The new owners of 38 Central are David Graham, left, and Michael Wolf. - Jim Craven

New owners bring taste of Napa

Two Napa Valley, Calif., restaurateurs have taken over 38 Central in Medford's Cuthbert Building.

David Graham, 49, and Michael Wolf, 43, acquired the restaurant late last month from founder Sam Tinsley. Executive Chef Juan Murillo, 37, refashioned the menu to go with the establishment's new theme: the fine art of casual dining.

"Old Napa is like old Medford," said Graham. "Like Medford, it's an agriculture-based town that played second-fiddle to the rest of the valley when wineries developed arts events and festivals. People would go through Napa in the same way people go through Medford on the way to Jacksonville or Ashland. Over time, I could see real potential for Medford."

Their grand opening event is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.

Wolf was the managing partner at Mustard's Grill, one of Napa's premier dining spots.

"People called it a gourmet truck stop because it was top-end comfort food," Graham said.

While it might not be the optimum economic time to enter the market, Graham has countered with competitive pricing.

"The best thing about it is that we were able to reduce price points," Graham said. "Especially in these times, eating a $35 or $40 meal by yourself can be daunting and intimidating. People can come in and say 'It looks beautiful, but it's well over my budget.' "

The daily chef's lunch special with soup, sandwich and dessert is listed for under $11.

Murillo most recently worked at Market Restaurant in St. Helena, a short jaunt from Napa. He refined his trade at the Mirage in Las Vegas and restaurants in the Florida Keys. The new owners kept the 38 Central staff and boosted the number to 30.

Graham has been shuttling between Napa and the Rogue Valley for the better part of two decades. Graham's father, Don, and late mother, Emma, designed and marketed a sewing tool worldwide through Crowning Touch. They also owned a local retail store, Fasturn Junction.

His resume includes operating a catering company in Sacramento, a stint at Catacula Lake Winery in the Pope Valley, and being chief consultant for Marriott's East Bay Area corporate food services.

Over the years, Graham came to see the possibilities of establishing restaurants here.

"Our business plan was for four distinct and unusual restaurants over a period of five years," Graham said.

They had begun their first project in the former Bohemia Club location on West Main Street, but that effort was bumped to No. 2 on the docket a few weeks ago.

"Right now our target date is late November so we can capture some of the Christmas run," he said.

Tinsley was looking for a new partner to run the downtown restaurant with an upscale bent. But when Graham and Wolf offered to buy the works, it didn't take long to convince the longtime Rogue Valley restaurant operator.

"I was putting in too many hours — 16-hour days — which is what the restaurant business will do to you," Tinsley said. "It gave me a little more chance to lead a normal life. My family is happy and I'm happy."

Tinsley said he is exiting the food service industry — at least for now — after selling his interests in Senor Sam's to his brother Carl Tinsley.

"We set out to bring a little more fine dining to Medford and appeal to a different crowd at 38 Central," Tinsley said. "I think we accomplished what we set out to do. (The new owners) have some fresh ideas and convinced me they would uphold the name and grow as 38. I really didn't feel that bad letting it go to them."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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