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Relocation and Reinvention 

Gallagher's finds a new spot and Mazzotti's starts over on the plaza

click to enlarge Gallagher's fish and chips in its new location on Fourth Street.

Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Gallagher's fish and chips in its new location on Fourth Street.

Gallagher's makes a move

Kelly Erben is about to start a seating, serving and dishwashing shift at Gallagher's Irish Pub and Restaurant, as she has for 16 years, "the last original staffer," as she says, and owner since 2017. But she's not heading through the corner-facing glass double doors of the Historic Eagle House, built in 1886. According to Jennifer Metz, co-owner of the Inn at 2nd & C from which Erben rented, Phatsy Kline's will expand into that kitchen and dining room.

Instead, Erben is bound for the new home of Gallagher's, the apple green, flat-topped building festooned with flags at 1604 Fourth St. in Eureka, on the corner of Q Street, formerly her pizza place Shenanigans.

When Erben bought Shenanigans a couple years ago, she says she was already eyeing the calendar for the end of Gallagher's lease, which finished at the end of May and was extended for the transition. Looking at costs and other issues, she says she felt she had to decide "to either close Gallagher's or move Gallagher's." She chose the latter and now, "We're trying to put a full restaurant in a small one." That includes the full Gallagher's menu (plus pizza, once the new ovens are installed) and enough tchotchkes to fill a Hibernian hall.

The kitchen, however, is bigger in the new spot. "We were doing nearly $1 million a year on two burners and one fryer," says Erben. "Those kids were miracle workers and jugglers." She says she's brought over almost all her kitchen staff, who are turning out the same pepper-flecked fish and thick, browned chips as they have for years at the Eagle House.

She's still hiring to add to her staff of 14, though she's having trouble finding people. But for the first time she'll have a manager, which she says is welcome help, especially after the exhausting work of moving and refurbishing the kitchen. The renovation and move amid the pandemic, she says, "is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."

Three years after taking over Gallagher's, Erben says she was finally making money when an unfortunate cocktail of wildfires and COVID-19 turned her business upside down. PPP and personal loans kept it afloat, she says, but shelter-in-place restrictions, the loss of out-of-town clientele and supply chain issues were among myriad obstacles. "There were days when we earned $75 and yet had $400 in labor. ... We couldn't get Coors Light for three weeks. In America!"

Erben says there were some blown circuits at the new location Monday (now fixed) and she's getting complaints from the city about the chain link fencing and razor wire around the small parking lot, but she's undaunted. "The worst of it's over. I have worked so hard to the point of falling over every day," and now she's back to running her restaurant.

"Our regular customers are sneakin' in like crazy," says Erben, adding that live music will be returning, too. And while you can take your food to go, she won't be using delivery services like DoorDash or online ordering. "Fish and chips has gotta be eaten hot," she says.

Mazzotti's stays put

Meanwhile, in Arcata, Mazzotti's, dark since closing a little more than a year ago, is seeing activity at last. After the hoped-for sale of the facility to Jack Wu, co-owner of nearby Nori, fell through, Joe Mazzoti reviewed his options. Mazzotti had been looking at spaces for the business, which originally started in Eureka in 1976, including in McKinleyville and a couple smaller dining rooms. "I kept coming back to Mazzotti's on the Plaza," he says, especially the liquor license that would allow it to operate later as a nightlife spot, an option he'd been pitching to potential buyers. Finally, he says, "I bought my own deal."

Before you tie on a napkin, Mazzotti says he's tentatively planning a fall reopening of the 773 Eighth St. location. And while the recipes and the red sauce will remain the same, the menu is due for some changes. Expect more contemporary plating and presentation of old favorites, as well as some paring down. Once open seven days a week with dinner sets available all day, he's looking at fewer days, separate à la carte lunch and dinner menus, and more specialty drinks. After dinner service, he says he wants to do three or four nights a week of music and entertainment: karaoke, jam nights, live bands and DJs until 2 a.m. Down the road, maybe Sunday brunch.

To that end, "We completely gutted the interior," says Mazzotti, explaining how he'll relocate the stage and have Wallace and Hinz put in a new bar as a centerpiece, as well as plans for hinged windows to give the plaza-facing tables an outdoor feel. Wood-topped tables will replace linens and paper, which he knows some parents whose kids occupied themselves coloring with crayons will miss. (Linens and laundry aside, at $90 per roll, he estimates the paper alone cost $1,000 per month.) The closure, he says, is a chance to revamp and improve the place. "We opened [in Arcata] 19 years ago in September of 2002 ... and you don't get an opportunity to ... close down... and do all the work necessary. ... I just wanna do it right."

That might mean changes in workflow, hiring and pay, too. Reflecting on the pre-pandemic model or paying minimum wage for front of house and a couple bucks more in the kitchen, with the exception of chefs, and shared tips, Mazzotti sees the low wages as contributing to difficulty attracting and retaining "quality employees." Instead, he says it's time "to reconceptualize how we do things as an industry," penciling out "a living wage" for a professional crew.

How it will all come together, how long it will take, whether indoor dining will be sidelined by the Delta variant and how patrons will like the new Mazzotti's are among a million things on Mazzotti's mind. With a laugh he says it comes with the territory. "I worry every morning at 3 a.m. ... Worry is a huge motivator to do things right."

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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