$50K kickstarter sought to fund rehabilitation and conversion of 1380 Williamson
Not even a year after Grampa’s Pizzeria opened they had a problem, a very good problem. Most nights, especially the weekends, there was nary a table to be had. The approximately 45 seat restaurant serves a staple of four to five well thought-out pizza offerings along with inventive sides that change with the seasons or the creative whims of Co-Owner and Executive Chef Gilbert Altschul.
The small location also has its cozy charm but very little space for patrons who are waiting to be seated. Earlier this year Altschul partnered with notable cocktail creator Hastings Cameron and Grampa’s bar manager Josh Swentzel to open Imaginary Bar next door at 1380 Williamson Street to provide a loungey “waiting room” experience for diners.
As the project moved forward the restoration work became quite extensive and pricey causing Altschul to buyout Swentzel and Cameron. The two-story bar has been renamed Gib’s Bar but will retain much of the original intent, however Altschul is energized by the new project including culinary inspiration from such things as salmon in a cone.
The idea for Gib’s was, in part, inspired by Pizzeria Bianco in Tucson, Arizona which features Bar Bianco, an adjoining house. [It] literally feels like its [sic] walking into someone’s home and then in the corner there’s a bar,” says Altschul as he describes how he and Marissa Johnson envision the patron experience.
Gib’s, a nickname for both Gilbert and his grandfather, will feature two bars, one on each floor with slightly different offerings and experiences.
Downstairs will have mostly standing room with a few benches but well executed fast drinks including 16 beer taps along with exclusive brews, kegged cocktails and classic drinks.
The front room will have a standing entryway and some shelves for drinks. As you wander deeper into the house a bench island with with floral display is planned opposite a 10 foot bar with a large arty marquee.
A new, grander staircase featuring an open design with spindles leads to the second floor and bar with more crafty cocktails that can be enjoyed on lounging-style furniture clusters, broken up by pillars that hide duct work.
Seeing a business like Grampa’s seek small scale investors outside of the usual sources is a sign of the new economy in the wake of the financial shock of the last decade. The wide reach of the internet and tight lending standards in all areas seem to be leading more and more of those with dreams to make broad appeals for financial support.
Grampa’s launched their $50,000 Kickstarter Thursday (November 20) seeking outside support in addition to loans from family members, a local bank along with Dane County and Madison Development Corporations.
Loans from both the city and county development corporations require job creation, plus “opportunities for disadvantaged owners and employees, or undertaking improvement in lower income or rural areas.” according to the non-profit entity’s website.
“We’re so grateful and proud to be a part of the Willy Street community, Marissa Johnson said in Grampa’s Kickstarter video, “And having Grampa’s for a year and a half now we really feel like a strong part of the community.”
Backers can give at eight levels and receive a wide array of memorabilia or access to opening events and even cocktail instruction, though they didn’t label it the Rachel Maddow level.
The Cone of Salmon
While the focus of Gib’s will be drinks, the small menu of food offerings has Gilbert Altschul in a creative mood now that Grampa’s is fully developed and humming along. Following a few visits to Chicago he noticed that appetizers were enjoying a new focus.
“I really liked what they were doing with snacks, intricate things that kind of elevate the food. I want to recreate Thomas Keller’s Salmon Tartare [sic] like ice cream cone. Making our own jerky in house, I have some really fun ideas.”
Hastings Cameron has a lot of ideas too. While not part of the ownership, Altschul signed Cameron to a five year consulting contract to keep things fresh with Gib’s.
In a previous life, Hastings taught SAT Prep and worked as a music journalist but soon discovered a keen interest in the art of the cocktail and basically has been on the front of the wave since.
“I started late but there was all this information trickling out. I went from having a thousand hip hop blogs in my RSS reader to a thousand cocktail blogs, Cameron told Willy Street Blog earlier this fall.
After living in California and Chicago, Cameron moved to Madison receiving his restaurant and hospitality education at such places as Café Soleil (now closed) and Samba.
Cameron keeps busy with catering gigs, cocktail classes and a whirlwind of concepts that are constantly evolving but will solidify in time for the anticipated opening of Gib’s in January 2015.
“I’m currently working on the backbone of the Gib’s bar manual, For the house originals, I’ll probably incorporate some ideas I’ve toyed with while teaching a cocktail class with the Fairshare CSA [Coalition] folks,” Cameron said.
When the bar was first proposed in February the neighborhood questioned the conversion of more housing stock on Willy Street to commercial use since the property was operated in the past as a two-unit rental. While not in as poor condition as 1018 Williamson, the property has needed work.
“We are taking a building that is falling apart, more or less, it’s structurally sound, but had rotting siding and it was a bit of an eyesore,” Altschul said. “We’re restoring it and we have a really beautiful vision for it. It’s just not the exact same as was there before.”
The house was completely stripped-down inside, rotten siding was removed, a new forced air heat and air conditioning system was installed along with new plumbing.
A prep kitchen was installed in the basement to support the limited food options for the bar. Bar capacity will be limited to 49 persons.
Grampa’s Co-Owner Marissa Johnson has been directing the design of Gib’s including natural siding with black trim work along with very little signage and exterior lighting. A wide staircase will lead up to the entry door which has been moved to the middle of the bay windows.
“I think it will feel like you are walking by a house, we really want people to feel like it fits in the neighborhood, doesn’t stand out like a bar.” Altschul said.
The design has hit a snag though as both Gib’s and the City of Madison fumbled the submission and permitting process. Since all commercial windows need to be fire resistant, Altschul elected to remove eight of them from the building, due to costs related to the fire codes. Altschul says the City initially approved the design as submitted.
However as their building plans, which Altschul admits were light on details, came before the Madison Landmarks Commission, the original decision seemed to run afoul of Third Lake Ridge Historic District rules. While the windows are important to the historic character of the neighborhood; in the past building owners have been allowed to “blank out” unused windows since they cannot be removed. Landmarks had a similar issue with replacing the siding. (See Staff report)
Gib’s has retained Linville Architects to help resolve the window issue with the City along with other permit challenges in the basement where the prep kitchen is causing a headroom issue. Earlier this week (November 17) Landmarks ruled that four windows must be re-installed but they can use the new siding they purchased.
Unfortunately for Altschul and Johnson, the siding had already been stained and can’t be painted as required by the Commision and that issue is ongoing but Altschul says the process was fair.
“Things are once again moving forward and Landmarks was very reasonable and understanding.” Altschul said.
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