To get the press to meet you on a bare concrete slab on a hot day below a searing sun, you’d better have a good story to tell. Brett Davis did, and a half dozen reporters were rewarded for their half-hour in the simulated sauna.
Davis, partner in Falls City Hospitality Group (FCHG), announced the name of the group’s long-awaited restaurant to be constructed at RiverPark Place, an apartment and condominium development at 1500 River Shore Dr. (along River Road near downtown). It’ll be called JQ Public House, and it’ll feature American comfort food twisted uniquely by executive chef Jonathan Schwartz.
As FCHG’s Doc Crow’s is centered on bourbon and its Union Common concept (in Nashville) hinges on wine, JQ Public House will boast a beefy lineup of about 100 beers on tap, any of which would have been welcomed as cool comfort on this hot day. About 20 other taps will be dedicated to cocktails and wine.
Davis said he and partners Chip Hamm, Steven Ton and Michael Ton have shaped the concept for the past three years. And when their vision becomes a restaurant in March of 2016, it’ll be a biggin’ spanning 12,500 square feet. That’s easily four times the size of an average restaurant and more than 50 percent larger than 8,000-square-foot Doc’s Cantina, which FCHG will open this December in the former Tumbleweed restaurant beside the Ohio River.
When weather permits outdoor dining, the restaurant will seat 450, about twice that at Doc Crow’s and nearly nine times the capacity at La Coop Bistro a Vins, the diminutive bistro FCHG operated until closing it last New Year’s Eve.
“It is ambitious,” Davis allowed, grinning slightly after stating the obvious. “It will be rather large. … Our beer cooler alone will be as big as La Coop.”
According to Davis, “there are no new ideas in restaurants anymore,” especially went it comes to diners. Yet FCHG sees an opportunity to improve on the old standard.
“We don’t want this to be fine dining, we want it to be fun dining,” Davis said, adding that check averages could be $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner. “Our beer program will be huge, but we’re not doing that to try to teach people about beer. We’re providing a lot of variety.”
Davis said “diner” is defined one way by Southerners, another by Westerners, another by Northeasterners, etc., and JQ Public House seeks to blend the best of those traditions. So expect the menu to feature multiple variations of fried chicken and high-quality burgers, as well as fish boils, raw oysters and steamed clams.
Fresh baked pies, cakes and milkshakes? Check.
“This isn’t a chef-driven concept, so we won’t be changing the menu constantly,” Davis said. “With diners, people like knowing what they can expect to get there.”
Wiping some rapidly accumulating sweat from his brow, Davis credited the menu and its diverse blend of standards to his partners’ experiences living elsewhere in the U.S., plus his own travels with his dad growing up.
“His family was from Georgia, my mom’s family is from Kentucky, and we lived in Tennessee,” Davis said. With his family on the road a lot visiting relatives, stops at diners en route were common, and those meals made an impression on him. “At those places, everything was made from scratch. We want to recreate that.”
The restaurant, which will serve lunch and dinner daily, will be casual right down to its melamine plates and coffee cups. Glass, of course, will be used for other drinks.
Initial renderings of the dining room show a wide range of seating, including 1950s-era scoop fiberglass chairs.
“We like to call the decor mid-century modern,” Davis said. “There’s lot of wood, concrete, a ton of glass and some tile.”
The name, JQ Public House, he added, is a play on “John Q. Public,” which is meant to underscore its casual theme.
Even in cold months, Davis said abundant windows will “let people feel like they’re sitting outside” by providing great views of the nearby marina and river. In warm weather, it’ll seat 200 outdoors and boast a beer garden.
Davis declined to put a price on the finished cost, saying only, “It’s a big investment by us and Steve Poe,” RiverPark Place’s developer. “I really have no idea what the finished cost will be since we’ve just started.”
When asked how he’ll find adequate staffing for a big restaurant in a town enjoying a restaurant boom and labor shortage, Davis said the problem isn’t a lack of people to fill those roles, rather it’s a skills shortage.
“It’s a displacement problem,” he said, meaning trained workers are leaving one restaurant to work at another and requiring the restaurateur to hire inexperienced workers. FCHG’s solution is to train many of the team at Doc Crow’s for a move to JQ Public House.
“We’re investing heavily in our staff … and working to create a culture where they want to stay with us.”