When Jim McWhorter bought the property at the corner of Third and Main streets three years ago, he had dreams of opening a full-service restaurant with outdoor dining, but unforeseen circumstances have forced him to change direction—for now.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong when I bought the property,” McWhorter said.
The native Ramonan at one time owned the former Old Telephone Company Restaurant in Ramona. He purchased the property at Third and Main Streets about six months after Di Giovanni’s Italian Ristorante closed in 2007.
He soon he found that, between county regulations and a tanking economy, opening a restaurant was not going to be easy. Now, with a lot of money already sunk into the business venture and loans unavailable, McWhorter and his business partner, Bruce Knight, have revamped their plans.
“We had to change our direction and the banks suggested through the SBA (Small Business Administration) that we create cash flow and start off on a smaller scale,” McWhorter told the Ramona Design Review Board when presenting his plans for a mobile kitchen at the board’s June 24 meeting. “The county wants it to be a grab and go situation.”
The Third Street Grill will start as a mobile kitchen at the site so McWhorter and Knight can bring in revenue while refurbishing the abandoned house that McWhorter said dates back to around 1913.
“This allows us to operate profitably almost from the first day,” said Knight, chief operating officer of Freshology Inc., a food delivery service based in Burbank.
The business partners will then be able seek expansion financing, which Knight said is available and easier to obtain.
They plan to begin operating the mobile kitchen this summer and hope that within a year they will be able to move into the refurbished house to offer a full-service restaurant with outdoor dining and heaters. The mobile kitchen could then be used for catering, McWhorter said.
Until then, McWhorter plans to model the mobile kitchen after Nessy Burgers on state Route 76 in Bonsall. His menu will include hamburgers with bakery-fresh buns, signature salads with homemade dressings, sweet potato fries, soups, specials and desserts. It will be a daytime operation.
“We just want to get going,” said McWhorter. “It’s taken three years. Every time I tried to do something, I was stopped.”
McWhorter said he ran into many roadblocks with county staff, which took its time with his plans.
“Every time you do a change, you have to wait four weeks,” he said.
The SBA canceled his loan at one point, he added, due to a four-week wait. He said he’s been pushed into a corner because of the county.
Although some design review board members had reservations about a mobile kitchen at the site, concerned it would sit for a long period of time, they also noted that McWhorter has a good reputation from his days operating the Old Telephone Company Restaurant.
Board member Dan Vengler expressed his approval.
“It starts to clean up the property,” said Vengler. “It starts to make Ramona a little bit more proud of one more piece of property that’s been going in the wrong direction. I’m all for moving forward with this.”
The board approved McWhorter’s plans.
McWhorter said he hopes to open Third Street Grill the first or second week of August.