Former King Kenny Thomas on his new restaurant and competition on K Street
Take a stroll down K Street near the Golden 1 Center and you’ll encounter a king-sized construction zone. Much work remains on the basketball arena before its October opening, but among the dust and debris, one thing is becoming clear: K Street Mall and its adjacent areas are transforming into a food-and-drink district that’s unlike anything Sacramento has ever seen.
More than 30 new restaurants and bars are expected to open in this section of downtown by the time the Golden 1 Center (at 547 L St.) wraps up its first full year of operation in 2017. This tally doesn’t include the dining and drinking options at the arena itself, which will boast a robust concessions program that emphasizes homegrown restaurant brands and ingredients sourced within a 150-mile radius of Sacramento.
Of course, development plans can change and some leases have yet to be signed, but a full-court press is underway to ready a smorgasbord of new dining spots. On the 700 block of K Street, which borders the arena, two eateries – El Rey taqueria and the Irish pub-styled Malt & Mash – are pushing to open on the ground floor of the historic Oschner Building by the end of August. A third eatery at this 14,000-square-foot development is also planned. Three blocks away, the long-vacant Assembly Music Hall is scheduled to transform into a Boiling Crab seafood restaurant by this fall.
These new places, and the others opening later, will join established restaurants and bars in the area, including Empress Tavern, Mother, Pizza Rock, Pre-Flite Lounge and Cafe Bernardo-KBAR. Meanwhile, even more eating and drinking options are expected to be announced as the 800 block of K Street continues to evolve with its development plans.
“It’s not an accident that we’re seeing more food and beverage in the area,” said Valerie Mamone-Werder, senior manager of business development for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the central business district. “(The operators) are smart and know the market, and know who they want to be in company with.”
If the sheer number of eating and drinking businesses in the area sounds like a lot to digest, it is, and proprietors are bracing themselves for stiff competition. While these new establishments may test the balance of supply and demand in downtown Sacramento’s dining scene, the hope is that the arena, which is projected to draw more than 1 million visitors annually, will keep these places packed for years to come.
Inside the Golden 1 Center, which opens Oct. 4 with the first of two sold-out Paul McCartney concerts, Legends Hospitality has been preparing the launch its concession program. The company has partnered with several local restaurants for a Sacramento-centric spin on arena foods – think sausages from LowBrau, banh mi sandwiches from Star Ginger and pizzas from Selland Family Restaurants. Other partners include the Paragary Restaurant Group, Mulvaney’s Building and Loan, Mikuni Sushi and Petra Greek.
Historically, NBA teams have limited their food and beverage interests to inside their arenas. The Kings, however, plan to be landlords for several food and entertainment venues outside Golden 1 in an area they’re calling Downtown Commons, or DoCo. The space, previously known as the Downtown Plaza shopping center, is located roughly between Fourth and Seventh streets and J and L streets. The Kings have announced three food and entertainment venues there so far:
▪ Sauced, a barbeque restaurant, is expected to open at the corner of Seventh and K Streets around the same time as the arena.
▪ Punch Bowl Social, a dining and entertainment center with bowling, arcade games and karaoke, will open in early 2017. The 25,000-square-foot space will be in the tower of an upcoming Kimpton hotel on the north side of Downtown Commons.
▪ Pour Society, a large pub, will open later in 2017, west of the arena near Macy’s.
Kings officials say they also plan other smaller eateries in the DoCo site as well as a hotel restaurant. Popbar, a dessert shop that specializes in gelato on a stick, also is expected to open there in the fall.
“It will be a mix of casual dining, quick bites, as well some treats unique to Sacramento,” said Chris Granger, Sacramento Kings president, about DoCo’s food and drink tenants.
Over on J Street, more food options await. Plans call for the D.O. Mills Bank Building at Seventh and J streets to be transformed into a “culinary concourse” with 10 vendors and fashioned as the local equivalent of Napa’s Oxbow Market.
Additional restaurants will be found on the south side of downtown near the arena at 555 Capitol Mall, which is poised to open three to four food-drink destinations, including a new cafe run by Old Soul Co., a full-service restaurant and possibly a bakery. Whired Wine, a wine bar with small-plate food items, already has staked its claim, opening at 410 L St. in February.
