Restaurant biz is tough; how Everett eateries make it

EVERETT — The restaurant business has never been easy, as Chuck Delacerda knows well. The former Boeing Co. engineer has been in the industry for 14 years.

He recently opened The Austin Bar and Grill downtown, having previously owned J.R.’s Steakhouse in Marysville.

Delacerda’s new place is one of several changes that bode well for Everett’s nightlife now that the economy seems to be improving. But when it comes to getting the restaurant started, it’s the usual trial and occasional tribulation.

“The biggest challenge is letting people know we have good food and it’s affordable,” Delacerda said.

The closing of J.R.’s and the opening of The Austin happened about a month sooner than Delacerda would have liked, due in part to a liquor-license deadline. That means not as many people know about the new restaurant at 2820 Oakes Ave.

The burger-and-steak joint, which features music nightly, opened in the space formerly occupied by Chopstix.

Chopstix opened five years ago in Everett, just as it seemed the downtown scene was flourishing. But as job losses piled up during the recession, so did restaurant casualties. The Flying Pig, a decade-old fixture downtown, closed its doors in early 2011. The Majestic Cafe relocated to the Pig’s old space at 2929 Colby Ave.

Prohibition Grille at 1414 Hewitt Ave., which opened around the same time as Chopstix, recently got a makeover, courtesy of the Fox TV show, “Kitchen Nightmares.” The show’s star and renowned chef, Gordon Ramsay, renamed it Prohibition Gastropub, simplified the menu and marked down prices.

“Basically, it’s like opening a brand-new business,” owner Darlene “Rishi” Brown said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Sean Straub was one of the Prohibition diners selected by the network. Straub also is leading an effort to market restaurants in the Everett area. Straub thinks the restaurants that weathered the recession all did a few key things.

“Some of the restaurants that failed, they weren’t sure what their identity was,” he said.

Examples of restaurants that have strong, unique identities, Straub said, include Terracotta Red, an Asian-fusion restaurant at 2820 Hewitt Ave., and The New Mexicans at 1416 Hewitt Ave., which serves New Mexican-style southwestern dishes.

Providing good affordable food and drink is the other necessity to being a successful restaurant, Straub said. During the recession, some establishments tried to cut corners, maybe offered smaller portions.

“People are driven to value,” he said.

That’s the message that Delacerda is trying to accomplish with The Austin. His Marysville restaurant was known for steaks, which Delacerda says patrons can still find at The Austin. But people also can find burgers for under $10 and shrimp risotto for not much more, Delacerda said.

The Austin also hopes to capture the after-9 p.m. crowd in downtown with a variety of bands and DJs, including two-step Tuesdays, which was a popular feature at the Marysville location, Delacerda said.

The later evening crowd is picking up for the Fish Tale Brew Pub, across from Comcast Arena at 2019 Hewitt Ave. Manager Jason Dean is pleased with both Fish Tale’s food and beverage sales since opening in late 2011. Like many restaurants in downtown Everett, Fish Tale does well when Comcast Arena has an event.

“Our area of Everett really hinges on the ebbs and flows of Comcast,” Dean said.

More events at Comcast could give the restaurants in the area a boost. But like most, Fish Tale relies on regular customers to keep it going.

Dean isn’t worried about the churn of restaurants and bars downtown. Like Delacerda and Straub, he knows the industry is a tough one.

“As long as places reopen, then I think we’re moving in a positive direction,” Dean said.

Herald reporter Andrea Brown contributed to this report.

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