Angel Retana stood in the center of the chilly, vacant building and looked at the cavernous room and wooden bar.
“I’m a visionary. I see things already busy,” said the Gainesville restaurateur. “I see people having a good time here, a good time there. TVs everywhere, showing soccer games.”
Retana is laying plans to open a sports bar, 787 Hacienda, in place of a former strip club, Top of Gainesville, which closed in April.
The 8,000-square-foot building sits at 787 Hospital Drive — or at the end of a road extending off Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13, south of Pearl Nix Parkway.
“When we took over, all the windows were covered with wood. The kind of business it was, it wanted to be hidden,” Retana said. “My idea is to open it up and invite people to come in.
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to change the perspective. I think it’s just a matter of how you run the business, and I’ve done it many times. I know what customers want and I know how to give it to them.”
Retana’s restaurant career goes back 20-plus years, when he and his wife opened nearby El Carreton Mexican Taqueria. He also owns Gainesville Seafood Market and Fajitas restaurant.
“I like to grab ideas and turn them into something that can generate money and jobs,” said Retana, who was among seven local entrepreneurs recognized at the annual Masters of Innovation awards in November.
787 Hacienda will feature typical sports bar fare, such as burgers and wings.
“We need to make sure it’s done with consistency, quality and great service,” Retana said. “We want to be here for a long time — not one year and close.”
He doesn’t know when he’ll open the restaurant.
“One thing I’ve learned in business is take your time, no rush,” Retana said. “Right now, we’re dealing with financing.”
In the meantime, he has a lot of work to do with the property.
“We’re changing out bathrooms, adding sprinkler systems,” Retana said. “All of this (exterior) will be remodeled … and we’ll repave the parking lot. We’re investing a lot of money in the building, really.”
However, the building has strong “bones.”
“It’s built to last. Every single square inch of this thing is block and concrete,” Retana said.
The building dates to 1934, when it served as a hospital, with the name of the “county physician,” W.W. Liles, etched into the cornerstone.
“I’ve met a few people who were born in this hospital,” Retana said.
He said he hopes his efforts will not only serve appetites “but restore the history of Gainesville.”
“It’s such an important building,” Retana said.