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Sweet Basil Acquiring Iron Mountain Grille
(PICTURED ABOVE: Eric Fye, chef, and Lisa Morgan, manager, of Iron Mountain Grille.)
(Photos by Jill McDermott.)
Sweet Basil’s philosophy of fresh ingredients, good food, and keeping things simple is guiding its new management.
Jason Conley, owner of Sweet Basil Italian Restaurant and Bar, operates on some simple guidelines.
“I know customers like a well-cooked meal at a reasonable price,” Conley told exploreClarion.com.
“They don’t want to walk out the door and feel like they got taken advantage of.”
A trained chef, Conley has plans to extend his simple philosophy to Cook Forest.
“We’re eventually buying the Iron Mountain Grille in Cook Forest (Clarington), and we’re in a transition process right now,” Conley explained.
“We’re currently helping Mary Beth Steffee run it, and I believe in April, we will be purchasing the building and assets.”
Conley is usually in the back cooking food and supervising at Sweet Basil. He said the business has expanded so much over the last couple of years after being remodeled in 2017 and adding a bar.
The growth and a steady supply of good chefs fueled expansion ideas, according to Conley.
“I had a bunch of starting quarterbacks in the kitchen,” continued Conley. “The business was growing, and in this ‘world,’ you’re either growing, or you’re dying.
“I felt it was time to split them up to expand, so I brought over Eric Fye, who’s worked for me here for six or seven years and Lisa, who has also worked six or seven years for me. They are going to be running the front and back of the house up there. Lisa will be in the front of the house. Eric and Patrick (Brazenski) will be in the back of the house, taking care of the food.”
Patrick Brazenski was the former executive chef at Clarion University for quite a few years.
“That was kind of the driving force behind it. They wanted to step out on their own a little bit, and I feel confident with what we have. I’ve given them free rein over the menu.
“They wanted to do it a little bit differently than Sweet Basil, but they’re going to keep the tradition in line with fresh ingredients, good food, and keep things simple.”
Food is First for Iron Mountain Grille
Although Iron Mountain Grille also presented bands, Conley’s approach is “if the food is good, customers will come back.”
“I want to focus on the food and the service. As far as entertainment, we will take a look at it down the line, but for now, we’re going to push that back. I want to get the staff trained for the service, and the kitchen staff trained, so the food comes out consistent.
“I think Mary Beth and her partnership up there did great, and I’d like to take it to the next level. It’s a beautiful venue, and there are some talented cooks already there. Just speaking with the staff, I think they’re going to ‘kill’ it out there with the experience and new hours.”
Iron Mountain Grille’s Chef Eric Fye added, “We’re very family-oriented. When people come in the door we want them to know each other.
“I spend a lot of time visiting with the customers. I know a lot of chefs don’t leave the kitchen, but I want to know everybody, and I want to know that we’re doing things correctly for them. I want everybody to come in here and feel like they spent a good price, and they’re full and leave here satisfied.”
New Hours at Iron Mountain Grille
New hours are also going to be phased in at the Iron Mountain Grille.
Here are the current hours:
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Monday – CLOSED
Tuesday – CLOSED
Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
“At first, we’re going to keep the hours and will be closed Monday and Tuesday….In April, around Trout Season, we’re going to start making weekend breakfasts, and in the first week of May, we’re going to be open seven days a week, except for holidays, throughout the year,” Conley explained.
“It’s nice having the summer business, but you know we’ve got to support the local community. We’re going to keep the prices in line with what is charged in the area. We’ve lowered some of the prices. We kept them more aligned.
“I know what sells around here, and people like the no-frills type approach. Around here, you know people like their pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, strip steaks, and Delmonico’s. I know they like a well-cooked meal at a reasonable price. They don’t want to walk out the door feeling like they got taken advantage of.”
Capacity is the same for both locations, at about 120 people.
Iron Mountain Grille also has a front porch that can seat from 25-30 people.
Employees Are Important to Conley
Conley said that his employees are important to him – and to the success of his restaurants.
There are currently about 32 people working full and part-time at the two restaurants.
“I’m assuming sometime in June with Cook Forest picking up, I’ll be around 60 employees.
“I think part of the reason that we were able to expand is that I pay my people better than average and also have health insurance and paid vacations for my full-timers. I want to expand on that in the coming years and have retirement plans and things like that.
“Young kids back there in the kitchen are stepping up, and hopefully we could do this again in a year or two and expand even more.”
Restaurant manager Lisa Morgan added that all of the servers who had previously worked at Iron Mountain Grille are still there.
“When people come in, I want them to see our smiling faces. I want them to have the best customer service that we can give them,” Morgan said.
“I want them to feel welcome and warm and leave with a full stomach and a to-go box so they have a little extra.
“Those are the things we want, we want people to feel at home when they’re here.”
New Name on the Horizon
“We are going to change the name. I felt that rebranding was necessary to get familiarity with the connection with Sweet Basil.
“Moving forward, we’re going to rename it. So that the menu reflects the name change, we’re going to call it Cousin Basil’s. We want to keep Basil in the name, and it’s kind of like the sister restaurant. But, you know, we thought cousin sounded better.”
Part One of a Series on Iron Mountain Grille and Sweet Basil.
Jill McDermott contributed to this article.
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