The Planning Commission approved a use permit Thursday night for a new restaurant and cocktail bar at the heart of downtown Napa’s growing west end.
The decision paves the way for restaurant developers Nick Rimedio Jr. and Arthur Prieston to open the Empire Restaurant and Lounge at the corner of First and Franklin streets in the recently renamed Andaz hotel in downtown Napa.
In addition to the restaurant and bar, the two men had asked for approval to remain open past 11 p.m. Restaurants containing a lounge or bar area that remains open after 11 p.m. require a use permit, according to city staff.
“We’re very excited,” Rimedio said of the commission’s approval. “It’s another step closer to joining downtown.”
The ability to stay open past 11 p.m. is important for everyone who will appreciate an option for late-night dining, Rimedio said. With later hours, “Empire will be able to cater to patrons from other nearby venues such as Norman Rose or Oenotri, locals finishing shifts at other restaurants, or visitors.”
Rimedio hasn’t determined how late Empire would stay open, but it wouldn’t be later than 11 p.m. on most nights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the city’s planning report said.
“As long as there is energy and activity we’ll be open as late as we can,” Rimedio said on Friday.
Opening a restaurant and lounge in downtown Napa, “was a no-brainer for us,” Rimedio said. “There is an amazing energy, a momentum that’s building. You can see the evolution from the Riverwalk to Andaz. We’re excited to see what happens.”
His next steps include getting building permits to start construction on the 100-seat restaurant. “We would like to open in late March to April,” Rimedio said.
Described as an “upscale food and drink venue,” Empire will hire from 15 to 20 employees, Rimedio said. The owners are in talks with a chef, but are not ready to release his or her name yet. “We have an exciting chef in mind that will be a partner with us. Someone we’ve worked with previously,” Rimedio said.
Empire is named after the Empire Saloon, which reportedly opened in 1848 at the time of Napa’s founding.
The food will focus on “fresh ingredients and seasonal menus,” said the staff report. A team of “mixologists” will create beverages such as those served in cocktail lounges in San Francisco and New York.
Rimedio, who moved to Napa two and a half years ago, said he has been involved in more than dozen restaurant-hotel projects.
Co-owner Prieston has a home in Napa and is the chairman of the Prieston Group in Novato. That enterprise includes a restaurant group among other businesses.
Rimedio declined to say how much money the team would invest in Empire. “But obviously it’s a substantial investment,” Rimedio said. “It’s a considerable amount of money that we’ve raised and put together.”