September 13, 2013 in Business

Owners of Elk, Moon Time, plan next project

Geno’s is latest endeavor for restaurant entrepreneurs
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

From left, Brad Fosseen, John Grollmus, Jeff Meagher and Marshall Powell laugh as they make plans for their sixth bar renovation project, Geno’s pub near Gonzaga, on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

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Anyone watching Spokane’s Restaurant Monopoly game board will notice one already successful player continues to expand and buy properties.

That would be a Spokane-based partnership that recently bought Geno’s, a north Spokane restaurant that closed this year, damaged by a fire that started in a nearby building.

The acquisition of Geno’s helps the group of four partners earn the title of Neighborhood Pub Conglomerate of the Inland Northwest.

Their foray into restaurant ownership started 17 years ago, when the original three partners pooled their savings to buy a funky Coeur d’Alene restaurant that was converted into a hip restaurant and pub.

That restaurant, Moon Time, is still doing well. Over the next 15 years the partners acquired five more eateries, including Geno’s.

The original three partners – Brad Fosseen, John Grollmus and Jeff Meagher – this year invited Marshall Powell, a restaurant manager, to become part of the group.

While they carefully structure their business as a series of limited partnerships, the group prefers not to have a business name or brand that would apply to all six restaurants.

“From a business viewpoint, (not having a common business name for all the restaurants) is considered a drawback,” Grollmus said. “But that’s our plan,” he said. “We won’t change that approach.”

Their business plan is based on finding locations where neighborhood residents can get good food and a pleasant place to hang out, said Powell, who’s been the manager at two of the restaurants for several years.

In addition to Geno’s and Moon Time, the group operates the Elk Public House and the El Que in Browne’s Addition, the Porch Public House in Hayden and the Two Seven Public House in the Lincoln Heights Shopping Center.

That geographic diversity is by design, said Grollmus.

Grollmus said the partners are cautious about taking on more than they can handle. For instance, they’ve eyed possible sites in either the Garland neighborhood or the South Perry District. But they’ve held back, not seeing a good investment opportunity.

They’re in the process of remodeling Geno’s and expect to open in early October. The one variation from their other restaurants: Geno’s has a fryer that lets them make french fries.

The partnership has a website, wedonthaveone.com.

Matt Goodwin, who operates a pair of Spokane restaurants, Fast Eddie’s and Press, said the four partners’ success stems from making each location intimate and distinct. “Each of their places feels like it’s a new place and fits into the neighborhood,” Goodwin said. “They don’t feel like they’re part of some chain.”

Their initial restaurant was Moon Time in Coeur d’Alene. The three partners lived in North Idaho and sometimes visited the business, which was a hybrid of restaurant and antique shop. They paid about $60,000 for the building and spent $30,000 renovating it, Grollmus said.

In 1999 the partners took over the Elk, remodeled it and revised the menu, offering a wider selection of food such as pulled pork sandwiches and gumbo.

They began discussing the Geno’s deal with previous owner, William Webster, before the fire in June that slightly damaged the restaurant.

Webster told the partners he wanted to focus on other food service businesses, Grollmus said.

“We’re always looking for new locations,” Grollmus added. “The neighborhood there is a good place to be. It’s close to the University District corridor.

“Plus,” he added, “since it was remodeled by William (before the fire), it’s in good shape. We don’t have to do a lot of work.”

Grollmus said the restaurants they’ve acquired are all growing and remain profitable.

Fosseen said the partners embrace a philosophy of customer focus he adopted after working for William Bond, one of the owners of South Hill restaurant Luna.

“When people come to your restaurant, don’t forget to treat them like they’re coming to your house as guests,” Fosseen said.

With local and neighborhood eateries now a trend, the partners are often asked if Spokane and North Idaho have too many food establishments.

Their answer is no, not yet.

“I think there’s always room for good ones in any town,” Grollmus said. “As long as you’re doing better than others, you’ll be successful.”

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