The new Harvey House restaurant opens in Old Sacramento on Saturday, and co-owner Simon Mandell said it incorporates the area’s rich history while providing affordable family dining.
“My wife works for the (California State) Railroad Museum, and she said the only complaint they ever get there is that they don’t have a good family restaurant nearby,” Mandell said. “Everything is either a bar or high-end dining or a hot dog.”
Mandell, 62, got his start in the restaurant business in Orange County after graduating from culinary school. He’s lived in Sacramento for the past 20 years, and most recently, his focus was on his catering business, Simon’s Catering.
Located at 900 Second St., the restaurant is at the original street level in Old Sacramento and occupies the space formerly housing Fulton’s Prime Rib, which closed several years ago.
Fred Harvey, the restaurant’s namesake, came to the United States from England in the 1870s and, traveling by train, saw that most of the places that offered food were saloons, which were often seedy.
Harvey opened his first restaurant in Kansas, and opened more down the rail lines heading west. The original Harvey House chain had numerous locations, but Mandell said he isn’t aware of any originally in Sacramento.
“Two things were very important to him: fine service and fine food,” Mandell said, adding that a movie, “The Harvey Girls,” starring Angela Lansbury and Judy Garland, immortalized the restaurant chain, which closed in the 1960s.
In homage to the original restaurant, the serving staff of the new restaurant will have the same uniforms as the original servers, and some of the restaurant’s food will be made off the original recipes, with the remainder being Mandell’s own creations.
The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Mandell said he will have items such as Monte Cristo sandwiches, New York Reubens, patty melts and chicken fried steak.
Sandwiches range from $6.99 – $8.99, and dinner entrées typically fall around the $10 mark, with the ribeye steak and prime beef more expensive, but still under $20.
Breakfast items include pancakes, French toast and a range of omelets, including a salmon Benedict.
“I make it fresh – a lemon tarragon salmon served on an English muffin with Hollandaise sauce dribbled over it,” Mandell said. “It’s awesome.”
The children’s menu was developed with the intention of being able to give kids “actual real meals,” Mandell said.
“We have a brisket meal for a child,” he said. “It’s a full meal.”
Healthy options such as grilled chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables stay away from deep-frying.
“Everything kids get anymore is deep-fried,” General Manager Greg Williams said.
All kids meals are priced under $4.
About 30 employees – 25 up front and six in the kitchen – will staff the restaurant, which can seat 150 inside and an additional 70 on the patio.
Inside, the restaurant is segmented into cozy dining rooms. The walls are a mix of wood paneling and brick. A room off the waiting area will be used as a mini museum to house a small collection of memorabilia from the Railroad Museum across the street.
Chris McSwain, business district manager for the Old Sacramento Business Association, said he is happy to see a new restaurant taking the space at what many consider to be the entrance to the historic district.
“The fact that it is here right across the street from the Railroad Museum is fantastic,” he said. “That space has been one of our priorities to be filled with a restaurant.”
McSwain added that the restaurant should add to Old Sacramento’s draw as a dining destination.
“We’ve been well-known going all the way back to The Firehouse,” he said.
Mandell said the 4,000-square-foot restaurant will carry beer and wine once the liquor license is approved, but it will be a small selection of bottled beers with wine, as the focus is not to be a bar.
“Our emphasis is to have a family restaurant where anyone can afford to eat,” he said.
Initially, the restaurant will be open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. After Memorial Day, the restaurant will be open 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. seven days per week.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.