesses like Hard Rock establishing itself in Yuba-Sutter because it does bring more people to the area. He said primarily he focuses on moving his restaurant in the right direction.
“It’s good to get a new restaurant. It forces us to get out of our comfort zone and make some changes,” Perez said.
Chris Drown, general manager and owner at Happy Viking, said he recently began offering healthcare benefits to his employees as an added incentive to keep the team working hard in order to improve the long-standing sports bar in downtown Yuba City.
“We’ll continue to provide excellent customer service that’s built (our) reputation,” Drown said.
Drown said an employee 401k is another change that Happy Viking is moving forward with.
“I want to take care of the good employees that we have,” Drown said.
In Marysville, Silver Dollar Saloon owner Joe Ferrie said he’s thrilled with the extra business coming to Marysville. He said Hard Rock’s opening has brought a few new customers to the Silver Dollar.
“It’s nice that we’re getting a new brand of people,” Ferrie said. “It’s beneficial to Marysville.”
Ferrie said he recently spotted a group of people that found the Silver Dollar on Yelp.com after eating at Hard Rock and wanting to try a different restaurant.
“They decided to give us a try,” Ferrie said. “The strategy is continuing to do the same thing. It’s like any restaurant.”
Like anything new, people invariably will be drawn to the excitement and added intrigue of places like Hard Rock and Olive Garden.
Ferrie said he lost an employee to Hard Rock due to the fact that the casino can offer health benefits.
“As small business owners we can’t afford to give benefits,” Ferrie said. “That’s hurting a lot of businesses right now.”
But Hard Rock also helps local businesses too, Ferrie said.
He said, for instance, the Council Oak Steaks and Seafood restaurant within the casino uses the Local Spicery in old Chinatown for all its spices.