ANTIOCH -- A new owner is stepping to the plate of a sports-themed downtown restaurant and bar.
John and Penny Hicks recently purchased Bases Loaded and plan to reopen early next month. Though much of the baseball memorabilia on the walls remains and small TVs still sit atop each booth, the first-time restaurant owners are working hard to add their own touches.
The couple removed wood floors scuffed from weekends of live bands, along with a stage, spruced up the patio area and reconfigured a large multi-TV screen wall setup -- allowing for more channels and games to be shown at once,
"It's been crazy the amount of little things that have to be handled," said John Hicks, who has spent 35 years as a chef, primarily in Southern California.
Fortunately, he said, the restaurant in Antioch's Rivertown district has been "pretty much a turnkey operation," because of the existing pieces in place.
The Discovery Bay couple plan to reopen Bases Loaded on April 11.
"We're excited, but we're also scared. There are a lot of unknowns," Penny Hicks said.
One of the unknowns is the potential carry-over from months of closure, along with some of the old publicity the restaurant received. Bases Loaded started off with a bang when it opened in 2009, but some patrons became dissatisfied with the food and service over the years.
However, there is excitement around town that the restaurant is reopening.
"I think it's going to be a good deal. He's very serious about his menu," said Keith Pantell, co-owner of Pantell's Music Box.
John Hicks brought over a sampling of ribs last week, which Pantell said were delicious.
Hicks knows sporting events will be a main attraction, but the food and service are going to have to knock the dining experience out of the park.
"I think the community is ready to show its support again," John Hicks said. "Our fight is to catch people and keep them wanting to come back."
On Tuesday morning, Hicks and a pair of his chefs were busy refining a new menu item for Bases Loaded: burger bites.
The new menu features the typical sports bar fare, with an emphasis on smoked meats such as ribs, tri-tip and prime rib.
"I inherited a smoker, so I'm going to use it," John Hicks said.
It also features items such as breaded artichoke hearts, homemade French onion soup, bread pudding and a Monte Cristo sandwich.
The Hickses have a three-year lease for the 6,000-square-foot eatery, located off G and Fourth streets.
Hicks also foresees a Sunday brunch menu during the NFL season and setting up a kids-friendly zone in the patio area with games.
Original proprietor Terry Karp opened Base Loaded in 2009 after more than five years of planning and construction -- the first new building for downtown Antioch since 1980. He closed in August, and had a deal fall through before being approached by the Hickses.
Karp received a downtown restaurant incentive loan from the city of $300,000, which has since been forgiven because he stayed open the prerequisite three years.
"A successful restaurant down here is good for everybody. It can really help downtown get back to where it once was," Pantell said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.