It isn’t rare to hear a long-time county citizen hearkening back to the days when Joseph’s Gold Room bar and restaurant was arguably the most popular business of its type in the county. Those days may soon return as Ross Effinger and JoMarie Pitino, formerly of Portland, look to resurrect the glory days of the Gold Room in its original location on the bottom floor of the Jennings Hotel.

Effinger is from a small Alaska town similar to Joseph, which attracted him to the Wallowa Valley. After graduation from high school, he traveled around, including Europe, working in restaurants, honing his craft. Pitino is from southern California and attended culinary school there. She eventually moved to San Francisco, followed by Portland.

The couple met while they were working at Ava Gene’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Portland. Pitino headed the pasta program while Effinger was a chef. He came to Joseph several years ago with the owner of Ava Gene’s, who was exploring the idea of starting another restaurant in the same place as the present location, although the timing wasn’t right. Effinger and Pitino then became regular visitors for vacations, etc. They eventually met up with Greg Hennes, who owns the building and after discussing logistics, the couple decided to take the plunge.

The couple is leasing the space from Greg Hennes, owner of the Jennings Hotel in Joseph. The couple said Hennes has been great to work with and on the day the Chieftain was there, Hennes pitched in with the labor. The couple is doing much of the remodeling themselves with help from several local workers.

With their background, the couple plans to concentrate on Italian cuisine, especially wood-fired pizza.

“We’ve both been passionate about pizza,” Effinger said. “We love cooking with the seasons and seasonal foods and working with local producers. It’s an approachable way to serve local ingredient-driven food.” The pizza menu will focus on 12-13-inch pizzas with naturally leavened dough and some whole grains.

“I personally have an obsession with all things flour and dough and gluten related,” Pitino said with a laugh. “My background is pasta, but pizza is going to be a fun and challenging new thing. It feels like pizza makes sense for here. It’s a good, casual fare that people can come in and bring their family to sit down.” She added that the varied menu should be a draw for people desiring more than pizza.

“We want to have a strong focus on local seasonal vegetables and local meats,” Effinger said. “We’ll have a smaller “snacky” section of the menu, salads, olives and roasted vegetables and those sort of things. We’ll also have house-made bread.” Pitino added that all pasta, bread and pizza dough will be made daily.

Also included on the menu are various pastas and a rotating meat special that features local meat, which the couple plans to buy in half or quarters. The special will rotate with the cuts of meat. The pizza menu will have a few staples and seasonal offerings will be made as well. The couple asked that anyone growing local produce to contact them about the possibility of using it as restaurant fare. Artisans and woodworkers are also encouraged to talk to the couple about their products.

“We’ll also have a small but mighty dessert selection,” Effinger said. A full bar, including a minor selection of cocktails is in the works. Live music is also in the cards.

“We left room inside for a band and outside there’s a ton of room on the patio for outside music,” Pitino said. The inside part of the restaurant will seat 55-60 people while the outside portion will add another 30. Opening is tentatively slated for September.

The couple said the end-of-the-road location of Joseph made it somewhat difficult to procure some items needed for the restaurant: Stucco for the wood-fired oven for example. What’s great for the couple is the community.

“When we’ve run into problems like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need this; where do we get it?’ it’s been real easy to find people to jump up and help. We’re just loving the community,” Pitino said. “We feel welcome,” Effinger added.

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