Yes, its true-Thornberry's is going to re-open Tuesday for pre- theater dining. Now known as "Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant", you can enjoy the same great food in beautiful surroundings that you have come to know and love since 1995.
Does that sound like a promo ad? Well it should! I have been working very hard to find an operator since closing the restaurant back in May of 2010. And, it could not be just anyone. I wanted to find someone with the sensitivity to take what worked for so long and create a new, fresh experience with a nod to the past.
When my Dad and I opened the place, it seems ages ago, we both were committed to creating a dining spot that theater patrons could rely on for fast, affordable pre-show fare. Thornberry's thrived for those first couple of years. In 1997, due to health concerns, Dad was forced to retire and we picked a close friend to buy his share of the company.
It's no secret that I did not always see eye to eye with this new partner. In spite of that, we were able to expand the business, double the seating capacity and contribute to the vibrancy of downtown. Sept 11, 2001 would change all that.
Overnight, corporate spending evaporated. Business crashed. We saw our income cut by a third. It was a very stressful, difficult time. Slowly, business returned. But it was nothing like the pre-Y2K years.
When the Stanley Theater announced its expansion plans in 2002, we were thrilled. An expanded theater with more shows would dramatically help our struggling business. Little did we know that the project would eventually contribute to our demise.
For close to three years, we were virtually cut off from downtown. Surrounded by a giant construction pit and a ten foot high chain link fence, people were not inclined to want to dine with us. Add to that the closure of the theater, with no theater patrons to rely on, we saw our business dry up.
In 2006 the NYS Department of Taxation decided to conduct an audit. That was the final nail in the coffin of Thornberry's. After weeks of dealing with a snarky state auditor, her conclusion was that we did not pay enough sales tax. Using a convoluted formula that compares your business income to that of similarly sized operations, the state levied an additional 80 thousand dollars of, they claimed, unreported income! By the time they were through adding penalties and interest, it was up to 140 thousand dollars.
And, this mystery income was supposedly made during a period when the only patrons we had were the construction workers building the new stage.
By 2010 I had had it. We had been paying almost 1,500 a month to the state. By May of that year, we were told that they wanted the entire payment-no more monthly options. And after paying close to 50 thousand dollars back to the state, there was still a 140 thousand dollar balance.
It was like a loan sharking operation. I felt like I was dealing with the Mafia! When I appeared with my attorney and accountant at their downtown office, I was basically given no choice-close the restaurant or face the wrath of NYS. It did not take me long to make the decision.
After a couple of failed sale/lease deals and looming property tax and mortgage bills, I finally found an operator that was willing to revive this wonderful property. The close proximity to the stage door at the Stanley contributes to the new name, "Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant". The place has been redecorated, the decor and theme is similar and, thankfully, they chose to keep the name.
As the "landlord" I now have a great place to be proud of again. Some day I may even make a couple of bucks off the joint! But until then, I am happy to know it is in good hands and being taken care of like it was in the early years.
And I know that "Poppy Bob" is happy as well!
Thornberry's Backstage Restaurant is open for pre-theater dining, private parties and catering. It also serves dinner Friday evenings from 5-9. Call 735-1702 for reservations.