“We wanted to do a system check on this place and make sure we were dialed in,” Helm said, sitting inside Helm’s Ale House and Restaurant at the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue on Tuesday, July 2. “That didn’t happen. It was a stampede.”
The space was formerly occupied by El Castillo restaurant, a downtown fixture since 1956 that closed this spring.
“When we opened the door up, we had 40 people here for lunch,” Helm said. “Once we opened the door, they never stopped coming through it.”
His original ale house at 10th Street and Central Avenue was closed by the city because of structural problems on Oct. 31, 2011. Helm said he immediately began his search for a new location.
“I wanted to stay downtown,” Helm said. “I like downtown. I like this town. This is as good as it gets in Tracy. There’s good parking and great neighbors.”
When he learned about the retirement of El Castillo owner Ray Morelos, Helm acted immediately.
He and Morelos met for 20 minutes and parted with a handshake, and Helm met with the property owner two days later with a lease agreement.
“It was meant to be,” he said. “I looked all over this town. Probably looked at 20 to 25 different places, and this just feels right.”
After a little more than a month of renovations, the restaurant is open, but Helm still wants to have a grand opening in late July.
Offering a variety of beers on tap, Helm’s Ale House and Restaurant also holds a full liquor license and serves lunch and dinner menus that include traditional hamburgers, steaks and hand-cut fries.
The restaurant will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday at 600 Central Ave.
A quick look around the restaurant reveals personal touches of Helm and his family everywhere, from his mother’s homemade decanters to his collection of public safety patches.
“I want a place where families can go,” he said.
There are also several pieces of military history hanging on the walls, including a World War II American flag and an officer’s sword that belonged to his father.
The proprietor said he wants to replicate the atmosphere of his first downtown restaurant, which had a reputation as a local “Cheers.”
“I just wanted to be a pub,” he said. “I wanted to be a place my grandfather took me in New York, Lower East Side, an Irish pub.”
Enjoying a couple of cold beers in the restaurant on Tuesday were Tracy residents Joe Trujillo and Craig Steege.
“It’s great,” Trujillo said about Helm’s return. “We missed it — (it’s) definitely needed downtown. Good beer, good food, good company.”
Sharen Petrig, who co-owns neighboring business Vita Dolce, agreed that Helm’s is a welcomed addition to the Sixth Street area.
“We’re delighted to have him,” Petrig said. “It’s a great corner. I think Tracy was ready for it.”
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.