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Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

J.L. Sousa/Register

After being part of the management team at Cole’s Chop House for 12 years, Eric Keffer and his wife, Heather, bought the restaurant.

Keffer is a humble man who deeply respects Greg Cole and Beth Fairbairn, the husband-and-wife team who created Cole’s.

He’s also appreciative and in awe of the talented and loyal staff at the restaurant.

By example, here’s his post-earthquake story:

“When I showed up at the restaurant shortly after the earthquake, there were already a half dozen employees there. By the end of the day, 90 percent of the staff had come in to help, all without a single phone call to anyone,” said Keffer.

“They all took time out of what was an incredibly hectic day for everybody, to help put things back together. Being part of that was one of the proudest moments I ever had.”

Keffer grew up in Napa. He did his undergraduate work at San Franciaco State and planned on becoming a lawyer, but during a summer internship, realized that was not his calling.

A friend, who was the general manager at Celadon, recruited Keffer to join him as dining room manager. A few years later, Keffer moved to Cole’s Chop House, where he’s been since.

Keffer met Heather at Piatti’s Ristorante in Yountville. She is a Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park-trained chef who had moved to Napa to begin her culinary and hospitality career. The two married in 2004 and are now parents to Bradley, 8, and Elizabeth, 3.

When Cole and Fairbairn decided to retire, they approached Keffer and asked if he wanted to purchase the restaurant. Keffer was extremely humbled.

“I have tremendous respect for Greg and his vision.”

The Keffers became partners in the business first, and the former owners spent just under two years grooming them for ownership.

The Keffers aren’t going to change much at Cole’s. From chefs to servers, Keffer thinks his staff is the best.

“Every employee does an incredible job,” he said.

As to the name of the place?

“The name of the restaurant is Cole’s and will always be Cole’s.”

The Keffers will be just as active in the community as Cole and Fairbairn were. And the guest experience will still be number one with them.

“The relationship you have with guests is just as important as the food you put on the table.”

Most amazing to the Keffers is how supportive the community is.

“Long-time guests gave us wedding gifts, and gifts when our children were born,” said Heather.

“I can’t tell you how many calls, emails, and cards we got congratulating us about the sale,” said Eric.

At the top of the list, the Keffers are grateful for everything Cole and Fairbairn have done.

“It’s an honor and privilege to continue a legacy that started 16 years ago,” said Keffer.

Cole’s is open for dinner daily. For information, call 224-6328 or visit coleschophouse.com.

See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.

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