Sweet prize

Sweet prize

Restaurantarama might spend a lot of time tagging along with restaurateurs, but that doesn’t mean we actually know what it takes to open an eatery. Of the health inspections, liquor license applications, flatware choices and menu-related agonizing, we have only secondhand knowledge. Joanna Yoakam, though, has been there, and she wants to spare someone else from having to run the gauntlet.

Joanna Yoakam will practically give her bistro away—including the kitchen sink—to the winner of her essay contest.

Some lucky entrepreneur is going to acquire Yoakam’s restaurant for $199. That’s what she’s asking as an entry fee to her win-a-bistro essay contest. Other than that, the winner won’t spend a dime to acquire Sweet Peas Neighborhood Bistro & Pour House, the Lake Monticello spot Yoakam and her husband, Dean, have run since 2005. Sweet Peas’ website includes an exhaustive list of all the stuff the Yoakams will pass on to their chosen successor (“…omelet burners, assorted baskets and serving trays, extendable duster, extendable light bulb changer, step stool…”) along with the rules to the contest. It’s pretty simple: Entrants will write essays explaining why they want the place, Yoakam and two employees will pick their favorite in June, and then she’ll hand over the keys (and the equipment, inventory, and probably some staff as well).

Yoakam herself entered a similar contest in 1993, in which the prize was an inn in Vermont. She didn’t win, but the idea stuck with her. Having decided to move to Florida this summer, she and Dean figured they’d give the contest method a go. “We sat down with the entire staff and discussed it with them,” she says. “They don’t want to see us go, but after they thought about it and saw we’d let them be involved, they got pretty excited.” Unsurprisingly, so are would-be winners; since she announced the contest, the Sweet Peas website has gotten several thousand hits from around the country, says Yoakam. The winner will inherit a family bistro known for a menu of steaks and pastas, and blessed with the “fairly captive audience” of Lake Monticello, as Yoakam puts it.

Restaurantarama is pretty sure this represents a real-life example of that elusive phenomenon, human decency. Aspiring restaurateurs should get it while it’s hot.

Court date

We write these words on the anniversary of the early-morning fire that scarred Court Square Tavern last Ides of March. Since then, it’s been a long road for owner Bill Curtis as he’s worked to rebuild and reopen the basement-level watering hole, but when we dropped in recently for a look, things seemed to be getting reasonably close to the finish line.

Workers were installing lots of new kitchen equipment, which is not so much a repair as a major upgrade—Court Square used to function only on microwave power as well as kitchen support from Curtis’ other venture, nearby Tastings. Curtis showed us new features meant to keep the smoking section from impinging on nonsmoking. The space feels nice and bright, at least by basement standards, and a new stained-glass window replaces the old one, damaged by fire.

Curtis promises the same beer selection (which earned high marks from C-VILLE readers in years past) plus an expanded wine menu. His latest projection for an opening date is the end of March.

Speaking of fires…

Put your smelly cigar out before you enter the Downtown Grille, at least if you’re entering after April 1. The steakhouse will ban smoking on that date.

“I had more people saying they would like the restaurant to be nonsmoking,” says managing partner Robert Sawrey. Anticipating that, sooner or later, such matters will be legislated anyway, Sawrey figured he’d make the leap. Say aaaaahhhhh.

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