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Posted on Jul 11, 2016

Business is (not) the pits

GEORGE — Steve Steele knows what he wants. He wants the Pit. But not the pits.
He wants his restaurant, The Cherry Pit, to succeed, but not at all cost. He doesn’t want to turn his dream into a nightmare. And that has been the plan since Day 1.
“We didn’t want to be a dive bar,” said Steele, who purchased the restaurant with his business partner and cousin Patrick Mezo a year ago and slowly began the work of turning it into a restaurant and bar. More restaurant than bar.
“We didn’t want to be your local drunk’s stop,” he said.
This is the third re-incarnation for the building, which opened as The Cherry Pit in mid-May 2015. This is the first restaurant for Steele and Mezo, both electricians by trade, who bought the place from one of Steele’s neighbors.
“It’s every boy’s dream to have a bar,” Steele said. He laughed when he said it, but he was serious. He and Mezo talked about owning a place like The Cherry Pit when they were children. Moreover, their grandparents owned a restaurant in Skykomish.
“It was a large part of our childhood growing up,” Mezo said of the restaurant in Skykomish.
The dream did not get more specific than that, Steele added. The opportunity arose in George, so they opened it there.
“We knew that George doesn’t have a lot of businesses,” Steele said, “So we can do something with this, because there’s a need to fill.”
Unlike most restaurants of its type, Steele said, the draw is the food, not the variety of bottles on the shelves. In addition to its menu, the business partners are putting the finishing touches on an outdoor kitchen area that will allow them to hold barbecues. They also want to update the kitchen and separate some areas so that the atmosphere becomes more restaurant-and-lounge than restaurant-and-bar.
“There’s a lot of people who are very religious in the area, they are not going to take their children into a bar to eat,” Steele said. “And if you’re seeing the people sitting at a bar, you’re at a bar to eat.”
Right now, the menu is not as broad as Steele would like it to be. He would like to offer steaks and seafood at some point. Right now, it’s mostly pizzas and fryer foods. But that will change. For starters, grandma’s recipes from the restaurant in Skykomish may make it onto the menu at some point.
It will take a while, saidd Steele, to turn all that into a reality, but they are willing to wait and put in the hours.
“A lot of times you just get three hours (of sleep) a night,” Mezo said.
“We are trying to organically grow a business,” Steele said. “You can see we don’t even have signs up yet. That’s because we want to grow by word of mouth, by reputation, not by ‘Here’s a front-page ad in the paper.’”
In the meantime, they look for ideas. For starters, they looked at what their grandparents did. Their restaurant in Skykomish was part of the community, and that’s what the cousins want to do, more than 40 years later.
Back in the 1960s, their grandmother bought every turkey she could find in Monroe and every woman in town baked a turkey, so that firefighters battling the blazes near Stevens Pass could have lunch and dinner every day.
Four decades-plus later, Mezo delivered a late dinner to a fire hall, so firefighters on call could have a bite once their work was over.
Mezo and Steele also looked at every restaurant they went to for six months prior to buying the place, Steele said.
Then, in the first six months after they bought it, the kudos started. Steele said he was a little skeptical.
“They would say, ‘Oh we love your food,’ and I would be like, ‘Did they really love it or are they just being nice?’”
With another seven months on top of the first half-year, the place has started developing regulars and repeat customers.
“We want to be part of the community,” Mezo repeated. “So you look and ask, what does the community need: Do they have a general place to eat that you can go to seven days a week and get a meal? No. Not in Moses Lake, not in Quincy, not in Wenatchee. They all close at 9 o’ clock.”
In five years, hopefully, George will have a place where someone can come in late and “get a roast-beef dinner, if that’s what you want,” Mezo said.
In its first incarnation, the establishment was called The River Shark, (“basically, a bar,” Steele said.) Then it switched hands and became Martha’s II, with a wink to a longtime truck stop establishment named Martha’s that was located close to I-90.
So when Steele and Mezo went chasing after a name, they wanted something with connections to the area, and they chose a name that ties to George’s reputation as the home of the World’s Largest Cherry Pie.
“We thought about everything, like Wild Horses Tavern, but we wanted to be more family oriented and have something to do with George,” Steele said. “And we piggy-backed on the cherry-pie thing.”
The 13-month-old venture has not lacked for challenges, but both Mezo and Steele say they would do it all over again if given the chance.
“It’s been a fun experience,” Steele said. “It hasn’t been without trials and tribulations.”
Mezo agreed, adding that anytime you deal with public, there’s pluses and minuses.
“You can do 100 things right; do that one thing wrong and that’s what everyone hears about,” Mezo said.


— By Sebastian Moraga,

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