The whole town has been buzzing since word got out that someone bought the Mountain House.
The Mountain House restaurant, located at Highway 41 and the Bass Lake turnoff (Road 222), had been a favorite of locals and visitors alike for many years, so when the doors closed in late 2009, it was another blow to the economy of the area, with the loss of over 20 jobs, and to the spirit of the town.
When people began noticing activity in and around the property last week, rumors began to fly. So we contacted new owner Harold Rothman, who graciously shared with us his plans for the Mountain House.
“We are going to completely restore it to the way it was in its heyday,” Rothman told us. “We have very good designers working with us, and we’re most excited about keeping this motif we think of as ‘chic lodge cabin.’ It’s kind of a historic building to me, and we love it.”
Rothman tells us he has been doing this type of project for more than 30 years. While a resident of Manhattan Beach, Calif., he maintained a home on Bass Lake and has been coming to the area for about 20 years.
“This is my vacation home and I love the community. I loved the Mountain House, and it broke my heart to see it gone,” he said.
Rothman and his group, the Yosemite Forks Hospitality Group, will not be running the restaurant themselves.
“We are basically restaurant property owners who seek out good properties, unique and older historic buildings, bring them up to standards and then lease them out,” he said. “Then we search for just the right operator.”
That’s why, he says, people should not be expecting to be driving by and see a restaurant open for business in the next few weeks, or even months.
“Our job is to find the very best operator we can to put in there. We have a set of criteria that includes very specific things. There will be breakfast, lunch and dinner. It must appeal to the locals, and the prices will be reasonable.
“We understand what the market wants here. It’s a great corner, right on the way to Yosemite, and nobody loves the property more than we do. So we will search out the very best operator, and that may take time. So we can’t commit to a time frame.”
The first order of business for Rothman and his team is to deal with the problems inherent in having a building closed down for nearly three years. There are water and sewer issues, leach field problems, cosmetic and design elements to deal with. They also want to address the parking lot situation.
The dirt lot above the Mountain House is part of the 4.25-acre property. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with the parking lot,” said Rothman. “We’re doing a pretty extensive study of it right now, and we’ll be working on that as well.”
Rothman is committed to preserving the mountain atmosphere and lodge-type styling of the building.
“We have a lot to do in order to make it a near turn-key operation. We’re not expanding in size or changing anything structurally. What we’re doing right now, I like to refer to as ‘deferred maintenance.’ It’s been closed a long time. But it just feels good in there. The floors are shot, and there’s a lot to do in the back bar area, but the ceilings are good, and the basic bones are good.
Mountain area resident Vince Smith will be coordinating the project. Smith is well known in North Fork as 2011’s “Citizen of the Year,” along with his wife Ginny, and has been working with Rothman for some 20 years.
“We’ve had quite a long working relationship with Harold,” says Smith. “He’s a straight shooter, and he has done this type of project quite a few times. He has a vision, and people are going to be really happy with the results.”
Smith has his work cut out for him. “There are some killer issues that we have to put to bed and rectify before we can even get in there and clean,” he told us. “Since the water supply has been shut down for a year, the county requires quite a bit of upgrading, and the sewer system has to be reactivated and parts of it made new. So those two are the biggies right now.”
One thing that will endear Rothman and his group to the community is their commitment to use local products and services.
“Harold is very conscientious about keeping the work local if he can,” said Smith. “That’s our philosophy. If we can get done in the local area, that’s who we’re going to use — local people.”
One exciting part of the kitchen remodel with be the inclusion of a baking facility. “We have several businesses where there are bakeries,” said Rothman. “We’re real culinary people. We love food. We love eating it. We love creating it, and we have a lot of talent behind us.”
Vince Smith confirms that. “Harold not only has the experience and the expertise for this project, he’s not a bad chef himself. He’s traveled to quite a few places in the world, and he says that he ends up in the kitchens every chance he gets!”