The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another downtown Sonora business that will not reopen as the local economy reconfigures to normal daily life: Intake Grill.
"I've met a lot of great people downtown. I wouldn't go back on it for anything. It was a great experience, but it's just not where I want to be,” said owner Jim Pranes, of Copperopolis. “And just being closed so long, it makes it easier to walk away from right now.”
Intake Grill, located on 123 S. Washington St. above Sonora Creek and north of Stockton Road, was closed like many restaurants in the midst of the statewide shutdown initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Prior to the pandemic, it was another downtown weekend hotspot churning out American fare and morphing into a bar-hangout in the later hours. During the week, Wednesday karaoke nights drew crowds and enthusiasm.
With regular clientele and reliable services, Intake Grill appeared poised to resurrect itself after the pandemic.
But even before COVID-19, the business had its share of obstacles, Pranes said.
"It was good and bad,” he said. “You do have a group of people down here that do not like restaurants with bars and they blame all the issues in Sonora on that. Sonora is a difficult town, there's a lack of parking, it doesn't seem like the city wants to do a lot to help the businesses out, but I don't regret anything. It was something that I wanted to do. It was a new adventure to try something different."
Pranes, who was raised in Tuolumne County, had worked as a contractor for 25 years before buying Hot Shotz Sports Bar and later rebranding it as the Intake Grill. In the transition period, he has still worked as a contractor.
According to Union Democrat records, Intake Grill — formerly known as Hot Shotz Sports Bar and Alfredo's Mexican Restaurant — has undergone transformations in recent years.
In less-than-recent history, the restaurant was known as Alfredo's, but the business closed in 2011. Dave Mason, of Jamestown opened the original Hot Shotz Sports Bar, which at the time was billed as an American-food joint with six televisions and all the ornamentation of various sports memorabilia.
After about a year of owning the business, Pranes refurbished the interior, extended hours and spruced-up the food menu.
At the same time, a Missouri-based franchise called Hot Shotz sent them a cease-and-desist letter regarding their name, and the restaurant came into its final iteration.
Intake Grill was intended to be a more family friendly atmosphere, with more seating, booths, and added beer taps for customers.
Originally, Pranes plotted reopenings at several points during the pandemic. But the changing of conditions and regulations governing the reopenings turned into a regular "headache," he said.
"There's a lot of reasons why I didn't,” he said. “I don't have the luxury of having a side street to put my tables on. I couldn't do it in the past year.”
Pranes said he planned to open at one point, but lost money when he put in product orders and the county was forced to shut down again.
Pranes most recently considered opening up as a part of the countywide and statewide reopening initiative, (which mandated certain COVID-19 safety protocols), though he said he struggled to find enough employees to fully staff the restaurant.
Some of those obstacles aren't just restrained to his business, Pranes said, noting a number of empty storefronts in the downtown area.
"There's help wanted signs in every business that's open right now," he said."I just think the city needs to do more to help the business down here. They need to get people down here, like with Second Saturday. It brings a lot of people down here … It's kind of hard because last year nothing happened.”
The Intake Grill, he also noted, had earned the ire of some of the administrative city establishment due to a few high-profile incidents: a filmed verbal confrontation between a Sonora Police Sergeant and motorcyclists parked in front of the business and homeless encampments underneath the building, which once caused a fire scare after smoke rose through the floor.
Pranes said in the future he hopes to open a new restaurant and grill, perhaps outside of California.
"I'm waiting to see what happens with everything, the economy and with everything," he said.
There are some offers to buy the building, Pranes noted, so the future of the establishment remains uncertain.
Pranes said he had a "solid lease offer" on the building (which he owns) for an upper-scale pizza parlor, though no documents have been signed yet.
"It's going to be occupied soon," he said.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4526.