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New restaurant announced for downtown Victoria

By BY GABE SEMENZA
July 30, 2010 at 2:30 a.m.
Updated July 31, 2010 at 2:31 a.m.

Robert Briggs

RESTAURANT DETAILS:NAME: Undecided.

MENU: Still in revision process.

DINING HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at first. Could remain open later if customers support it.

RETAIL HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for pickup.

OPENS: Nov. 1.

LOCATION: 110 Juan Linn St.

Robert Briggs said he hopes his business sense and passion for cooking help to solidify downtown Victoria as a destination location.

Briggs announced this week he will soon open a new market-styled restaurant at 110 Juan Linn St., site of the old Huvar's Grocery & Market.

The restaurant will serve fresh, homemade dishes and pre-prepared food for takeout: King Ranch casserole, salad and dessert, for example.

"The downtown is the heart of the city," Briggs, 45, said. "This is something I have always wanted to do."

Briggs is one of several Victoria businesspeople who traveled the state - and even outside Texas - to study successful downtowns. At each stop, Briggs noted restaurant menus, architecture and atmospheres.

His decision to open downtown joins other openings announced already this year and last. Slowly, downtown momentum appears to grow - and so, too, do the number of new restaurants, retail shops and bars.

As workers install new downtown sidewalks and sewer systems, the city awaits word about whether it is accepted as a Texas Main Street city. The program aims to boost downtown development.

"If there is not a vital vibe downtown, the rest of the city suffers to some extent," said Randy Vivian, president of the Greater Victoria Area Chamber of Commerce. "I'm excited about all that's going on. Robert Briggs is an outstanding businessman and an extraordinary chef. You put those together and it's a winning combination."

Briggs is a third generation rancher and businessman who manages a sand and gravel company. While he lacks professional chef training, Briggs won a handful of high-profile Victoria cooking contests.

"I grew up cooking a lot," he said. "I love that cooking is a form of art. I love coming up with new ideas, new ingredients."

Briggs describes the restaurant, which he has yet to name, as artisan. He plans to cook using local, fresh ingredients plucked in part from farmer's markets.

Half of the first floor's 1,700 square feet will host diners; the other half will house the open kitchen, retail foods such as salsas and walk-in cooler.

"We've got a lot of big plans," he said.

In addition to catering, he might offer cooking classes, open the upstairs to dining and even work to move the Navarro Street farmer's market to downtown, he said.

He will also consider expanding to host private parties or even second-floor loft apartments.

His historic building, which is gutted after extensive demolition, will display many original design touches, including the exposed brick and beadboard ceiling.

The dining area will seat 40; he is still revising his menu.

"I'm talking to everyone I can to learn what they want us to serve," he said. "I want to create a family atmosphere and include menu items for children."

Now that demolition work is done, Briggs plans to begin remodeling during the next few weeks. He plans to open the restaurant by Nov. 1.

"His restaurant is a harbinger of things to come," said Gary Dunnam, a supporter of downtown revitalization and president of Victoria Preservation Inc. "The work being done on this building ... is a definite vote of confidence in the direction downtown Victoria is headed."

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