Nick Powers is staying mum on several details related to the planned purchase of the former Dooley’s Pub space.
“We want a little bit of an element of surprise,” said president of Powers Ventures, adding that the restaurant will be “different from anything we’ve ever done.”
The Rochester City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to approve a purchase agreement to sell the space at 255 First Ave. SW for $1.4 million, while maintaining ownership of the connected parking ramp and Bio Business Center building.
As the council discussed the planned sale, City Administrator Alison Zelms described Powers Ventures’ plan as “a Chester's-style, family-friendly restaurant that would be closing earlier in the evening, more around 10 p.m.”
Powers said the comparison is not exactly on target, but that some elements of the target are moving.
“We’re reluctant to compare it to anything, because we’d really like to believe it’s going to be unique,” he said.
Powers confirmed the new restaurant will have at least two differences when compared to Dooley’s Pub — hours and focus.
When it comes to closing hours, he said that's still a topic of discussion, but 10 p.m. might be a starting point.
“Quite frankly, we’ll start with something, see how it goes, and then react in whichever way we need to go,” he said.
As for focus, Powers said the restaurant is expected to have a bar, but it won’t be the main feature.
“Opposed to being a bar that serves food, we are going to be a restaurant that has a bar,” he said, adding that plans call for a space that caters to families, as well as date nights, with dedicated space for meetings and gatherings.
That’s good news, according to David Currie, co-owner of nearby Hefe Rojo, Newt's and City Market.
“A more relaxed family atmosphere downtown will be great,” he said, noting that creating such restaurants is the goal of his own restaurant group, Creative Cuisine Co.
A few blocks north, Natalie Victoria, co-owner of Victoria’s, shared the “more the merrier” mentality.
“We really need to get that space activated,” she said, noting that her business at 7 First St. SW has benefited from increased activity since Olde Brick House opened on the same block.
“It’s good for bringing people downtown as a destination,” said Victoria, who also co-owns Tap House east of the former Dooley’s location.
The sentiment doesn’t surprise Holly Masek, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
“Restaurants like to cluster,” she said.
For the same reason, Masek said she was surprised the city-owned property didn’t attract the interest of someone seeking to open a nightclub or other late-night venue since it’s a logical location for such venues.
“There are a lot of young people in the area, and apartment buildings that skew young,” she said.
Masek isn’t alone in thinking the area could draw a different type of venue.
Rochester City Council member Molly Dennis, who opposed the purchase agreement, said she’s been hearing a desire for something different.
“I talked to a lot of people, asked them what they thought that Rochester needed, and another restaurant was very low on the list,” she said.
Council President Brooke Carlson, who supported the purchase agreement, said she’s heard the opposite about the Powers Ventures plan.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people in support of not only the company, but the concept, and how it is needed downtown,” she said.
Zelms said other opportunities for the space appear unlikely. In recent weeks, she’s received two inquiries regarding the location, but no legitimate interest was voiced.
Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester, said seeing the Powers group continue to invest in the local economy when others are hesitant will benefit the city.
"Reinvestment in the hospitality industry, which has suffered greatly since the onset of the pandemic, is critical to the long-term success of the city, as both a great place to live as well as a growing destination for visitors of all ages," he said. "A new family friendly concept is a welcome addition and will bring a diverse dining experience to downtown Rochester.”
The downtown core has approximately a dozen street-level restaurants, with most having some sort of liquor service. Additionally, plans for new restaurants have been announced after several closed during the pandemic.
Where several bars once remained open until 2 a.m., nearly all locations now close by midnight.
Powers said he expects the new restaurant to fit in nicely.
“The whole 2 a.m. nightlife thing, for us, personally, is not in our wheelhouse,” he said of why a nightclub wasn’t considered.
“We’ve obviously seen what that can turn into,” he added. “That’s very clear with what has happened with that location and other places that are no longer there. That part of it just really isn’t appealing to us.”
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said she’s happy to hear about the new direction, as well as the opportunity to end the city’s history with such locations.
“I am very pleased that we are going to get out of the leasing business of bars,” she said. “I think that has given many of us heartburn over the past couple of years.”
While Masek said she sees a continued need for late-night operations in the downtown core, she also expects the proposed new restaurant will be a good fit.
“I think it’s a key corner in that people know historic Third Street as a bit of a center of entertainment and great food,” she said. “They are the buildings where you are most likely to run into friends or casually bump into people you know out on the patios or roof decks. I do see them fitting onto that corner very well.”