By BECKY THOMAS
One of Cheney's oldest buildings is on its way to becoming a Jimmy John's restaurant.
The building at 327 First St. in downtown Cheney, built as the Odd Fellows Hall in 1904, has been vacant in recent years, but owner Steve Emtman says the building has received more than $100,000 in structural repairs and is ready for a tenant.
That tenant is a Jimmy John's sandwich shop, operated by Ric and Kathy Rocca, who currently operate four Jimmy John's franchises in Spokane. The Roccas plan to open the Cheney location in January.
On Sept. 6 the Roccas and Emtman brought their plans for the building to the Cheney Historic Preservation Commission. The commission unanimously approved their application for a certificate of appropriateness, a document required to make changes to a registered historic building.
Commissioner Charles Mutschler told the applicants he was happy to see the plans for a business in the historic downtown building, noting that revenue is needed to maintain and improve historic structures.
“It's a whole lot better than losing the building, which we've seen so much of here,” he said.
The plan puts the Jimmy John's restaurant in the front two-thirds of the building, with a frozen yogurt shop planned for the last third. Both businesses will have access to a back hallway with restrooms and additional lease space. Emtman told the commission he has long-term plans to create a banquet hall upstairs.
The Roccas said they have planned to open a Jimmy John's in Cheney for a while, but had stores in Spokane take priority. They have operated Jimmy John's restaurants since 2009, most recently opening a location on the South Hill of Spokane in March.
Cheney was a goal because of the college population, the Roccas said.
“College students really like Jimmy John's because it's good value and we'll deliver anywhere in Cheney,” Ric Rocca said. “We just thought it was a good market. The university is growing.”
With approval from the commission, work is expected to begin in about a month, Rocca said. There is work to be done on the building, but Rocca said it would take six to eight weeks to build out the restaurant itself. He said early January was the goal for opening the restaurant, and he estimated between 12 and 20 employees would be hired.
“We're really excited to be part of Cheney and we're really looking forward to it,” he said.
Becky Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.