, Newburyport, MA

May 16, 2013

A family affair

Haverhill brothers prepare to reopen Stripers


---- — SALISBURY — It’s taken longer than hoped for the sale to be completed, but Stripers Grille & Inn finally has new owners: Steve, George and Niki Haginicolas, of Haverhill.

The longtime restaurateurs, who own and operate Haverhill’s popular Roma restaurant, have been poised to purchase Stripers since early March, when former owner, Steve Kuchar, announced its pending sale at a Salisbury Liquor Commission meeting.

Kuchar, who had owned the riverside restaurant and inn with his wife, Lisa Reinhold, for 16 years, told the commission he felt that it was time to leave the business. The restaurant had been closed since February.

Steve Haginicolas appeared at the Salisbury Board of Selectmen’s Monday meeting, confirming the sale and to gain approval for his common victualer and entertainment licenses. He got the nod on both, but not before he satisfied the selectmen’s curiosity about his plans for the town’s only inn and restaurant on the shores of the Merrimack River.

Stripers menu will be seafood, Haginicolas said, not the Italian or Greek cuisine served at Roma, the 440-seat restaurant the family purchased in 2000. His family will continue to run that restaurant, as well.

“I’m leaving Roma’s and will come to Stripers full time,” Steven Haginicolas said. “I’m a hands-on owner, and I’ll be there morning and night. My brother will go back and forth between the two restaurants, and my mother will remain at Roma’s. My mother (Niki) is a hands-on cook; I can’t keep her out of the kitchen.”

Repairs and physical improvements are still ongoing, Haginicolas said. The restaurant has been painted and new hardwood floors have been installed. Haginicolas said he hopes to open as soon the restaurant’s liquor license is legally transferred to him. That may not happen until after Memorial Day, he said.

Once opened, Haginicolas said, he’s planning to offer easy-listening live music, as well, similar to what’s worked well at his other establishment.

“At Roma’s we have one, two or three-piece bands on the weekend, nothing loud,” he said. “And we have a pianist at Roma’s about three times a week that our customers enjoy.”

Haginicolas also answered a question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds, according to Selectman Fred Knowles — what will happen to previously purchased gift certificates.

The new owners will honor 100 percent of the gift certificates sold by Kuchar, just not all at once, Haginicolas said. Immediately redeeming thousands of dollars in certificates sold by a previous owner can be financially draining, he said.

“We’ll honor a percentage at a time,” Haginicolas said. “Say, for example, you have a $100 gift certificate, we might honor 30 percent of it at one visit, and the rest over subsequent visits.”

Haginicolas has already hired back about 15 former Stripers employees, including its former manager. In addition, he’s hired two cooks. More staff is needed, including cooks, servers and kitchen staff, he said, and once everyone’s on board, an extensive training period is planned before the doors open.

Stripers and Roma have similarities; both have exterior decks and both are situated overlooking the Merrimack River. Haginicolas said they’ve always wanted a restaurant in this area; the family closed on Stripers on April 30 for $2.5 million. Now, everyone’s very busy, but excited, about the new opportunity, he said.

“We’re looking forward to doing a good business for the town,” he said. “We’re hoping to serve a similar menu to Stripers, although a bit upscale, at about the same price.”

Steve and George Haginicolas immigrated to the United States from Greece as boys and have been in the restaurant business most of their adult lives. Prior to buying Roma, they formerly owned a smaller, 75-seat restaurant in North Andover, Pasta Palazzi, that served pasta and pizza, he said.

At a foreclosure auction in 2011, for $340,000, plus outstanding taxes, the brothers bought the Newburyport restaurant property at 140 High St., the former home of The Mall Restaurant, BluWater and Cafe Europa. Instead of running it themselves, they improved the property and leased it to the owners of Mr. India.

They own a small commercial plaza in Salisbury at 111 Lafayette Road, and the brothers also own King’s Subs & Pizza in Andover and South Lawrence, as well as Pizza Man in Merrimack, N.H., and Pizzeria Roma in Milford, N.H.

“The first food I learned to cook was Italian food,” Steve Haginicolas said. “It was pizza.”