We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Register Guard reporter Ilene Alshire to talk about Café 440. The column from the April 21, 2009 Register Guard follows below:
After almost two decades in the hospitality industry, Todd Schuetz is going for his dream — a place of his own.
Café440 will open up at 440 Coburg Road in less than two months, assuming permitting and construction go according to schedule.
“It’s always been a dream,” Schuetz said. “But I didn’t know when or how I could carry it off. This opportunity was just put in front of me.”
The opportunity was a space in Eugene’s newest retail center, Coburg Station, which is being built by Steve Master’s Uptown Development.
“The owners were willing to work with me — they wanted a long-term establishment, they wanted it to be local,” said Schuetz, 39. “We negotiated a fairly complicated lease, half ‘build to suit’, half I’m doing.
“My thinking is, if we could do something positive right now, when lots of not positive things are going on, we would be in the forefront of things when America turns around,” Schuetz said. “And by doing something positive, we will attract positive people to us.”
All told, Schuetz and his wife, Martha, will be investing about $200,000 to $220,000 in the restaurant, which will focus on comfort food with a Pacific Northwest emphasis.
“I didn’t want it to be a four-star restaurant,” Todd Schuetz said. Prices will range from about $4 for appetizers to $14 or $15 for entrees, with ingredients provided locally when possible, he said. “I’m trying to find local cheesemakers. I want to use filberts. We’ll have lots of different sauces made out of local berries. In the mushroom season we’ll buy from locals.”
The food won’t be organic — “You can’t sell (organic) at a decent price per plate at this point in time” — but the emphasis will be on natural and local, Schuetz said.
The chef, Katherine Reeves, grew up in Eugene and has about 15 years’ experience in local restaurants, including working for restaurateur brothers Jim and Phil West, Schuetz said, “She helped me decide to do this,” he said.
Café 440 also will emphasize local products when it comes to beverages, he said. “We’ll put in a rotating beer list; I’ll try to keep two to three local beers on there. Also, we’ll have a rotating list of five or six wines, I’ll try to have a couple of wines — pinot noir, pinot gris — from within 50 miles of our front door.”
Schuetz, who originally is from Kansas, began his career in the food and beverage industry as a cook, before he was old enough to serve liquor.
He has worked at large and small companies, in a wide range of positions, including management, most recently as the night manager at the Bier Stein in Eugene. Schuetz and his wife have two children, ages 2 and 4. For the past few years, he said, “I’ve been a stay-at-home dad during the day, then I’d go to my job from 7 to 3 — I’m not scared of hard work.”
He and his wife had made up their minds that they wanted to stay in Eugene, where they’ve lived for eight years, and raise their children here, and the new restaurant provides the avenue to do that, he said. “I don’t want to go back to the big city and for a big company.” he said.
Schuetz looked at a variety of locations before settling on Coburg Station. Some, he said, were fully equipped for a restaurant but in a location he didn’t like. Others were too expensive, or the space didn’t work for him.
Coburg Station, just north of Oakway Center, was, he said, “just right.”
At 2,700 square feet, the space is the correct size, Schuetz said. It will seat about 85, and there is a patio area, although he notes that Oregon’s weather makes outdoor dining iffy for much of the year. The indoor space is a square, which makes it easy to split up the food preparation and allows him an unobstructed view of the whole restaurant, he said.
He likes the owners of the property and their standards — “The stone work is kind of what sold me. There are a lot of cheaper ways to build a building.”
And the location is just what he wanted, Schuetz said.
“Coburg Road itself seems like a Main Street,” he said. “But there is very limited local (dining) there.”
Schuetz has kind words for other Eugene restaurants that emphasize local ingredients, but says most of them are across the Ferry Street Bridge, in downtown or south Eugene. He doesn’t see himself competing directly against them, based on location.
“I’m competing against mainly national chains, on a local street,” Schuetz said. “Once you cross the bridge and go north, I want to be the local choice.”