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Grub Street spot has new eatery

O'Connors hopes to draw families, lunchtime crowd

— — — — BUSINESS CARD

— —

Company name

: O'Connors Sports — Grill — Product/service

: Restaurant and lounge — Location

: 5 S. Central Ave., Medford — Phone number

: 245-2548 — Hours

: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. — Sundays — Owners

: Brian Edwards and Kevin Wells — No. of employees

: About 40 part- and full-time — Notable

: New owners hope to bring back the glory days of the — former Grub Street Grill — —

The walls are still painted green and the long counter is still prominent. But things have changed at the downtown Medford restaurant spot that long housed the Grub Street Grill.

O'Connors Sports Grill opened in the Central Avenue location on Aug. 23 with hopes of creating a T.G.I.Friday's-type atmosphere -- a casual, upbeat place that appeals to families and lunchtime business diners.

Owners Brian Edwards and Kevin Wells, who also own the strip club now called Scandals, saw potential in the spot: a proven location close enough to the parking garage to ease people's downtown parking concerns.

There was not anywhere else like it, says Edwards, who named the restaurant after the duo's attorney, Bill O'Connor. And years back, it had been very successful.

That was in the early 1990s, when the Grub Street Grill was a popular haunt for the downtown business crowd. Things started going downhill in 1996 when Steve Henselman, who had owned the restaurant with his wife, Toni, was arrested on cocaine charges.

Toni Henselman sold the restaurant to Evan McArthur, but McArthur's efforts to revitalize it ended with its closure last year.

Edwards is convinced the place can be stirred to success once again -- especially now that the garage has been completed.

To spark new success in the old Grub Street, the new owners have changed the layout, the ordering system and the menu. They eliminated a wall that separated the restaurant from a dance floor and turned it into seating. They also ditched the order-at-the-counter system that was prone to long lines in favor of a waiter-waitress arrangement.

Our big concern was speed, says Edwards, noting that he's aiming to have order-to-delivery times of 10 minutes or less.

And, after looking at more than 100 menus from restaurants in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere, they designed a menu heavy on casual dining favorites priced low enough to offer lunch for as little as $5 and dinner for as little as $6. Edwards says they've gone out of their way to offer high-quality dishes, from cobb salads loaded with ingredients to fish and chips made with halibut and their own beer batter.

Televisions and sports memorabilia covers the walls, and the lounge features hard liquor as well as beer and wine. But Edwards says O'Connors wasn't designed as a sports bar, even though they spent more than $20,000 on sports memorabilia.

The main goal was not to be a bar but to be a family restaurant, he says. I'd like to have the restaurant as the mainstay.

The sporty atmosphere has been the leading draw early on. The restaurant has been busiest during Monday Night Football.

We've been packing 200 people in every Monday night, Edwards says. Starting this weekend, O'Connors will open at 10 a.m. Sundays and feature NFL Sunday Ticket -- a television service that allows it to broadcast multiple games.

But Edwards says drawing the downtown lunch crowd will be our first mainstay.

So far, the restaurant, which opted for a low-key debut to give its staff time to work out any kinks, is serving about 100 meals a day. With seating for about 135 people, Edwards is convinced it can do 400 to 500 meals a day.

The early going -- a key time for any new restaurant -- has been made more difficult by construction nearby that Edwards fears is confirming people's notion that downtown is too congested to consider visiting for a meal.

But once the work is finished, he hopes, customers will realize that the downtown garage is a 30-second walk away.

And, if that message hits home, he's sure success will be right around the corner, too.

O'Connors Sports Grill has opened in the former Grub Street Grill location on Central Avenue in downtown Medford. The decor features $20,000 worth of sports memorabilia on the walls. - Photo by Steve Johnson