Follow-Up File: Care firm fosters hearty appetites

Name: Darren Smith

Job: Chief operating officer

Business: Compass Heath Inc.

What he said then:

Over the past few years, one of the largest health-care providers on the Central Coast has expanded its local investments by buying restaurants throughout San Luis Obispo County.

Compass Health Inc., based in Grover Beach, made two acquisitions in 2009 that The Tribune reported. In June that year, it was part of a deal to buy Level Four Restaurant & Lounge in Paso Robles.

“Being that it’s in a basement and kind of hard to find, we’re going to further create the atmosphere of a speakeasy,” said Darren Smith, Compass Health’s chief operating officer.

In August, it was purchasing Pelican Point Bar and Restaurant in Pismo Beach from Martin Resorts.

The business had 35 employees. Smith predicted it would employ about 45 once the changeover was complete.

Compass also owns Downtown Brew in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, as well as The Old Custom House in Avila Beach.

What he says now:

Ventana Grill has replaced Pelican Point. Smith said the new restaurant’s concept was inspired by the location.

“It’s like it’s suspended on the bluffs with the most spectacular views,” he said. “One of the first things we did was to put in new windows.”

Compass changed the floor plan, he added, “so basically every seat in the house has panoramic views of the ocean.”

The restaurant hasn’t changed its focus on weddings and events.

In Paso Robles, Level Four has invested in mood lighting and authentic Prohibition-era artwork to bump-up “the speakeasy atmosphere.” The menu focuses on steak and seafood.

To target the “30-plus” crowd, Smith said, Level Four pairs a local winery and a local band at dinner hour for a recurring Tuesday event called Indulge.

“Paso Robles seems to have been hit hard because a lot of the restaurant clientele were in the construction trade and are now out of work,” Smith said. He’s more upbeat about business on the coast.

“Locals are ‘staycationing,’ ” he added, referring to people staying at home instead of traveling for vacations. “And, for what we’ve seen this summer, tourism to the Central Coast is strong.”

In order to attract locals, the restaurants are almost always running promotions on food or drinks to be perceived as more affordable.

Ventana Grill now employs just over 100 people. Level Four has 15 employees.

One of the largest employers on the Central Coast, Compass Health has 1,200 workers companywide.

“The healthcare facilities tend to be consistent despite the fluctuating economy because they provide need-based service,” Smith said.

With nurses in demand, Compass Health also created a foundation to support the education of local healthcare workers. It recently gave five scholarships to nursing students.

— Raven J. Railey