WATERTOWN (WWTI) — This history behind Watertown’s newest restaurant spans almost a century.
When stepping into Empire Square in downtown Watertown, one will be greeted with a diner-like feel, including bright, inviting colors, a historical bar and many other unique factors.
This restaurant is owned by local resident Vonnette Monteith, who bought the building 15 years ago when she was stationed at the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. This is when she first fell in love with the downtown area.
Since her original purchase, she left the area, retired from the military, completed culinary school and now moved back up to Watertown to run the Empire.
Joining her to open the restaurant this fall was Sarah Daus, who was previously working in New York City as a club promoter and artist. She was invited to work at Empire Square as the bar manager and help bring the restaurant back to life.
Empire’s menu according to Monteith aims to make customers feel like they are eating a home-cooked meal. As she and many of the staff were professionally trained in Kentucky, many of the items have southern ties, such as fried chicken and waffles.
“When people ask me about the food I give them the instructions and the recipes and how to do it because it’s exactly what I made at home for my kids,” Monteith said. “I’m just making it here.”
These southern ties continue behind Empire’s original New York Prohibition bar. Daus has created a cocktail menu that is both centered around Kentucky bourbon and prohibition-styled cocktails.
“We call ourselves ‘southern fusion’ because we have a lot of Southern style food, but we do it with Northern local ingredients,” Daus said.
Monteith also added that many of the staff at Empire Square are connected to the military, which is what she believes makes them strong as a business.
“Everybody right now is struggling with manpower and we are not, we have a good cohesive staff,” she said. “We like working together. And I think it’s because we all have that military background where it’s no man left behind.”
Speaking further on preserving the history of the building, Daus reflected on the items both herself and staff have found in preparation for the restaurant’s opening.
But as Empire is located just steps off of Watertown’s Public Square, both Monteith and Daus agreed that the goal of the restaurant to preserve the history of downtown and keep it alive for many years to come.
“If people can’t manage to come downtown, we’re going to lose it and it’s going to be a traffic circle,” Monteith said. “We just want to join the other people on the square who have been doing it for years, or haven’t been doing it for years, but are here now. It is up to us to bring people back downtown.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people walk in and just light up and look around and say, ‘Wow, this doesn’t even feel like Watertown,'” Daus added. “I love that because that means that Watertown is getting up with the times it’s catching up.”
Empire Square is open every weekday, except Monday, for breakfast lunch and dinner, and on weekends for breakfast and lunch.