Rookery opens Nov. 1 Seward Street

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A familiar downtown eatery opens under new management next week.

The Rookery Café at 111 Seward Street, formally Valentine's Coffee House & Pizzeria, opens November 1. The new owners, Jason Shima and Travis Smith, have had their hands full revamping the appearance and the menu in the short time since taking over.

Shima, 29, and Smith, 30, have been friends for 15 years. Both have worked in the food business and have discussed opening a restaurant together for a while. They said when they learned of this location's availability, they jumped on it.

They said they had heard there was a lot of interest in the downtown location and felt it was a good investment for their joint venture.

"I've heard a lot of people who've said 'That was my dream to buy that space' and we've had a lot of good success in getting it together. We've had our share of hurdles too, but that part of any new business," said Smith, adding, "It didn't leave us with a lot of planning time."

The two did plan and acted quickly and constantly to prepare for the new opening. One of the biggest undertakings was redoing the interior. They said they wanted to give the downtown restaurant a personal touch. To do so, they remodeled the restaurant's fixtures and brought in brand new furniture, even crafting the tables themselves.

The walls are covered with a hand-stenciled birch tree pattern that is all paint, yet looks like wallpaper.

"We hope people will come back to a clean, crisp environment," said Smith.

He said future fixtures will include benches and a bar.

Much of the work was done by the owners and friends. They all did so continuously since they had less than two months to redo a whole restaurant.

"We definitely owe them some pizzas," joked Shima.

The owners are staying true to the familiar menu of coffee, pizza and sandwiches but are adding their own flair. One notable instance is the inclusion of new coffee brands from out of town. They're starting with three vendors: Intelligentsia Coffee that comes from California and Chicago, Stumptown Coffee Roasters out of Portland, Ore., and Batdorf & Bronson from Olympia, Wash.

Shima said Avoca Coffee, out of Fort Worth, Texas, will be joining the list within a few weeks. He is familiar with this roaster, as he worked with the company during his time at Heritage Coffee Company.

Shima said the idea of a coffee bar is to offer customers a choice.

The men have plenty of food experience under their belts. Smith has been involved in the coffee business for 13 years and was vice president of operations for Heritage Coffee Company. Shima has worked in coffee and pizza, putting himself through college that way.

Shima and Smith have plans for the menu. Travis said the new ownership means expanding the menu with a wider variety of baked goods and pizzas. They will also continue serving soups, sandwiches and salads that customers are familiar with.

Travis said they'll also focus on having some quick breakfast wraps and sandwiches for the morning crowds.

"We'll slowly see how we can get into a dinner evening crowd," he said.

Smith also said they will definitely apply for a beer and wine license and have been talking with the city on the procedure, which first involves a petition.

"We'll open the doors and see how long it takes to get signatures," he said.

Shima said they hope to be serving alcohol at the beginning of 2011, yet want the place to remain a café, not a bar.

Smith said an important thing about the food is for them to be personally involved in making it. Along with the mostly part-time staff, both will be baking and waiting on customers.

The two friends want to draw in customers with more than food. The Rookery will become a stop at First Fridays, with four photographers lined up for a showing at November's event. "We'll keep it fresh every month and give people something to look at," Smith said.

He said an artist may be using the place for drawing classes as well and they may install an art rail.

Along with food and art, Wi-Fi will be another amenity.

The name was the other big change, as it had been Valentine's for more than a decade and stayed that way through other owners. Shima said it simple came from brainstorming when they decided to go with "Rookery," meaning a collection of animals, as they hope people will gather together here.

The guys are looking forward to their new venture as restaurateurs. They said it only took four days to decide on this place after seeing it, citing it showed a lot of potential.

"This will be interesting. It'll lead to new opportunities," said Smith.

Smith said the Small Business Development Center was a huge help in their expedited journey to opening.

"It definitely been a learning process with licensing and city permits," said Shima.

The Rookery Café's operating hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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