By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer
Battle Mountain, Nev. – Aside from the retro façade, with slanted posts that buttress the roof overhang at 870 Broad Street, the storefront is mostly unnoticeable. Nearby are gas stations, a bank, a liquor store and coffee shop. Like much else in this high desert plain, it would be easy to drive right by to your next appointment, perhaps in Elko or Winnemucca, the nearest towns here in northern Nevada.
Located at the confluence of the Humboldt and Reese rivers in northern Nevada, Battle Mountain’s provocative name echoes the peaks of the Battle Mountains to the southwest. Once a waypoint along the Emigrant Trail, frontier industries like copper mining, sheepherding, and fur-trapping eventually put Battle Mountain on the map. In 1979, the Nevada Supreme Court designated the town Lander County’s seat.
But as in many other rural areas around the country, sustaining industry and keeping jobs here have been a challenge. Mining—primarily for gold ore and barite barium ore, which is used for x-rays and in the manufacture of paper and rubber—remains. But that industry is typically a boom-and-bust business. It has been said that Battle Mountain’s local economy, lives and dies by the mining industry. Even though it generates the highest incomes in the area the mining industry employs relatively few people in Battle Mountain.
Michael Sondermann earns a solid living working for the Newmont Mining Corporation and is happy with his job as an electrical and training specialist. But his wife Kelli has dreamed of finding another profession, away from her job as a special education teacher. They both wondered what that might be.
“She was getting burned out,” recalls Michelle Rowan, Kelli’s mother. “She was looking for something different to do.”
Michelle, her daughter and son-in-law reflected on their skills and started brainstorming about a family business. Michelle’s mother had worked as a caterer, and Michelle herself had experience in the food industry. For the last 30 years, Michelle has worked as a purchasing agent for an engineering firm. And they owned some land, which included a commercial building. The Sondermanns and Michelle wondered if a restaurant might be feasible.
“This is a small town, and we thought it would be nice if there was more entertainment here,” Kelli says. Battle Mountain’s population is around 4,000. “We love sports, and we were thinking it would be fun to have a place where you could watch games and other entertainment, but not have it be a casino.”
But locating an appropriate building would be critical to their nascent business. They learned that the building on their property was not earthquake proof and that alone made it an unfeasible option.
“In starting a new business, you have to bring your building up to code, which is no easy feat,” Michelle said. “It’s usually cheaper to just tear down the building and start new.”
The decision to forego renovations was essentially made for them when they could not secure a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan. They had earlier approached Darryl English, a loan officer with Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), who, along with RCAC’s Loan Fund credit officer Robert Longman, told Michael, Kelli and Michelle that they should search for another building to lease. Both men saw a potentially successful and sustainable business in the family’s plans. A feasibility study would later support their opinions.
“The idea with leasing is that the upfront capital for (renovating a new building) wouldn’t be as great,” Darryl explained.
It was around this time that Kelli eyed the building at Broad Street. Michael had told her that he remembered his grandmother telling him that it had once been a dance hall. White paint barely concealed a more beguiling turquoise and salmon façade, hinting at a jovial past before the building’s current disrepair. The family decided to lease the building and push forward with their plans to open a bar and grill.
“Instead of a (traditional) USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed loan, they got an SBA Community Advantage (CA) loan,” Darryl said. Introduced by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2011, these loans help small businesses in underserved markets as they address their credit, management, and technical assistance needs.
“This is arguably a much better location than the previous site,” Darryl said, referring to the building the Sondermanns and Michelle eventually leased, “and will have better visibility to attract travelers. The other building was something like an old mining cabin. The building they’re in now has better bones, partly because it was more recently occupied.”
Upon settling on a name for their new business – Overtime, LLC, and the OverTime Sports Bar & Grill – they applied for and eventually received a $250,000 RCAC loan to enable them to refurbish the structure.
Last summer, Michelle and the Sondermanns set about readying the building and business, aiming to open by fall. The renovations proved to be a good test of the family’s manual skills as well as a fun local history lesson. They found old metal cans and an old milk carton and yellowed newspapers. A family friend meanwhile brought them an ashtray with “Copper Club Battle Mountain” etched across it, an echo of at least one of the building’s iterations which, according to local historians, was probably in operation for six years.
Searching online, Mike Sondermann found an old poker chip from the 1960s labeled Copper Club Battle Mountain, which prompted him and Kelli to search for previous building owners who might shed light on the structure’s past, but none were forthcoming. At the Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum, they learned that a high school graduation party had at one time been held in the building.
Meanwhile, the three owners also spent time deliberating on the building’s interior, which included a rudimentary refrigerating system with wooden sheds and metal covers. After tearing down walls here and there, Michelle and the Sondermanns decided to open up the main room to offer more bar space and office rooms in the back.
They eventually decided on a contemporary industrial look and feel for the inside, with exposed wood and large screens where patrons could watch sports.
Since opening their doors in October, the Sondermanns and Michelle say that business has been brisk – so much so that scheduling an interview with the Sondermanns proved difficult because of their commitment to working at the restaurant. Their Facebook page has nearly 700 followers and some 40 recommendations.
“And we haven’t even started advertising for travelers yet. Our customers are mostly locals,” Rowan said, adding that she and the Sondermanns plan to have billboard advertising along Interstate 80 by the summer.
There is always something to do, Kelli adds. It helps that her husband has three days off of work at the mine per week, time he can and does dedicate to the restaurant.
“A refrigerator recently broke down, a toilet backed up …” she rattles off the various tasks she, her husband and mother must tend to. “We still have posters and signs to put up, and there’s always weekend entertainment, like live music, to coordinate.”
At the same time, the Sondermanns and Rowan are proud that they have hired good staff. The OverTime Bar & Grill employs 15 people, including two bartenders and five servers, as well as prep cooks and dishwashers.
“We’ve only been open for six months, and we’re still meeting new customers,” she said. “Although we’ve never owned a business, I’d still say this is a good sign.”