Mother-daughter duo revamp Lithia Grill

Tika Squires and her daughter Talia Squires wanted a place to have a high-quality meal and a casual beer. So these Ashland residents decided to open their own place after finding a location downtown.

"We're trying to combine fine dining with a casual atmosphere and really take advantage of local and seasonal ingredients," Talia Squires said, "which hopefully will keep the prices down and the food really good."

The mother-daughter duo teamed up with local Chef Anthony Starelli to create a vision for T's Restaurant and Bar, which is planned to open on July — in the space formerly inhabited by Lithia Fountain and Grill at 303 E. Main St.

Talia Squires, 22, said they plan on keeping the historical granite fountain bar and the exposed brick wall intact as they renovate the classic soda fountain into a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere.

"It's exciting to watch it all evolve," she said. "I just got home from college so I get to watch it grow up with me."

Squires calls the menu at T's "Northwest regional." With a varied menu from week to week, it will offer whatever is good in the markets that week whipped up into "warm and filling" dishes along with top-shelf liquor and local wines.

"We really want the quality to come through our food and have a wine list that isn't huge but will highlight local wines," Talia Squires said.

The man who is at the center of planning the menu is Starelli. T's stands for Talia, Tika and Tony, showing how essential Starelli is to the planning of the new restaurant. The theme of the menu is fresh and Starelli is looking forward to working with local farmers to provide the best produce from the farm to the plate.

Tika Squires first became acquainted with Starelli when he worked at The Peerless, another Ashland restaurant. She loved the food he cooked and when she heard the staff was changing she talked with Starelli about the possibility of opening their own restaurant.

"Tika was a big fan of mine and wanted to secure a place to have a good meal," Starelli said. "It's fun to start a new restaurant and also start a new friendship."

Starelli brings with him a sous (assistant) chef and a pastry chef, and he says everyone involved is working to create a diverse menu and "a relaxed atmosphere that is filled with really great energy.

"We want to have a fun working environment," he said. "The ultimate goal is to provide the freshest, tastiest morsels you've ever had even if you've heard of the dishes before; it will be unique."

Many Ashland residents remember the long line of sweetshops that have been through the historical space that T's now calls home.

Lori Forrest, the owner of Lithia Fountain and Grill, was careful about to whom she sold the space.

"I wasn't going to sell to someone who was planning on doing something so drastically different that it would lose its historic aspect," she said.

Over the five years she ran her business in that storefront, Forrest completely restored the historical fountain bar and interior.

"It was harder to let go of that building because it was so historic," she said. "It's almost a hundred years old &

I felt like a caretaker of the place."

But Forrest has moved on to other business ventures and is not opposed to the idea of a casual place to have a beer.

The idea to open a restaurant came about a year ago, while Talia Squires and her mother were visiting her father, Chuck, who was stationed in Kyrgyzstan for the Army. She wanted to go out and have a nice drink in a relaxed atmosphere and she couldn't find it anywhere. In her frustration she came back to her parents and they began dreaming up their version of the ideal bar, a lot of which is now becoming a reality with T's.

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