Roseville civic and business leaders are searching for answers after a heavily hyped, celebrity-themed rock restaurant shuttered in February, the second time it has closed in less than two years.
Sammy’s Island Bar & Grill, named after musician Sammy Hagar, was billed as the centerpiece for the revitalization of downtown Roseville. Sammy Hagar’s family took over ownership in September, after previous owner Steve Pease abruptly disappeared and was later found dead. Pease was behind on a $1.5 million loan from the Roseville Community Development Corp., a nonprofit created by the city to jump-start downtown development.
Sammy Hagar was hailed by city officials as a savior for downtown, as he re-opened his restaurant in style by hosting a rock concert at the civic square that drew thousands. During an interview in September, Sammy Hagar expressed high hopes for Roseville, saying the Placer County city’s downtown district reminded him of his hometown of Fontana in Southern California.
On Friday, his son, Aaron Hagar, who served as a consultant for the business, sounded a different note about Roseville and pointed to the lack of foot traffic as ultimately leading to the restaurant’s demise.
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“It all comes down to the development schedule of that area,” Aaron Hagar said. “It was wonderfully optimistic – maybe a little idealistic. They wanted us to be the lone tree in the forest.”
He said his father decided to pull the plug unilaterally because the Vernon Street business was simply losing too much money. RCDC and the Hagar family had signed a three-year lease for $12,500 a month.
“It never made a penny,” Aaron Hagar said. “It was a gushing artery.”
The closure caught many by surprise and deals another blow for the city’s decades-long effort to revitalize the neglected area. Competition from the Westfield Galleria, also in Roseville, was cited by Aaron Hagar as a reason for the lack of traffic in downtown.
Roseville Mayor Carol Garcia, who had Sammy Hagar administer her oath of office in December, said city officials found out about the closure through a Facebook post from the musician. Garcia, like other officials, was stunned at how quickly things unraveled.
“We were aware of their struggles, but I am disappointed by how it was announced,” Garcia said. “Perhaps they didn’t have the right model.”
Scott Alvord, president of the Downtown Roseville Merchants Association, said it was clear the restaurant was failing.
“We could see the writing on the wall,” Alvord said. “All the surrounding restaurants were popular and busy. But Sammy’s was struggling.”
Aaron Hagar brushed aside suggestions that mismanagement was to blame for the closure, noting that it was a challenge to constantly fill 500 seats. He said the place was slowest on weekdays, and management couldn’t justify the cost of entertainment.
“There’s not enough traffic through Vernon Street for that type of business,” said Aaron Hagar, suggesting that the Galleria might have been a better location for the franchise. “The bottom line – it was unsustainable.”
Sammy Hagar isn’t new to the restaurant world, with more than 10 eateries in his name. However, most are licensed and independently operated. Aaron Hagar said this was the first time his father directly involved family members in the restaurant business.
RCDC officials are in a wait-and-see mode, as they remain in talks with the Hagar family regarding the lease.
“We’re waiting to hear from the operator formally what their desire is,” said Chris Robles, CEO of the development corporation. “At this point, I’m not really in a position to enter discussions on details of availability until there’s a change of the lease that we currently have. It’s still an active lease, just the restaurant is closed.”
Robles noted that he has received numerous unsolicited calls and emails for the property. He said the current lease includes a personal guarantee by Sammy Hagar for 21 months worth of rent payments.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The 10,000-square-foot space already has a commercial kitchen and full bar. Howard Rudd, RCDC board president, believes a fine dining establishment would succeed.
Krista Bernasconi, who runs her public affairs firm on Vernon Street, had her own idea.
“The city needs to attract a tenant with a name behind it and big pockets that could weather a few bad months,” she said.
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.