Hardly before the ink was dry on the sale of CJ’s Beach House, one of Blaine’s most famous restaurant owners has announced he will reopen the well-known Birch Bay eatery.
Jack Niemann, who opened the Black Forest Steakhouse in downtown Blaine just more than a year ago, plans to reopen CJ’s Beach House in Birch Bay as early as November. The venture will be Niemann’s 50th in a restaurant portfolio that includes eateries in the U.S. and across Canada.
The reopening will be a bit of a homecoming for Niemann, who owned a Black Forest Steakhouse in the CJ’s Beach House space 40 years ago. The name will remain the same, but the meaning will have changed: The “C” will now stand for Christina, Niemann’s wife, while the “J”… well, hopefully that’s pretty obvious.
“I call those divine occurrences,” Niemann said, referring to the coincidental link between the old restaurant’s name and his and his wife’s first initials.
Niemann said he will not change the CJ’s menu much, but does plan to add more seafood dishes. He said he would love to have a fresh catch-of-the-day option, and added he’s been in talks with Barlean’s Fishery in Ferndale as a possible seafood provider.
Niemann said he plans to offer jobs to many of CJ’s former employees, including the baker responsible for the restaurant’s famous rolls and Lauren Beyer, CJ’s former head chef. In all, Niemann expects to employ 30 people once the restaurant is fully operational.
Niemann said he still plans to spend most of his time at the Black Forest Steak House in Blaine. Niemann plans to be involved in getting the new CJ’s up and running, but said his customers will still find him flitting from table to table at his Blaine restaurant.
“The mothership is [in Blaine],” Niemann said.
Niemann has enjoyed success at his Blaine steak house in the past year, saying that the restaurant has made a profit every month it’s been open. Niemann is confident he’ll able to attract nearly as many people to fill CJ’s 300 seats, with a heavy reliance on his solid British Columbia fan base.
Birch Bay Realtor Mike Kent, the listing agent for the property, also has high hopes for the new CJ’s, saying both Birch Bay natives and tourists should flock to the restaurant once it opens. As was clear when CJ’s was open, Kent said the community will support a restaurant that offers quality dining.
“We as a community strive to support our own,” Kent said. “That’s the nature of the bay.”
Niemann had been interested in the CJ’s property long before the sale closed, having signed a letter of intent with Union Bank, who took over the property from Homestead Northwest. Niemann said he worked closely with Kent, who convinced Niemann to hold off on signing the lease until the sale to North America Chen’s Holdings, LLP, the new owners of the property, had finalized.
“This is what I’ve hoped," Kent said. "I’ve wanted [Niemann] to be there since day one.”
Both Niemann and Kent said the new owners of CJ’s responded quickly to Niemann’s offer to rent the space. Kent suspects that the developer’s timely response was due to Niemann’s reputation, especially in British Columbia, as a successful restaurateur.
“It didn’t take the developers very long to realize [Niemann] would be a great fit,” Kent said.
Any changes to the CJ’s Beach House building will not be dramatic, Niemann said, since the former owners poured nearly $1 million into renovating the historic space, though new kitchen equipment will be needed. The closure of the successful restaurant was not due to a failure of the business itself, but separate circumstances that forced the owning company into bankruptcy, Niemann explained.
“The Titanic went down, and the dining room was full,” Niemann said.
Niemann said he doesn’t see his new venture in Birch Bay competing with any other community restaurant, such as the recently opened Via Birch Bay Cafe and Bistro. Niemann said, and Kent agrees, that the restaurants in Birch Bay work as a team to bring in more people to the community as a whole.
“One more place just brings more people,” Kent said.