Lisa Jones and Lisa Walsh met when they waitressed at a Denny's in Reno back in 1984. As they moved through other jobs in the area, they remained friends, often dining together.
Like many food servers, they often had dreams about opening a restaurant. When they lunched in a Gardnerville restaurant in September 1998, they shared the thought - "We can do better than this" - and began discussing a plan to open a restaurant.
On Monday, Smitty J's Food and Drink will open at 1480 North Carson St., former home of Scotty's Family Restaurant. The name Smitty is based on Jones' maiden name and Walsh's former married name, Smith.
"I think waitresses often think about how a problem can be solved, or something in a restaurant can be run better," Jones said. "When we were eating in Gardnerville, the food wasn't that good. We are very tuned in to what guests want and need."
What Carson City needed was a restaurant that offered something different, that fit between high-end dinner houses and indistinguishable family restaurants, Walsh said.
The pair began taking classes through the Small Business Initiative program offered by the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Business Administration, studying business texts and working with a computer program that helped make a business plan.
Then Scotty's closed in September 1999 after the death of owner Gus Pappas. Property owner John Hurzel spoke with Walsh and Jones in November and, a few months later, the women have remodeled the restaurant, developed a menu, hired their staff and are ready to open.
"We had been looking at other possible locations when we got the call about this one. The timing was perfect," Walsh said.
Customers walking into Smitty J's will have a different experience than at the old Scotty's, the new owners said. The counter and booths are gone, replaced with table service. The former banquet has become a full bar.
And Smitty J's undergoes a personality change daily between lunch and dinner. Out come the linen table clothes and napkins and a menu that lists shrimp pasta, chicken picatta and pick-your-own-weight New York steaks.
"We've got unique items developed for every meal, though," Jones said. "Our omelettes are all made with four eggs, for instance. The Smitty J omelette has spinach, mushrooms, garlic and onion smothered with melted jack cheese."
Vegetarian items are offered on all three menus, she said, and the Garden Burger-brand vegetable patty can be substituted on any burger.
Lunch sandwiches include a barbecued item with shredded pork in sauce made right in the restaurant, a Hawaiian chicken sandwich and the Wolf Pack, featuring roast beef, green chilies, sauteed garlic mushrooms and melted cheddar.
For dinner, menu items include tomato-basil pasta, baby back ribs, salmon filet and shrimp and pasta in a wine and cream sauce. Diners can order a New York steak any size from eight ounces up and it will be cut in the kitchen and grilled to order, Walsh said.
Appetizers include several items in Smitty J's own beer batter, including salmon sticks.
"We don't use any prepared items. We're doing everything ourselves," Walsh said.
Daily lunch and dinner specials as well as 3-6 p.m. happy hours and nightly drink specials are offered.
Walsh started in restaurants in Carson City at the age of 14, fibbing about her age to start bussing tables at the former Golden Spike. She eventually became the night manager at Scotty's while earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Walsh was a correctional case worker with the Nevada Department of Prisons from 1995 until leaving to open Smitty J's.
Jones' career took a similar turn as she waitressed and tended bar in the Reno area while earning a degree in social work. She joined Washoe County's child protective services office in 1994, staying until two months ago.
"No more 11 paid holidays a year," Walsh said. She said the pair expect plenty of 18-hour days as Smitty J's kicks into gear.
The new restaurant employs 25-30, all hired locally, Walsh said.
"As soon as they saw something was going on here, people were knocking on the door to apply," she said. "Lots of them hung in there, waiting for us to open. We've got a good staff, people our customers will recognize from around town.
"They're helping us do what we planned, to provide high-quality, good-tasting food with excellent service."
Smitty J's opens at 6 daily and the kitchen serves until 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. "The bar will stay open as long as we're all having fun," Jones said.
Husband Jeff Jones, a carpenter, did a lot of the remodeling with a lot of friends tapped to help, the owners said.
"We had planned 90 days for getting open and we got in here in mid-November, so we were pretty much on the mark," Walsh said.