ANTIOCH -- A new restaurant is on deck to open at the former Bases Loaded location in downtown Antioch, with a new operator who believes her family's time-tested menu and experience in the industry will be the recipe for success that has so far eluded this spot.
Debora Nickelson's Cajun-soul food eatery, Scends Deux, is slated for a soft opening on Saturday and a grand opening on Aug. 30.
No stranger to the Bay Area food scene, Nickelson is naming her new venture after her family's successful Emeryville restaurant, Scends, which her grandmother opened in 1957.
"I'm bringing the kitchen with me," she said recently, describing the chicken wings, fried catfish and red beans and rice that have kept diners satisfied for decades.
The menu is a change from the pub fare and smoked meats that previous operators had served at Bases Loaded, and it's a type of food Nickelson said she has had a tough time finding since moving to Antioch earlier this year.
And apparently she's not the only one: Nickelson said Scends has many loyal patrons who make the trek to Emeryville from Antioch, Pittsburg and Brentwood to dine there, and she is confident that Scends Deux already has a local customer base.
"The reception we've been getting -- this place is going to be busy, busy, busy," she said recently, seated at one of the plush booths that remains in the nearly turnkey building.
Nickelson had already been scouting for a restaurant space in East County when the most recent Bases Loaded operators, John and Penny Hicks, closed their doors in May. It was then that Antioch officials connected her with the property's owner and first occupant, Terry Karp, who was eager to lease to a new tenant.
"I went to (Scends) and tried it myself and really enjoyed it," Karp said. "I'm hoping with their experience -- and they've got the right formula in Emeryville -- that they can bring that to downtown Antioch and be successful."
Karp opened Bases Loaded in 2009 after more than five years of planning and construction. It was the first new building for downtown Antioch since 1980. He closed in August 2012, after struggling to find his niche, and the Hickses reopened the location in April 2013.
In addition to seating close to 160 people, the restaurant has a full bar and an outdoor patio area.
Nickelson is going to keep much of the sports decor that Karp painstakingly installed but will add more Bay Area flavor with memorabilia from the Warriors, Raiders, Giants and other local teams. The restaurant will air sports events on its big-screen television sets, and will open for Monday Night Football games but will be closed on Mondays otherwise.
And while Bases Loaded hosted frequent live entertainment, Scends Deux will do so only about twice a month.
Brian Nunnally, Antioch's economic development program manager, acknowledged that the city's historic Rivertown district has struggled to retain businesses in recent years, with the recession only compounding the previous impacts of the shift in development to the south side of Highway 4.
But with the economic recovery Nunnally said he has seen renewed interest in revitalizing the downtown core, and that other restaurants may join Scends Deux soon.
"There is a real opportunity for restaurants to reinvigorate the industry itself and provide a quality dining experience that is sorely missing in downtown Antioch," Nunnally said.
Meanwhile, Nickelson and her family -- the staff will consist initially of her mother, daughter, brother and other relatives -- are up for the challenge.
"I don't see it as a risk, I see it as an opportunity. A huge opportunity," she said.