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Eclectic food joint finds success in new home

Teri Vance
Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint owners Jayme Watts and Tony Fish pose in their dining room in Carson City, Nev. on Monday, July 13, 2015. After several years in downtown Carson City, they relocated to the Carson Hot Springs in early 2015.
Cathleen Allison | Nevada Photo Source

After working as a chef for more than 30 years, Anthony Fish still hasn’t decided on a favorite food.

Lucky for him, as the owner of the popular Sassafras Eclectic Food Joint, he doesn’t have to.

“I get bored easily, so I like to do new stuff,” he said. “I do whatever I want.”

When pressed, he narrows it down to American Southern, Pacific Rim, Asian, Latin.

“It’s just whatever catches my fancy,” he said. “I think it keeps it interesting for the staff and the customer base. You don’t always know what to expect.”

One thing they can count on, however, is the customer base.

The restaurant quickly gained trendy status after opening in downtown Carson City in 2011. People came for the food, the atmosphere, the music. A local artist, with the help of several tattoo artists, painted a mural across one wall.

However, in July 2014, the landlord decided against extending the lease, leaving the restaurant homeless.

Public reaction, especially on social media pages, was swift.

“It was shocking,” said co-owner Jayme Watts. “We knew we were popular, but people were outraged.”

The community organized a benefit concert, Save Our Sass, to help with relocation costs.

In early 2015, they reopened next to Carson Hot Springs, in what had served as a series of restaurants, bars and night clubs.

Keith Shellhamer, general manager of the hot springs, said Sassafras has made a good neighbor.

“We’ve been doing some good meal promotions,” he said. “We’re excited about working together.”

He said Sassafras will add to the appeal of the already successful hot springs, which has been in Carson City since 1856 and under its current ownership since 1999.

“That’s the idea, to make it a destination,” Shellhamer said. “The more stuff we have going on out here, the better.”

Before leaving the downtown spot, Watts and Fish cut the signature mural off the wall. It now hangs as seven different paintings around the new locale, along with a collection of wooden masks and random kickbacks and art pieces.

The Realtors promised to have the stripper poles at either end of the stage removed right away.

Watts declined.

“They add a good circusy feel to the place,” she said of the business, which is located at 1500 Old Hot Springs Road

The stage was one of the main selling points for Fish.

“I knew with all the people I know in the music business that we could make this into something fun,” he said. “We’re starting to get some national touring acts in. I really want to become one of the better music venues in Carson. It’s another art form I think is important.”

Building on the success of Save Our Sass, Watts and Fish collaborated with the Carson Hot Springs for Sassabration, the city’s first gay pride event. It featured live music, along with food and drinks and other activities. Money raised went to Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Friends in Service Helping, the SPCA and Build Our Center.

Working several years as chef and general manager for Adele’s Restaurant and Lounge, Fish said he learned from the example of owner Charlie Abowd.

“That was one of the things Charlie instilled in me was the importance of community,” Fish said. “You’re obligated to be a part of your community. We help out whenever we can.”

Despite the relatively out-of-the-way location, business has never been better.

“I think we’ve not only taken most of our downtown clientele with us, but we’ve gained a lot of new regulars just because of location,” Fish said. “It’s been good. I’m really liking it out here.”