Downtown Joe’s is planning a major revamp of its historic home that will preserve the facade but upgrade the customer experience.
Plans call for a rooftop deck with river views for dining, a relocated kitchen and a stylish new patio.
“We’re going to try and turn this old historic building into an actual functioning restaurant,” said Joe Peatman, Jr. The building, located at 902 Main St., wasn’t originally built for the kind of restaurant he runs now, he said.
Known as the Oberon building, it dates to 1895, but the current structure is from around 1934. Colorful and elaborate Art Deco tiles decorate the exterior.
For the past 26 years, Peatman and his staff have adapted to the space. Now, the space will adapt to them.
“The place has gotten beaten up and it’s time to make it all fresh and new again,” said Peatman.
“I’ve been operating this for 26 years and it’s time to build it up and make the place perfect for the next 25 years.”
And besides, “I’m 60 next week,” said Peatman. “I gotta look a little bit ahead before I’m looking down.”
Peatman said that even with a temporary decline in business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant’s prime downtown location will continue to drive business ”for a long time in the future,” he said.
For starters, the kitchen will move to the north side of the building. Now, it’s on the patio side. “Then we will open up where the kitchen was to be dining space. You’ll be able to look all the way through the building to the river,” Peatman said.
Next, the patio will be remodeled to include a bar area and more outdoor seating with expansive views of the river, he said.
More significantly, the decades-old green canvas awnings that cover part of the Art Deco tile on the building’s exterior will be removed to showcase that tile – and some clerestory windows.
“Canvas is a 1980s kind of thing,” said Peatman. They’ve got to go.
Then Peatman will create a new rooftop deck with room for up to 49 people over the current dining room at the back of the building. This will be similar to the view dining at AVOW Napa in the former Fagiani’s building and at the Archer Hotel Napa, said Peatman.
“But mine will be right over the water,” he pointed out.
“Downtown Joe’s has been a Napa icon for decades,” said Brendan Kelly of Kelly + Morgan Architects. He’s working with Peatman on the project.
“As architects and locals, we were very nervous about changing anything since it is such a popular spot with regulars,” Kelly said. “But then we started to do some research and get more and more stories out of Joe Peatman Jr. We visited the Napa Historical Society many times to do reading and review photos as we started to get a better sense of this building.”
“The question for us was how to recreate that excitement and still highlight the stunning architecture,” said Kelly.
“As soon as we started drawing this landmark building without all the added vinyl awnings from the 1980s, you could almost hear that gorgeous tile breathe a sigh of relief. Most of our work will be taking things off the building,” Kelly said.
“And the additions we’re making are all related to the exteriors that don’t face Main Street. We’ve done historical restoration work in our careers and feel lucky to help steward this local treasure into its next iteration as a local watering hole.”
According to Peatman, the changes will start as soon as he goes through the city planning process, beginning with the Cultural Heritage Commission.
Will he have to close Downtown Joe’s for the remodel?
“Never,” said Peatman. Then he paused. “I hope to not be,” he said. After all, “in 2010, we remained open every day during earthquake retrofit.”
Peatman said the cost of such a project will be $1 million to $2 million.
“But Napa’s tourist business can support this,” he said, “as long as everything gets back to what we had” before COVID-19.
Downtown Joe’s has survived the pandemic, but quickly switching to a to-go food restaurant model “was brutal,” he said.
“We had to start from scratch and we did a lot of guerrilla marketing,” he said.
Fortunately, “We built sales every single week,” said Peatman. “We started doing $3,000 the first week and last week we’re going over $12,000.”
Peatman said he also hounded his banker to get his Paycheck Protection Program loan. “I was relentless,” he admitted.
“Once I got my money I knew I could make it till June 1.”
Peatman said he also credits his county representatives for help. “Fortunately, they got us open on May 20 and business came back instantly. And I did not expect it would be instantly.”
Sales are already back to summer levels, he said.
There is one other component from Downtown Joe’s that still needs addressing — the Napa Moose.
The Napa Moose “head” is a bulbous growth from a tree that locals used to paint and decorate on Dry Creek Road.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, unknown assailants decapitated the Moose from its eucalyptus tree home.
Weeks later, again in the middle of the night, the Napa Moose head was unexpectedly released and unceremoniously dumped on Mayor Jill Techel’s front yard.
Being the longtime Napa civic booster that he is, Peatman then adopted the moose and put it on display at Downtown Joe’s.
But years later, “the moose has lost its luster,” said Peatman. “Nobody comes in and paints it anymore.”
The restaurant owner said the moose will stay up until this remodel but after that, it will need to find another home.
“Maybe Mayor Jill will want it when she’s not the mayor anymore.”
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com
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