Longtime Roseville resident Harwinder Bisla, the man who built Bisla’s sports bar near Sacramento State, is investing $3 million to build the upscale ASR Restaurant & Lounge in Roseville.
The 49-year-old Bisla opened his first restaurant, what he describes as a real-world replica of TV’s Cheers bar, one year after graduating with a finance degree from Fresno State. His parents, he said, gave him the loan to get it started. Theirs is perhaps the quintessential immigrant story, he said. His parents immigrated first to England where their six children were born, and then they all came to the United States.
“In England, when we were 9 years old, we were working in the fields picking potatoes, and then when we came to America, we were picking grapes and tying grapevines,” he said. “It would be cold, and the vines would unwrap and slap you on the fingers.”
When Harwinder and his five siblings got good jobs –“And a good job back then was Burger King, McDonald’s or any kind of fast food” – their parents would save whatever they earned. That and other money provided the nest egg that allowed Bisla’s parents to later invest in their children’s dreams. Bisla recalled that one of his first hires was his baby brother, Steve Bisla. At 18, he became his elder brother’s general factotum.
Harwinder Bisla couldn’t negotiate a new lease on his Fresno restaurant space and decided to try the nightclub trade, but after he married and started a family, he burnt out on the late nights. He moved his young family to Roseville in 1998 to be near his wife’s relatives. He dabbled in different businesses – fast-food franchising, video imports, gas stations and real estate development – as brother Steve burnished his reputation on the Fresno restaurant scene. His Standard Restaurant & Lounge, 9455 N. Fort Washington Road, received high marks in the Fresno Bee’s People’s Choice Awards.
So, when Harwinder Bisla decided to open a fine dining establishment, he asked Steve to join him as an equity stakeholder in exchange for his expertise and consultation time. Bisla told me that he has seen his share of ups and downs in business. He tried to pull off a comeback story with Bisla’s in 2008, but he was unsuccessful and sold it to his brother Bob Bisla.
He’s hoping ASR will be a winner. The restaurant, at 390 N. Sunrise Ave. in Roseville, takes its name from the first initials of his three children: Amran, Simran and Reena. Bisla sold the property that houses his Shell gas station near the Roseville Galleria to raise funds to buy his restaurant building. He also secured a $1.5 million small business loan from Plumas Bank.
He still operates the Shell station, leasing the space he once owned. It was at his gas station that Bisla encountered many of the restaurant industry contacts who connected him to the crew that now runs his establishment. That includes executive chef Vincent Paul Alexander, formerly of Slocum House, La Provence and Firehouse Restaurant; sous chef Q Bennett, formerly of Rio City Cafe and McCormick & Schmick’s; and assistant managers Fred Gardner of Ruth’s Chris and Anthony Solorio of P.F. Chang’s.