At a time when most businesses are shutting their doors or just trying to get by, two Juneau men have decided to try their hand at a downtown eatery recently vacated by another restaurant due to lack of business.
“I thought when this hit, OK, there’s going to be some opportunities,” said Don Morgan, co-owner of what’s now called Second Street Cafe at the corner of Second and Seward streets, in a spot previously occupied by a Subway restaurant.
“Someone’s going to need someone to take over a place, someone’s in a fix, I figured I could probably get one real cheap, which we did, not saying how much but it’s a good deal,” Morgan said.
In Alaska, buyers and sellers are not required to disclose the sale price of property to state or municipal offices.
Opening a small restaurant is something he’s always wanted to do, Morgan said, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took it.
“A lot of people say, ‘You’re going to open a restaurant during a pandemic?’ I see a lot of people afraid to even open their doors.” he said, but he figured he’d just try it and see how it worked out.
“I didn’t sign a long-term contract. We’re just going to pay month to month to see if it’s even feasible to pay that much rent,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he’s sharing the profits with his business partner Speedy James, who used to work at Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor. Morgan previously owned a business on South Franklin Street, but he prefers the new location.
“What we’re doing is a shared profit,” Morgan said. “I bought the business but we’re not paying ourselves. We’re going to see how much (profit) we make in a month. Whatever it is, we’re going to be equal.”
Whether or not the business will make it starting up during a pandemic “that’s to be seen,” Morgan said.
Morgan took over a lease from Wade Bryson, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member and owner of what is now Juneau’s only Subway.
“I was pretty optimistic about this year until the day after hunker down,” Bryson said.
Tourist numbers have been steadily growing and Bryson expected summer profits would help with upcoming expenses at his restaurants. Bryson’s restaurant in the Mendenhall Valley is currently undergoing a renovation and Subway expected to see a similar renovation downtown as well, he said.
“Knowing that I had to go into a significant renovation without having the summer revenue, it wasn’t busy enough to justify the remodel. Bryson said.
The loss of state jobs and housing downtown has negatively affected business over the years as well, Bryson said, but he’d hoped 2020 would be a good year for the downtown restaurant. As an owner-operator, Morgan won’t be constrained by corporate rules like he was with Subway, Bryson said, and will have more flexibility in finding a model that works best for that location.
“Don was looking for an opportunity, I was trying to survive. Seemed like a good match for the both of us,” Bryson said.
So far, Second Street Cafe’s menu consists of soups, assorted sandwiches and personal pizzas, but Morgan plans to add more as he goes along.
“Homemade soups, salads. All our sauces are homemade. We’ve got everything from cheeseburgers and hot dogs to any kind of sandwich you can think of. We’re just adding as we go,” he said.
The cafe had its doors open Monday for a trial run, but Morgan said the real launch date is Friday. He said he hoped the holiday would give the business a good boost.
Also on the menu but not yet ready on Monday were gyros, a Greek dish with roasted meat wrapped in pita bread with vegetables and sauce.
“I just made the tzatziki sauce today,” Morgan said. “I still gotta cut up the lamb.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.