If Bob Tapella’s vision for the old Jeffrey’s Restaurant comes to fruition, patrons will be savoring delicious French Dip sandwiches and a cold beer in a classy restaurant in front, or in the company of bikini-clad beauties in the back.
“We just put an offer in to see if we could agree on something. It’s just a shot in the dark,” said Tapella, of the 5,552-square-foot building at 5955 Travel Park Circle.
Located in the truck stop off Highway 101 across the street from the Garlic Farm Inn, the dilapidating eatery has been sitting empty and boarded up for several years. Tapella wants to open in six months.
The former owner of Garlic City Billiards at 7500 Monterey St., Tapella hopes his 17-year track record with the community and Gilroy police will work to his benefit. He visualizes a “classy” venue with upscale dining and no nudity. He said lovely ladies would dance onstage in a separate back bar area and serve cocktails and mixed drinks.
“I don’t want to make it too risqué,” reiterated Tapella. “It will be classy, with good food and good coffee.”
Tapella plans on running the bar, with his partner, Tony Bilic – co-owner of award-winning Tarragon restaurant and a bar/nightclub called Paul and Harvey’s in Sunnyvale – at the kitchen’s helm creating gourmet sandwiches and appetizers. Bilic is the same restaurateur whose plans to open a Gilroy nightclub called “Showgirls” in the former El Amigo Restaurant by Home Depot got derailed in 2009.
In the meantime, it’s all a waiting game until Tapella gets a response on the offer he made three weeks ago on the empty building, which is owned by Bert Jessup of Morgan Hill.
Jessup is the retired owner of Jessup Transportation, a trucking company headquartered at 641 Old Gilroy St.
If all goes through, Tapella will model his venue similar to Sporty’s Bikini Bar in Sunnyvale; a place that describes itself as “better than a sports bar, better than a strip club.”
“But I would make it classier,” he repeated. “Like an upscale Hooters.”
With a full-service truck stop and the Garlic Farm Inn but a stone’s throw away, Tapella says the daily influx of U.S. 101 travelers would happily sustain a sit-down restaurant with killer fare, an attractive wait staff and a fun atmosphere.
Tapella got on board with Sporty’s after selling his pool hall about a year ago, and joining his buddy – Sporty’s owner – as a business partner. Tapella exited that venture one month ago, however, as the two made better friends than co-workers, he said.
Tapella has his sights set on the Garlic Capital now; a place he praised repeatedly with a twinge of nostalgic homesickness.
“I just like Gilroy,” said Tapella, who currently lives in Santa Clara. “I like the town and the people. We all got along so well. When I left that town, I was gone four months, and I never thought I’d like it that much until I went somewhere else.”
Whether the City of Gilroy reciprocates his bikini bar with the same goodwill is the elephant in the room.
While “bikini bar” is a different class of establishment than “strip club,” Tapella may have his work cut out for him.
Concerned Gilroyans came out with torches and pitchforks in 2009, when Bilic attempted to turn El Amigo, a struggling Mexican restaurant located at 8800 San Ysidro Ave. north of the Gilroy Premium Outlets, into a strip club called Showgirls.
Following a barrage of public opposition, the attempt was ultimately stonewalled by a 1999 declaration that bars “adult entertainment facilities” on the premises of Home Depot, which leased the strip mall at 8800 San Ysidro Ave.
Bilic ended the controversy in January 2009 by withdrawing from the planning department the application to approve his plans, which included a 56-seat club with two catwalks, a main stage for topless dancing, six lap-dance booths, a pool table and an outdoor patio.
While Tapella emphasizes his venue won’t be anywhere as secular, he’ll still need the stamp of approval for his adult business permit from Police Chief Denise Turner, including a green light from the City of Gilroy Planning Department. That’s on top of making sure he’s in compliance with the city’s zoning laws, and its mandates laid out in section 2A of the city municipal code for “adult businesses.” This entails 25 subsections that leave no stone unturned – from particulars about inside lighting; to covering up “specified anatomical areas” at all times; to a list of banned sexual activities.
Per the city’s code, for example, patrons aren’t allowed to throw money on the stage, or hand it directly to dancers. Gratuity must be placed in containers “approximately six feet from the stage on which the live performances occur,” according to the city. Managers are required to make this clear by putting up signs of a specified font size, in addition to installing 30-inch high rail barriers to separate the audience from the dancers.
Stages have to be at least 18 inches above floor level and separated by a distance of six feet from the nearest area occupied by patrons, who in turn are not allowed within six feet of the performers. If the patron restrooms have stalls, the city requires an attendant to be posted in the bathroom at all times to ensure only one person enters a restroom stall at a time.
The adult business code was last updated July 18, 2011.
Tapella, who is in the infancy stages of his business venture and hasn’t discussed his idea with city council members, said he’s well aware of the city’s restrictions; he’s just focused on buying the building.
“When I opened the pool hall in ’94 it was the cleanest place in downtown. I’m friends with all the cops. I’m going to run it classy and there won’t be any problems,” said Tapella.
Although his “long shot” vision is only in the beginning stages, Tapella queried: What other kind of business would be suited to the vacant building in the middle of a truck stop?
“They already had a great restaurant and it didn’t make it,” he pointed out. “A little bar, a little entertainment, a little pool – I think eventually down the road it will be a good thing.”