Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Boise beckons Ketchum business

Chandler's owner plans to open new restaurant

Express Staff Writer

As the Wood River Valley continues to grow, many businesses find themselves making various moves to improve or expand. Although it's now happening more, it's not an entirely new phenomenon.

In the mid-1990s, the Ketchum women's store Ishi moved to Boise and now has two downtown locations. Buckin' Bagel also opened in Boise in the mid-1990s, though it has since closed. Although owner Todd Rippo recently closed his Java coffee house in Hailey, his cafés are still running strong in two Boise locations and Twin Falls, as well as in Ketchum.

Other businesses that have tried their hand in both Ketchum and Boise are Davies-Reed rug store, whose first shop is still in Boise. Sharon Davies and her partner, Terry Reed, have Ketchum and Jackson, Wyo., stores as well. Smoky Mountain Pizza, with restaurants in Ketchum and Hailey, has a store in Nampa. Hailey-based Shorty's Diner opened (and then closed) in Boise. KB's, a burrito and taco tradition in the valley, is launching its first Boise store in the new BoDo development on the west side of Front Street.

In Ketchum, Trail Creek Village is home to Chandler's and Baci, two restaurants owned and operated by Rex Chandler.

Contrary to rumors, neither restaurant is closing here.

"I plan to be skiing until I'm 85 years old and I'll always keep a restaurant here," Chandler said recently. "The restaurants are not leaving Ketchum. In fact, we have a lease until 2012."

However, Chandler is going the way of those businesses previously mentioned. He is making the plunge into the Boise restaurant industry by opening a new fine dining restaurant.

"You can't deny the dynamics that are going on here and in Boise. It's about timing and location."

His new project will open in the 112-room Statehouse Inn, which was recently purchased by Cameron S-Sixteen Hospitality LLC. S-Sixteen, the holding group for potato magnate J.R. Simplot's grandchildren, plans on turning it into a boutique hotel.

The new restaurant space with a separate outdoor entrance, called Chandler's Prime Steak and Seafood, will feature a martini bar and outdoor dining. The owners will also operate a coffee shop called Metro Café. The establishments will be accessible from inside the new hotel's lobby. Chandler calls it sophisticated but not pretentious.

"This is a major project," he said. "I've been waiting and watching Boise for a while. I'm very excited about the vibrancy. Everything that opens brings it up a notch, and people respond."

Chandler admits that operating restaurants in Ketchum is not an easy task.

"Since 9/11, it's been very, very, challenging. We're here every day. There's high season and no season, and that's difficult. I feel it'll right itself in time. Every place has cycles, but there are a high percentage of second-home owners here. But it's a wonderful community of people. To me, it's paradise. No question, staff is the biggest issue. Human resources are extremely important."

Sharon Davies, of Davies-Reed, believes shops don't seem to do as well in Boise, but restaurants have a better chance.

"We've lost our base here," she said. "People who own those million-dollar condos are only here a month a year maybe. It's harder for restaurants here."

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