|An old postcard of the Westbank from the 1960s|
Joel Henry, who has been running Republic America Grill and Tapa Bar since the fall of 2013, has gone into partnership with Bruce Rahmani of Denver, Colo., whose company, Colorado Hospitality Services Inc. of Northglenn, Colo., bought the eight-story tower in January 2015. The two are leasing the property from Dane Watkins, who locked everything up in late summer 2014 in a dispute with Om Shiv Ganesh, the financially troubled company running the tower and leasing the restaurant and convention center.
Henry said he is shooting to have the business open by June 1, but hopes to have the lounge open earlier. “It’s going to allow us to do all sorts of things,” he said.
Since moving into the convention center’s office, much of his time has been spent going through the files to gather information about people and organizations who have used the space for meetings, parties, receptions, etc. Since the convention center has been closed, the only place in Idaho Falls available for big functions has been the Shilo Inn.
Henry, 32, grew up in Traverse City, Mich., where he became executive chef of Poppycock's, a local restaurant, at age 21. He attended the Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I. "I believe in old school, no frills cooking," he said. No frills doesn't mean no imagination, however. "If you're not creative enough, there's no reason to be doing what you're doing," he said.
He plans to keep the Republic name for the new location, with tapas and small plate offerings. For the restaurant in front, however, he is debating between Italian or a steak and seafood. He also has plans to turn the building where the Republic is now into a delicatessen. “There are seven places to eat by the river right now, but they’re all sit-down restaurants,” he said. “It would be nice to have a place where you could go in and get a sandwich.”
Overall, Henry is going to be spending more time in the office and less in the kitchen. At the various locations, he anticipates managing between 25 and 30 people.
“There’s a lot of moving parts, but we’re all in this together,” he said.