Nearly five years after saving The Haven from brink of closure, restaurateur Johnny Russo has sold The Haven bistro and coffee shop.
As of Oct. 1, Chamber of Commerce President Robert Ybarra and business partner AJ Cabral are the new owners.
For the past couple of days, they have been observing how things work, and implementing small changes — technical things: one employee was still figuring out a change in the way the cash register operated.
Other differences will include large screen TVs broadcasting sports; extended hours starting in a couple of weeks as they hire a few more employees (they are considering staying open until 8 p.m., as opposed to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and maybe 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
A few adjustments will affect the menu, adding more desserts and lowering prices of items to lure in the many kids walking by to and from school.
And, per request of customers, adding a senior menu with “senior prices.”
The adjacent Banning Art Gallery will remain for now.
The new owners declined to disclose terms of the sale, though Ybarra says, “He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”
Russo says that he had previously been approached by a couple of other people to buy The Haven.
“I think Robert and AJ are a better fit,” Russo says. “They’re very community oriented — I have been for 30 years — and I appreciate the fact that they want to focus on making downtown a vibrant place.”
And the timing just felt right.
“I’m just tired,” Russo admits. “Thirty-three years in the restaurant business: running one place is tough, but running two places is twice the problems.”
He and the new owners indicate that the Friday evening jazz musicians who have been performing at The Haven will continue to do so, since, as Russo notes, “They’ve been creating quite a following.”
Though should The Haven discontinue that program, Russo says he will find another venue, possibly at his Johnny Russo’s Italian Kitchen restaurant.
Ybarra says that they are considering a beer and wine license, which they feel will not likely conflict with Brew Rebellion’s business just next door.
“They brew their own brand. We’re just going to have bottles of beer. We might even be willing to sell some of their products to help them out a little,” Ybarra says.
The business owners will be busy.
Ybarra owns Precision Material Handling in Banning, which manufactures hydraulic lifts such as boom lifts and forklifts.
His commitment to the chamber and to investing in Banning is evident whenever there is an event in the city — he is usually around.
And, he claims to be in discussions to acquire the Oddfellows Building, which houses The Haven.
Cabral is finishing up construction of Finesse Lounge, on the same block opposite of Wings Chinese restaurant. He hopes to have it open in time for New Year’s.
“We believe in downtown Banning,” Ybarra says, before correcting himself: “We believe in Banning.”
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at email@example.com.