By Karen Brainard
Owners of a longtime Ramona restaurant are re-positioning their dining establishment to better suit the local wine industry and those who visit the tasting rooms.
Adam and Karen Sullivan, owners of Sizzler at 344 Main St., will no longer operate it as a franchise and have renamed their restaurant Ramona Valley Grill. The name was chosen, Adam Sullivan said, for the wine region: Ramona Valley Viticultural Area.
Sullivan said Ramona needs restaurants that support the winemaking, and as a Sizzler franchise he was limited in what he could do.
The restaurant owner is familiar with the wine industry as he spent time in France, and his in-laws, Don and Joyce Kohorst, own Pyramid Winery in Ramona. The Sizzler was opened by the Kohorsts in 1988. The Sullivans began operating it just over three years ago.
Although he had already incorporated a few subtle changes, Sullivan said, “As the weeks progress, we’ll make quite a few changes.”
He switched to certified Angus beef and will upgrade the chicken and fish. The new menu, he said, will emphasize grilled meats and complement the Ramona Valley wines.
“We really are focused on quality,” said Sullivan, adding that patrons will not see much of a change in price.
By no longer being part of a franchise, Sullivan said he is able to prepare more dishes from scratch so diners will be better-tasting, fresher meals.
Ramona Valley Grill will continue to have a salad bar, but will add appetizers and “sharable desserts” to the menu. Sharable desserts, a new trend, are large desserts that come with extra utensils for all at a table to enjoy, explained Sullivan. Also on the menu will be family meals and panini sandwiches for lunch, said the owner.
Another new trend that Sullivan plans to install is a wine machine that will allow customers to purchase one-ounce samples of wines or a full glass. The emphasis will be on award-winning local wines.
As for décor, Sullivan said he plans to put up TV screens to air sports in the family-style part of the restaurant.
“We want to make it an active lively environment,” he said.
In January, he intends to focus on the banquet room and transition it to fine dining on weekends only, which he hopes to have ready by spring 2013. The full-service restaurant would essentially be what’s known as the trendy “pop-up restaurant,” he said, and will feature white linen tablecloths and premium-prepared foods with locally-produced organic items.
Sullivan said he has not decided on a name for the weekend-only restaurant and noted that the banquet room will still be available for meetings during the week.
With all the changes, Sullivan hopes to not only appeal to more locals, but also to draw people “up the hill” to dine and sample wines.
“The emphasis over the long run will be on wineries,” he said. Envisioning Ramona as a wine tourist area, Sullivan said, “We want to be part of that pleasant surprise.”