Michael Rapisura and Dean Christopher, two buddies in their late 30s who bought the original Reno Blind Onion restaurant in June 2005, explained the series of unfortunate events — both natural and man-made — that haunted their second location.
First there was the 2006 New Year’s Day flooding that threatened the opening of the restaurant, located inside the Mizpah Hotel. Three weeks after they were lucky enough to avoid water damage, a car traveling 50 mph smashed into the building, forcing them to close for five months.
After reopening, the store had a successful five months. But tragedy struck for the final time on Oct. 31, 2006, when fire destroyed the residential hotel and killed 12 people, injured 31 and left 70 people — and the Blind Onion and several other businesses — homeless.
The restaurant’s owners hope a new home in Sparks will have better luck.
“Restaurant owners — especially new restaurant owners — are optimistic wishful thinkers,” Rapisura said, standing in the 1,600-square-foot dining room of the Blind Onion’s new location at 824 Victorian Ave.
Rapisura and Christopher considered this Sparks location before they chose the Mizpah Hotel spot. After the insurance company compensated them for their losses from the fire, they found that the same spot was once again available. They have spent the last several months making the place their own — new paint, a new bar and chairs from the old restaurant that survived the fire — and they hope to be ready for business by this weekend.
When the doors do open, Rapisura and Christopher are sure their loyal customer base will follow.
“We’ve nurtured it,” Christopher said of the pair’s entrepreneurial efforts. “We want to make sure we have a nice place people want to come to. That’s the challenge.”
Good pizza and a variety of unique beers don’t hurt, either. Rapisura said they make their dough several times each week to ensure freshness and they make sure they never skimp on the toppings or the size of slices. They also said they plan to rotate their beers on tap so customers will have unique choices every time them come to eat.
One of the other unique culinary features of Blind Onion’s pizza is the braided crust which, according to Rapisura, customers like to eat after dipping into the large jars of honey kept on every table. It is so popular that they go through 10 pounds of honey each week.
“You have to become a destination,” Christopher said. “People come to our Kings (Road) location because they know it’s there.”
“Our customers are our best advertisement,” Rapiura said. “They tell other people about it and that’s how we end up with new customers.”
Rapisura, who has a law degree, and Christopher, who worked in the energy trading business in Europe for10 years, don’t seem a likely pair to own a restaurant. But it’s in Rapisura’s blood (his dad was the first franchisee of Jimboy’s Tacos) and Christopher “caught the bug” in college working at a pizza place.
But meeting them and seeing the casual banter between them, they’re a natural fit to be slinging dough and suds.
“The opportunity was right,” Christopher said of his exit from his prior occupation. “It was a good situation because I was between jobs.”
“Now we’re stuck,” Rapisura said with a smile. “We have to make this place work.”