Businesses return in Columbia

COLUMBIA — A new operator is reviving the City Hotel and several other businesses that shut down last June in Columbia State Historic Park.

The best known of the sites, the restaurant in the City Hotel, could take a few months to reopen because it needs a liquor license.

Others, including another restaurant and a few small lodging sites, have reopened or are close.

The new concessionaire is Briggs Hospitality LLC, owned by Jeff and Jackie Briggs, formerly of Aptos in Santa Cruz County.

They are taking over operations that had been run by Forever Resorts Inc. of Arizona, which did not renew its contract last year. The businesses are about a third of the total in the park, a Gold Rush settlement acquired by the state in 1945.

"This park is just really, really unique, and I think it has a lot of potential if it's marketed properly," Jackie Briggs said.

Under the new contract:

Bart's Black Skillet opened last month in the building that once housed the Jenny Lind Restaurant. The eatery, open for breakfast and lunch, is named for Black Bart, a stagecoach robber in Columbia and elsewhere.

The Fallon House ice cream parlor also reopened last month. It is in the lobby of the Fallon House Theatre, which continues to be a second stage for Sierra Repertory Theatre, based in east Sonora.

The guest rooms in the Fallon House and City Hotel could reopen as early as this week, if the state fire marshal signs off on them. Three guest cottages elsewhere in the park could open this week.

The City Hotel restaurant and adjacent What Cheer Saloon will take perhaps three months to get their liquor licenses.

Jeff Briggs, who will be the City Hotel's executive chef, worked there while attending the Columbia College culinary program in the early 1980s.

"Jeff loves it here," said Jackie, his wife. "This is where he started his culinary career."

He also has been executive chef at John Q's Restaurant in Sacramento and the Nut Tree Restaurant in Vacaville. In Aptos, he operated Café Rio.

Jackie Briggs, whose background is in accounting, said she would spend part of her time raising money for the park. She hopes to start overnight stays for schoolchildren at Angelo's Hall, a banquet room connected to Bart's Black Skillet.

Under the three-year contract, the couple will pay the state at least $25,000 in rent per year. They must make $250,000 worth of building improvements, but the state is deferring this requirement for a year to help the new operators get their footing.

The City Hotel dates to the mid-1850s and has had several expansions and renovations. The Fallon House was built in 1859, and the theater was added in 1886.

The reopening businesses will help the park recover from a slow winter, said Ruth King, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

"It's always hard with any town to have businesses close, especially in the state park, because we're little and it's very noticeable," she said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.