OAKHURST – Plans to reopen Oakhurst’s iconic Snow Line Depot took a giant step forward Tuesday when Madera County supervisors unanimously OK’d a so-called Letter of Public Convenience and Necessity required for the new owner to obtain a liquor license.
North Fork’s Jennifer McMillan, who purchased the Snow Line in September 2018, is trying to bring the popular local watering hole back to life.
In 2014, McMillan bought the property in North Fork known as Old Town and redeveloped the Old West-inspired collection of buildings into a picturesque parcel she renamed Bandit Town, now a popular special events center and local tourist attraction.
Since moving to the area from Colorado — via Long Beach — the successful clothing designer and manufacturer has assembled a growing portfolio of properties around eastern Madera County, including the Bandit Brand Trading Post in Oakhurst, where she makes and sells Bandit-branded T-shirts and other southwestern-style clothing and accessories.
In bringing the Snow Line back from cold storage, McMillan is teaming with Jacki Brandt, former owner of Oakhurst’s Dirty Donkey, who was forced to close her bar late last year after losing her lease when the Comfort Inn purchased the property.
Brandt also operates a successful area catering business and has been catering events for McMillan at Bandit Town for four years.
She and McMillan plan to reopen the Snow Line, which includes a large dance floor and stage, as an upscale country bar with live music and line dancing.
Brandt will manage the new Snow Line, which is located on the north end of Oakhurst on Highway 41 across from the Golden Chain Theatre.
The 5,000-square-foot building was last operated as a thrift shop. The property also includes upstairs living quarters and a large outside deck.
“It’s amazing, but inside, it’s still in really good shape,” McMillan said, comparing the Snow Line’s rustic interior, which still features mounted deer heads, to the cowboy-flavored, wood-paneled saloon at Bandit Town.
If the duo’s current timeline remains on track, Brandt hopes to be serving cold ones on the Snow Line’s renovated patio sometime around Memorial Day.
“We want to get it open real soon,” she said, adding there also are plans for the Snow Line’s commercial kitchen to be used again.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, county staff made a brief presentation and then recommended supervisors approve the liquor license letter request.
No one spoke in opposition.
Both Brandt and McMillan attended Tuesday’s supervisors meeting but neither formally addressed the board. After getting the thumbs up from supervisors, the pair clapped and hollered, “Woo-hoo!”
Outside the board chamber, McMillan proudly passed around large photos showing the Snow Line’s current interior.
Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who has been a big supporter of McMillan’s various redevelopment projects, said he couldn’t wait to see the Snow Line open again.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that place over the years,” Wheeler said at Tuesday’s board meeting.”It’s just great that it’s finally coming back to life.”
Before reopening, the pair must still get the appropriate approvals from the county’s health department.
McMillan said she decided to take on the project after Brandt, who ran the Dirty Donkey for ten years, lost her lease.
“I’m really exited to be working with Jacki on this,” she said.
McMillan said they haven’t decided on the name as of yet, but are leaning toward “The Snow Line Country Bar – Home of the Dirty Donkey.” She does concede that may be a bit lengthy and will leave the abbreviation to patrons who can brand it with their own moniker.
The North Fork-based entrepreneur also owns several other North Fork properties and recently purchased two more houses and three commercial properties in downtown North Fork.
McMillan told Sierra News Online she plans to redevelop those parcels into “… a cool little row of businesses starting with a country store with home goods, jams, books and blankets.”