The long-awaited reopening of Arlington’s Candlelite Inn is a couple of days away, and owner Alan Petsche is ready to become a customer again when the restaurant reopens Wednesday.
Petsche bought the restaurant nearly three years ago but has spent about the past 18 months rebuilding. The 3,500-square-foot building at 1204 E. Division St. was taken down to its concrete block structure and slab, and more than 2,000 square feet was added, including a larger kitchen and banquet room.
The opening is several months later than what Petsche had hoped for, saying the rebuilding just took longer than anticipated. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Standing in the entryway of the restaurant last week, Petsche and his team scanned the main dining room, their faces expressing excitement and nervousness that the opening is finally here. Expectations are high and they’re feeling the pressure, they said.
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“I just want to become a customer again instead of being the go-to guy,” Petsche said. “I’m really excited. It just makes me feel really good. We have a little bit of history here. We just wanted to do a good job.”
New, but the same
Former Candlelite Inn diners won’t be disappointed. Although bigger, the restaurant’s interior is like the old place, but nicer and little more comfortable, said Greg Hunt with Petsche Commercial Properties, who oversaw construction.
Petsche hired Bill Testa, who co-owned the restaurant from 1993 to 2011, to be its manager. Some of the same cooks and servers will also be back.
Petsche “melded the old with the new. It’s gone through a few different changes, but nothing like this,” Testa said of the new restaurant. But, he added, “Mr. Petsche didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We’re opening up with the same menu we closed with. To start, we’re going to do what we know best.”
A little more than a year ago, Petsche also hired Darrell Wood, a 30-year restaurant executive to be his chief operating officer. Wood has worked for several chains, including Tulsa-based Zio’s Italian Kitchen, at times managing as many as 225 locations.
Wood said the Candlelite Inn has a tremendous amount of brand equity and in doing research learned of all the generational stories behind the restaurant, known for its eclectic menu of Tex-Mex, steak and Italian dishes.
“What Alan is doing is bringing all that back to the city of Arlington,” Wood said. “There’s just not the same affinity to a chain.”
Iconic items reused
To start, the iconic neon Candlelite Inn sign has been moved off the side of Division Street and closer to the front door. All the neon signs on the building before are being reused, as are the clay barrel roofing tiles and the colored glass from the old entry door.
Inside, four wood booth benches with names of patrons scratched in over the years are now being used in the waiting area for diners to sit, some of the red-painted wood that was a wall in the old place was used to build the bar area, and the “outhouse” door on the hallway that once led to the restrooms now hangs in the hallway between the women’s and men’s restrooms.
The restaurant has a new mural featuring many Arlington sites, a banquet room that can be reserved or used as an overflow dining area, and a private dining area that will seat eight to 10 patrons. Gone are the four steps leading down to the dining room, but the tables are just like before, down to the red and white checkerboard tableclothes. The arched booths with individual jukeboxes are there, too.
“But now we have individual speakers with volume control,” Hunt said.
Robert and Babe Keith started the restaurant in 1957, and it was once called the Old Candlelite Inn Oyster Bed. It evolved over the years to become one of Arlington’s most popular restaurants. Once word got out that Petsche bought the restaurant and would rebuild, there’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t tell him a story about how much the Candlelite Inn meant to them, he said.
The restaurant has a large following. The Candlelite Inn’s Facebook page has more than 5,000 fans, and a separate Fans of the Candlelite Inn has more than 2,000 fans.
The restaurant has hired about 50 employees, who have been training at Pantego Bay restaurant on Park Row Drive, a restaurant Petsche is in the process of buying. He also now owns Burrito Bueno at 2716 W. Division St.
“I don’t think we could get any more ready,” Petsche said of the Candlelite Inn opening. But, he and Testa are worried that too many folks will show up on opening day.
“I’m just asking everyone to be patient,” Testa said. “Give us a few days. If the wait is too long, come back the next day.”