Name: Eric Peterson
Business: Guest House Grill
What they said then:
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In April 2008, The Tribune reviewed Guest House Grill, which had opened earlier that year on El Camino Real in Atascadero.
Described as a “work in progress,” the casual grill is a partnership between Trevor LaSalle and Eric Peterson. The Cal Poly graduates met working at other restaurants and started their own.
With entrees ranging from about $9 to $24, the menu offered a wide range in a casual atmosphere, from burgers and sandwiches to steaks and seafood. The restaurant also includes a “vast” patio with outdoor seating, making total seating capacity nearly 100.
What he says now:
In its fourth year, the Guest House Grill is in the black and continuing to expand. After an initial boom in the months after opening, business slowed, making the past few years a “struggle,” Peterson said.
“We worked seven days a week pretty much the first year to survive,” he added. “But the last six months have been the best since we opened.”
Since January, sales have been up almost 10 to 20 percent each month, compared with the same period last year.
Much of this comes from their luck in winning a liquor license in a state lottery against 17 other restaurants. The highly coveted tool allows eateries to serve spirits, in addition to the easier-to-get beer and wine license.
“On the open market, it’s worth about $60,000,” Peterson said. “You have to buy it from somebody who already owns it or you have to enter a lotto.”
And the presence of cocktails has drawn in a new market. “We thought it would open up a younger age, but it’s actually the opposite,” said Peterson, 23. LaSalle is 24.
The increase has come mostly from retired couples, slightly more affluent than his typical customers, who want a drink with dinner. To handle more diners, the grill hired a few new part-time wait staff, bringing employment there to 20 people.
The owners have also been experimenting with specials to boost business on slower nights, such as $9.95 all-you-can-eat spaghetti buffet every Monday night and steak-and-lobster combos on Sunday evenings for $19.95.
“We don’t make a lot of money off it, but it gets people in,” Peterson said, adding that Mondays are now among the busiest nights of the week. “Some things we try don’t work, but some things do.”
Their successes are often exported to the restaurant Peterson and LaSalle opened in Oregon less than three years ago. Leased at a resort, it’s only open six months of the year.
Now that they have some profit to reinvest in Atascadero, they’re converting barren land into a downstairs dining patio and fireplace lounge.
Decided do-it-yourselfers, the restaurateurs are getting help with bricklaying from Peterson’s father, Tim Peterson of Creston. The expansion should be done by next summer.
Meanwhile the young owners are keeping their eyes open for new bar or restaurant opportunities in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Despite their struggles, Peterson is encouraged by the fact that Guest House Grill has thrived when others around them didn’t.
“We made a lot of mistakes. We learned a lot, being so young,” Peterson said. “Because things are going so well here, we want to grow. We might open another restaurant in the next year or two.”
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