There’s a reason you haven’t heard much lately from Top Chef Masters’ winner and Cyrus restaurant owner Douglas Keane. Since the start of the pandemic, he’s been working in construction — sort of.
The hands-on chef has been busy dealing with building permits, architectural plans and cost escalations for his dream project, Cyrus in Geyserville, now on track for a fall 2022 opening. (The original two-Michelin starred Cyrus, in Healdsburg, closed in 2012.)
“We’re rocking and rolling,“ Keane said of finally getting county approval to begin construction after nearly two years of setbacks. “Now is the first time I’ve gotten nervous, and the dream is almost here.”
We last wrote about Keane and plans for the new, lavish Cyrus back in early 2020 — pre-pandemic — when Keane seemed ready to move forward with a $5 million renovation of an 8,000-square-foot former prune packing plant in downtown Geyserville as the new location for the restaurant. Then the pandemic hit and the project was delayed. Now it’s back on track.
Remodeled by a former tenant, the Geyserville building is a blank slate of concrete and glass, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on manicured vineyards and mature olive trees. The new restaurant will include a state-of-the-art kitchen, a bubble lounge with small bites, an “interactive chef’s table,” a formal dining room and a large wine cellar. A fantastical Willy Wonka-esque chocolate room, where truffles will seem to levitate and boxes of chocolate will mysteriously slide toward visitors, will cap off the experience, according to Keane.
It’s an ambitious — and very expensive — proposition. Keane said he has spent 90% of his time over the last 18 months working with some 50 investors on the multi-million-dollar project, while doing the painstaking work of securing the proper permissions.
The original Cyrus closed after wine magnate Bill Foley purchased Les Mars Hotel, where the restaurant was located. A dispute between the headstrong chef and the billionaire over the restaurant’s long-term lease left Cyrus in limbo.
Keane eventually walked away with the restaurant name and recipes, vowing to reopen in 2014 with an ambitious new concept on a property owned by Jackson Family Wines near the Jimtown Store. That proposal was for a reservation-only dining experience limited to a handful of patrons each night. But a small group of residents pushed back against zoning changes in the quiet vineyard area and the plan for the new Cyrus faltered.
Keane stood by his long-term vision to reopen Cyrus when the time was right. In 2017, he once again announced he intended to reopen Cyrus in Alexander Valley, this time by 2019, but that never came to fruition, either. During that time, Keane headed Japanese-fusion restaurant Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena. Keane also is part-owner of HBG Bar and Grill in Healdsburg, with longtime business partner Nick Peyton.
As Keane worked to secure the future of Cyrus 2.0 in Geyserville during the past year and a half, Peyton navigated pandemic safety protocols, mask mandates, takeout and delivery to keep the doors open at HBG Bar and Grill.
In his off hours during the pandemic, Keane wrote a book, “Culinary Leverage,” about the passion and heartbreak of the restaurant world. It’s a harsh look at the industry from an insider’s perspective, he said, including ”chef-lebrities“ and rampant mental health and substance abuse issues. The book also details the aspects that have kept Keane in the kitchen, happily, for so many years.
Writing the book helped Keane see even more clearly the current crisis in restaurant staffing and the negative effects of low wages in the industry. He said his wait staff made up to $75,000 per year at the original Cyrus restaurant while cooks made $30,000, an unsustainable wage in Sonoma County. He plans to offer employees more equitable pay at his new establishment.
“This has to be a healthy business for everyone,” said Keane about the ongoing labor shortage in the restaurant industry and pay levels for restaurant staff.
Instead of the 56-person staff at the original Cyrus in Healdsburg, he’ll reduce that number to a lean 20 at the new Cyrus in Geyserville. All employees will work both front and back of house. Waitstaff will be trained to prepare food and kitchen staff also will work as servers.
“There’s a lot of technology out there to help a kitchen produce consistent food,” Keane said. “With that, we can do more with less, have less labor and pay (staff) nearly double the wages.”
With the vision for Cyrus 2.0 now coming into focus after delays, disappointments and long days of construction planning, Keane and Peyton are ready for the fun parts of starting a restaurant.
“We’ve just been waiting for this,“ Keane said. ”We’re jonesing for being able to make the wine lists, for picking out the glasses and the plates.“