Robby Harris, taking a break from sweating over a cooker in the back of Henry's Food and Spirits, stares at his lunch crowd briefly.
Harris' restaurant in the Mendenhall Center may have opened last Monday with a full staff of waitresses, but the cooks are still proving themselves, he said.
"People eat with their eyes, not with their mouths," he said. "If I'm training a cook and it doesn't look right, I make him do it again. It's got to look right or people won't want to eat it. We've already had to replace one cook."
Harris bought the business, previously known as Tabby's Restaurant and Club 2000, from his uncle, Bob Harris, who had been trying to sell the eatery and adjoining bar since they closed in May.
The new owner brings with him attention to details he's gleaned from more than 30 years in the restaurant business. In his new business this includes a glassed-in playroom where parents can leave the kids, and making all gravies and dressings from scratch.
"We came up with our recipes ourselves - me and my dad. Mostly by mistake," he said. "Which is the best way to do it. And by people's tastes. We want to make the most people happy and that's all."
Harris started learning at the age of 7 when he and his brothers tended to the glasses behind the bar in his father's former restaurant, the Viking Lounge downtown. Later Harris joined his uncle in Arizona to open a small family-style restaurant. Once this venture took off, Harris said he and his uncle went on to Maui to start a gazebo-style restaurant at a beach resort.
"I moved back here after my son's mother passed and I kind of got out of the restaurant business for a while," he said.
But after a five-year stint in the local Juneau mining industry, Harris decided to come back to his cooking roots and open another restaurant.
Local businesses are happy to see the vacancy filled, said Fred Weiler, communications consultant for AP&T Wireless, next door to Henry's in the mall.
"There seems to be a need for it in the valley because people were really disappointed to see Tabby's close and anxious to see something else open and asking us where they could go to eat," he said. "It's funny, for having a lot more people in the valley than downtown there are not a lot of restaurants for those people to eat in."
Some mall employees such as Fred Wigg, who works the front desk at Body Works Fitness Center, also next door to Henry's, think there are too many similar restaurants in the Mendenhall Valley. He said there should be more of a variety than the hamburger or family dining places popping up all over town.
But Wigg said he was grateful for the increased foot traffic coming into the mall.
"People come in here thinking they are going into Henry's," he said. "It's great because they see us and several of them have come back later for memberships."
Mike Clements, assistant manager at Bullwinkle's Pizza Parlor, said people going to Henry's may not initially help business, but it can't hurt it either.
"We have our own niche here. People come here because they want pizza and beer. They go to Henry's because they want burgers and fries," he said. "So I don't think they will be competition. But people going there will pass us on the way and get to see that we are here, which will be good for us in the long run."
Henry's Food and Spirits is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. The bar is expected to open in mid-August, after the liquor license is transferred to Harris.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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