Sean Montes is the regional culinary director for Lazy Dog restaurants in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and now Fresno. Photos by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
When dining at Fresno’s newest restaurant, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, there are three important rules to follow.
Employees here call them the “three b’s” – no barking, begging or biting.
To be clear, those rules are intended less for human customers and more for their dogs or other animals they may choose to dine with in this pet-friendly restaurant, noted Sean Montes, regional culinary director for the California-based chain’s restaurants in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Now he can add Fresno to that list.
“And don’t put pets on the tables or chairs,” Montes said, adding that his company has no restrictions on what types of pets customers dine with on the restaurant patio – birds included – so long as they don’t disrupt other diners.
“We want you to just control your animal.”
Montes was in Fresno Wednesday with other Lazy Dog senior officials working to finish training cooks, waiters and the rest of the 200 employees at the new restaurant at 7965 N. Blackstone Ave., in the Villaggio Shopping Center.
The new restaurant replaces the previous – coincidentally animal-named – business, the Elephant Bar and Grill, which closed suddenly late last year.
After months remodeling inside and outside to make the place look like a forest lodge, Lazy Dog – a medium-priced, casual-dining restaurant – officially opens Monday.
Unofficially, it actually opened for lunch three days last week for invited guests and had a soft opening on Sunday so staff could practice their new jobs and work out the kinks before starting regular operations today.
Fresno marks the 28th Lazy Dog, 19 of them in California, and plans are to open two more this year in Newark, north of San Jose, and one in a Chicago suburb.
Being animal friendly was part of the business plan from the start when Chris Simms – a third-generation restaurateur – started the first Lazy Dog in Huntington Beach, intending to give customers a homey experience, from the food to the look of the business inspired by Wyoming lodges he and his family had visited since he was a child.
“He just wanted to bring back the hospitality of Wyoming – a small-town feeling of everyone helping each other and the outdoor environment. So that is why you see the wood pillars that are more pronounced in lodge-type hotels in the mountains, Montes said.
That also meant he wanted waiters, waitresses, bartenders and cooks to be highly cordial and responsive to customers’ wants, he said.
Then there’s the food.
“The concept has always been the same. We always wanted to have a balance of heartfelt classics, like pot roast, meatloaf – things that kind of bring you home, like when your mom was cooking – home-style cooking,” Montes explained.
But many of those classics are made with a few twists, “like bison meatloaf instead of regular meatloaf, which we had when we first opened. And we have onion straws on it, and we serve it with garlic [cauliflower] mash with five-hour braised gravy,” Montes explained.
In addition, “We’re a scratch kitchen. Everything we make, we do it here,” from the sauces put on the food to the syrups and fruit juices used at the bar to make flavored drinks, he said.
“I think that’s really the difference in our concept. We want to make sure we’re cooking – actually cooking – not buying stuff. So the goal is to offer the guest something where they can really taste the difference.”
And the restaurant’s bar offers among its variety of beers six brewed just for Lazy Dog restaurants.
There also is a menu for dogs, offering choices of hamburger or chicken mixed with white or brown rice, carrots and peas.
A no-meat option is available, and whether dogs eat or don’t, the wait staff will bring them bowls of water.
And while some may still assume this is some sort of hot dog restaurant because of the restaurant’s name, Montes said the name came about when Simms was watching his dog sleep and decided he wanted a restaurant where people are treated like that – like a lazy dog.
This is the first and so far only Lazy Dog in the Valley. As for why the company chose to locate here, “Fresno is growing rapidly, and I think what we are going to bring versus what the competition brings are other concepts above and beyond what customers are used to getting, so I think we’re going to bring a whole different level,” Montes said.
The recent availability of the former Elephant Grill also played a big part in the decision, being in a busy shopping center and across the street from River Park Shopping Center with busy Blackstone Avenue traffic between them, he explained.
“I think everybody is now a chef” thanks to the huge number of cooking and food-related shows on the air, Montes said.
“I think people are extending their palates more than ever before, and Lazy Dog tries – and I would say we do – at being fresh and relevant as to what’s trending and what will be trending,” Montes said, adding that just from talking to his test customers over the tree days, they’re excited to try something new.