Granger called the other restaurants near the arena “a plus.” He said he does not think downtown has reached a point of food-and-drink saturation, even with the 30-plus announced establishments.
“We’re thrilled to have neighbors that are working hard to create a lively entertainment district surrounding the arena,” he wrote in an email to The Bee. “I think they complement the arena options.”
Randy Paragary, who has run local restaurants for more than 40 years, believes the influx of new food and drink operators will best serve evening diners. Along with his partnership in Golden 1 Center’s concession program, Paragary’s oversees three nearby eateries that are poised to attract Golden 1 Center visitors: Cafe Bernardo-KBar, Esquire Grill and Hock Farm Craft & Provisions.
Paragary questions if there will be enough lunch businesses to go around, given the fixed number of office workers at nearby buildings. But he believes the trade-off will be worth it when K Street fills at night for arena events including games and concerts.
“Is the arena going to add any lunch business?” Paragary asked. “Zero. But dinner and evenings should be dramatically busier and that’s where the money is in the restaurant business. Lunch is a sandwich and iced tea. Dinner is when people have wine, cocktails and more expensive entrees. I’ll take that trade any day.”
The expansion of food and drink options continues farther up K Street, toward the Hyatt Regency hotel near 12th Street.
The Sutter Capital Group development company is marketing a large space at 11th and K streets – the former Pyramid Ale House – as a likely site for an upscale restaurant, or perhaps two smaller restaurants. The site is in a remodeled 1911 building a block from the state Capitol, now called the MAY Building. It features 21 newly opened upscale apartments, aimed at attracting the first new wave of downtown residents.
Developer Burke Fathy said his group has been looking for a restaurant tenant for months, but the large size of the space makes it a difficult fit.
“We are trying to remain patient,” Fathy said. “We want the right operators, consistent with the overall project’s higher end, elegant feel.”
Back by the arena, on the south side of the 700 block, developers Bay Miry and Ali Youssefi are building out spaces for up to 15 new businesses that are scheduled to open by the end of 2017. Of those new spots, seven to nine are expected to operate as food or drink vendors, including businesses run by the owners of Red Rabbit, Insight Coffee and Kru/Fish Face. Miry said that two more food-related operators should be announced around the time Golden 1 Center opens in October.
Miry and Youssefi’s development also includes 137 apartments, which will be home to approximately 225 new residents. The city’s overall goal is to add 10,000 housing units in the central city in the next decade, turning downtown into a community.
Miry said he believes this combination of new residents and an arena that’s scheduled to host more than 200 events annually will provide enough customers to sustain what’s amounting to a gold rush of new eateries.
“The perfect storm is finally here for all these major developments to happen one after another,” he said.
New restaurants near the arena
Food and drink options expected to open near Golden 1 Center in the near future:
1. 419 J St.: The Pier Lounge, located in the space of short-lived Triple Doubles Sports Bar and Grill.
2. 555 Capitol Mall: Three to four food/drink spots, including a cafe and full-service restaurant.
3. 629 J St.: A “culinary concourse” with as many as 10 vendors at the D.O. Mills Bank Building.
4. Downtown Commons aka DoCo (660 J St.): Punch Bowl Social, Pour Society, Sauced, Popbar.
5. 630 K St.: A Starbucks cafe with updated menu including wine service.
6. 700 block of K Street (north side): El Rey, Malt & Mash and another restaurant TBA.
7. 700 block of K Street (south side): New offerings from the owners of Red Rabbit, Kru/Fish Face, Insight Coffee Roasters and as well as four to five other food/drink spots.
8. 826 K St.: A ramen house run by the team behind Greenhaven Sushi and other eateries.
9. Ninth and K streets: A new brew pub to be located above Coin-Op Game Room.
10. 1000 K St.: The Boiling Crab, located in the former Assembly Music Hall.
11. 11th and K streets: Upscale restaurant, or two smaller restaurants, at former Pyramid Ale House.
12. 11th and K streets: Coffee and “artisanal toast” at Oblivion Coffee and Comics.