The Grand Theatre and Paradiso: A Salem Affair to Remember
Salem's Historic Grand Theatre
It would be near impossible to be a Salem-ite and not have noticed that something special has taken place at the corner of High and Court Streets. The corner is bright with the twinkle of delicate light spilling forth from a sparkling new restaurant, and the night sky glows warmly with a refreshed and restored marquee, above which hangs a bright, familiar sign.
The sign announces simply: "Salem's GRAND" and the words "Home Owned". The words "Home Owned" don't completely tell the story however, and might be better expressed as "Family Owned" as both the theatre, and it's jewel box restaurant are a Meduri Family project; a "grand" giving back to the community of Salem.
The impulse, to undertake this project traced back to the youngest Meduri, Vincenzo, who, having fled his home town for the bright lights of Broadway some years back, returned in 2013, not aprodigal son, but rather one brimming with ideas, and with a grand theatrical vision.
Vincenzo's passion for producing and directing, both collegiately and professionally, led to the formation of Enlightened Theatrics, Salem's professional musical theatre company. The company seeks to enhance the cultural enrichment of Salem by providing professional musical theatre experiences and education for all.
Built in the Romanesque-Revival style in 1900, Salem's Historic Grand was an original home to the Oddfellows Lodge and Opera House, and was a stage that saw the appearance of many a national star,particularly through the 1920's. Having waxed and waned through the two world wars, a depression and multiple ownerships and ventures, the building stood an aging memory of grander times.
With Vincenzo Meduri having already proved the viability of Broadway caliber theatre in Salem, the Meduri family, in particular mother and father Cindy and Joe, decided that Enlightened Theatrics needed a home. When word reached them of the Grand's possible availability, they undertook the process of acquiring the landmark.
Securing possession only as recently as 2015, Vincenzo, Cindy and Joe went immediately to work on a grand vision of what the building could be: a thriving performing arts center complete with dance studios, rehearsal rooms, and a black box space. Concerts, lectures, and musical performances ranging from rock to dance events are currently being planned. The project's focus is to be community minded while continuing to push for and provide a wider artistic vision for Salem.
Part of the building's vision also included the creation of a stunningly designed restaurant to be named PARADISO, in honor of Joe Meduri's mother's maiden name and Italian heritage.
Brought into the design project was noted Salem designer, Jeanne Griggs, who, in consultation with Cindy Meduri, determined to create an exacting, and meticulous Art Deco recreation, one both well suited to the space, and which tied Paradiso to the Grand Theatre.
What resulted must be seen to be fully appreciated. With many hard sought, carefully selected, authentic period pieces brought together from distances as near as Detroit and as far away as France, serving as focal points, Ms. Griggs then designed, and had fabricated the elements that give the room its undeniably cohesive appearance.
From the lamps that grace the bar, originally having served as high styled standing ashtrays in, perhaps, a twenties speakeasy, to the dramatic twin chandeliers that anchor the room's ziggurat, grey-toned Italian plaster ceiling, to the warm glow of its wide plank French Oak floors, the restaurant is a delightful combination of sophistication and comfort. High reed glass windows filter a dappling of afternoon sunlight, as warmly glowing glass rod sconces (recovered from a casino on the French Riviera) provide an additional grace note of light. The capacious leather and bent wood dining room chairs are also original, once having found purpose in a Parisian law office, they are now destined to be part of the history of Paradiso at the Grand Theatre. Patinated brass table tops and beveled mirror abound, as soft leather and carved wood serve to gentle both the eye and the light.
It is into this setting that one steps to sample Chef Robert Durkin's Inspired Italian Cuisine. Chef Durkin bring decades of three star experience to Paradiso, having arrived in Salem straight from Long Island's tony Hamptons. The restaurant features a wide selection of the highest quality ingredi ents, from strictly grass fed beef to vegetable fed, "integrated farm" chicken, along with fine imported Italian cheeses, and a collection of extra virgin olive oils, each selected for its suitability to a particular dish. Tuscan oil for meats, game and roasts, Ligurian oils for the fish and seafood that is also integral to the cuisine. Carefully sourced, wild, line caught species are the only quality the kitchen will receive and serve.
Self-sufficiency is at the heart of the kitchen, where everything is made on premises, most notably a repertoire of hand made fresh pastas, as well as a diverse selection of French and American and pastries. Chef Durkin's Tuscan bread recipe is being produced at local bakery, Cascade Baking Co.
During the summer months, Paradiso extends it dining room to its sidewalk cafe, where a selection from the extensive Italian centric wine list, a salad, and a plate of pasta provide a bit of "Italian Al Fresco" right in downtown Salem. The restaurant will be offering winemaker's dinners beginning in the fall, and cooking classes are being planned as well.
The Enlightened Theatrics' production of The Wizard of Oz begins a six week run on July 22nd at Salem's Historic Grand Theatre, and the restaurant and theatre will be offering a prix fu:e meal and theatre ticket package for the duration of the run. From the dining room one may simply pass under the red brick archway, marked by its aged brass "Theatre" sign, to enter the lobby and begin a delightful post dinner excursion "down the yellow brick road".
Visit Grand Theatre and Paradiso at 191 High St NE, Salem, OR 97301 Visit Paradiso online, click here.
Story and Photography: Robert Durkin