The mid-October opening for M&BB will mark the sixth restaurant launched by partners Fernando, Christina and Yaniel Martinez in less than three years. That opening will occur nearly simultaneously with the opening of restaurant No. 7, Artesano Tapas, Vino y Mas, also in October.
Plans for a second Mussel & Burger Bar on Whiskey Row were scrapped when three historic Main Street structures there caught fire earlier this year. Olé partner Fernando Martinez said waiting until 2017 was not an option, so his team shopped elsewhere.
“We came and looked at the (St. Charles Exchange) space and knew we wanted to be in there,” Martinez told Insider. “It’s one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city, and the patio and courtyard are amazing.”
As they did with Caffe Perusa, the short-lived luxury J-Town restaurant in which M&BB now operates, the Martinezes will downscale St. Charles’ upscale dining room just slightly to make it feel more casual. According to Martinez, the task isn’t as daunting as many may assume.
“It already looks like a high-end burger, steak or bistro type of place, so we can work with it,” he said. “We’ll do a few things to bring it down to more casual, but we’re not concerned.”
In one sense, current changes underway at M&BB will actually elevate that concept to the St. Charles look.
“We’re revamping the menu some right now, adding a pork belly and rock shrimp appetizer and creating some different sauces for our mussels,” he began. “We’ll be adding one or two burgers to the menu, a bistro steak and another chicken dish at least.”
Plans are underway to create weekend brunch menus, and a new bar area will be constructed outside to host casual crowds and live music.
“We really see this as a great place to draw people from downtown and the Highlands,” he said. “In no way should this cannibalize the J-Town Mussel & Burger.”
Olé Restaurant Group will sublease the facility from the owners of St. Charles Exchange, though Martinez declined to share details on the actual rent. He said the facility’s equipment lease will expire in 10 months and that Olé will exercise its buyout option on the hardware.
“Everything there is in really good shape,” he said. “What’s really good for us is going in here will cost far less than we’d have paid to go into Whiskey Row.”
He said Mussel & Burger Bar’s broad appeal makes it ideal for the restaurant’s proximity to multiple family-friendly museums, as well as thousands of nearby offices from which hungry workers will seek a good lunch or happy hour cocktail. Unlike the J-Town location, countless customers can access it on foot.
“We’re doing incredibly well out there, so we’re hopeful we’ll do as well downtown,” he said. “We have wanted a presence downtown for a long time. We think that’s important.”
That’s because the partners want to take M&BB on the road: first to Lexington, then to Cincinnati, and then to Indianapolis.
“There won’t be any more Mussel & Burgers in Louisville after this second one,” he said. “We really think this will do well in other markets.”
In preparation for opening two restaurants in October, Olé has hired Benjamin Rios as its corporate chef. A veteran chef from Miami who worked under famed chefs Jose Garces and Douglas Rodriguez, Rios will focus on culinary standards and menu development at all Olé restaurants. Its also hired former Blackstone Grille general manager Gene Clayton to oversee all M&BB restaurants.
“Artesano will be hard to open, but a second Mussel & Burger … we could do that in our sleep because we’ve done it two years now,” Martinez said. “My wife, Cristina, and my partner, Rick Moir, will handle opening the second one.”
Several current Olé employees are in training to move to the new M&BB, but a job fair to hire additional employees will be scheduled soon.
“We’d be happy to have St. Charles employees come back if they want,” Martinez said, adding he’s not worried about staffing. “We’ll have four to five weeks to train for this, so we’ll have plenty of time.”