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La Grande Observer Daily paper 10/24/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow Ready to make a comeback

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Ready to make a comeback

ISLAND CITY — An Island City restaurant that fell on hard times the last couple of years is looking to make a comeback.

People driving by New York Richie’s at 10303 W. First St. may have noticed the place closed lately, but adorned by a banner announcing a Friday grand reopening. Between now and then, owner Maria Escamilla and a small army of family members, friends and employees will continue making improvements with  elbow grease and paint.

They’re remodeling the place, refitting furnishings, fixing or replacing lights, painting and redecorating and doing whatever else is necessary to bring customers back and make them feel at home. Monday, Maria Escamilla took a break from the work to tell what she hopes to accomplish.

“I want to make people happy about us and make this a great place for them to eat with their families,” she said.

Eight years ago, Richard Brose, a movie and television actor formerly of New York and Los Angeles, opened the Island City New York Richie’s and proceeded to build a chain of restaurants. In addition to the Island City location, Brose opened New York Richie’s eateries in Enterprise, Boise, Pendleton and Kennewick, Wash.

Six years ago, Jesus Escamilla, one of Brose’s employees, bought the Island City location, and a year later the one in Pendleton.  Between the two restaurants, the Escamilla family employs about a dozen people today.

“Jesus worked for Richie and buying the restaurants was an opportunity to do what he knew,” Arturo Escamilla, Jesus’s brother, said. “He started in the kitchen, and it was his dream to have his own business someday.”

 Later, though, Jesus returned to his native country of Mexico to work.

Maria found herself out of her depth trying to keep the family business running smoothly. She readily admits that at the Island City location, business suffered because of less-than-stellar customer service and a menu that wasn’t up to expectations.

Arturo Escamilla, once a key employee in the Island City restaurant, had moved away also. Maria called on him to come back and help, which he did.

He said the family went through a long process of soul searching before taking action to upgrade the operation.

“I came back three months ago, and it took us a month-and-a-half to decide what we wanted to do,” he said.

He said customer service emerged at the top of the list of things that needed to change. The Escamillas decided that the old practice where customers placed their orders and paid for their meals at the counter had to go. When New York Richie’s re-opens Dec. 6, a wait staff will be taking orders at the tables.

Pizza and sub sandwiches have always been the mainstays at New York Richie’s, and Arturo said that will not change. At the same time, the menu’s expanded to include chicken wings, a new four-meat pizza and a kids menu.

On Nov. 25, Maria, Arturo, family members  and employees including long-time helpmate Gustavo Sanchez got going on a top to bottom cleaning and painting of the restaurant. A new color and lighting scheme is emerging, and all the furnishings are being repaired. Kitchen equipment is being cleaned and serviced.

 “We’ve done most of it ourselves. It’s pretty simple, but a lot of work,” Arturo said.

A year ago, New York Richie’s liquor license was suspended, the result of a birthday party given by one of the Escamilla children. Minors were served at the party.

 Arturo Escamilla said the suspension is due to be lifted Dec. 5, and that New York Richie’s will resume responsible serving of alcoholic beverages.

“We need to apologize to the community for what happened. We know we need to do it the right way,” Arturo said.

He said he and Maria and the rest of the restaurant staff hope old customers will come back, joined by new ones. He said he believes everybody will find New York Richie’s a better dining experience than ever before.

“Our goal is to provide the best customer service in town, and the best food,” he said. 

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