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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Work Is Underway To Reopen Restaurant at 15 N. Fort Thomas

By Kara Uhl

The front of 15 North Fort Thomas Avenue has a large patio, but the conversion from a home has proven challenging to restaurant concepts.
Dan Gorman, the man behind the Hiland Building, the properties at 20 Grand and more, has teamed up with Fort Thomas resident and attorney David Meyer, to reopen a restaurant at 15 N. Fort Thomas Avenue—possibly by the end of the year.

Meyer, his wife (Jenny) and their three daughters (two are students at Highlands High School and one is a student Highlands Middle School) live a half mile from the restaurant. Every time a restaurant would close (past concepts have included 15 North Pizza, Mio's, Pergola and Warner's Restaurant), Meyer would lament the fact that they were no longer within walking distance to such a great community gathering spot—especially the large patio during the warmer months.

The building, once a stately home, was not designed to be a restaurant. Past owners have tried to use the layout sensibly, but the kitchen is on a separate floor from the dining room. Trays of food have to be navigated up a narrow stairway. Flow, often paramount to a restaurant’s success, is a constant issue.

Still, Gorman and Meyer are determined to not let the building sit vacant, and they hope doing something with it will help revive the city’s central business district in the same way the Midway district has recently.

“It’s really exciting to see what’s happening with the Midway district right now,” Gorman says.

“I think that has a lot of positive momentum because a few people took chances. I think the Midway CafĂ© has made a huge difference, having some new ownership in there and a lot of energy. They did a nice job with repositioning and the energy that they brought has caused more business to come to the whole district. I think that’s the reason why people are willing to take the chance on the other two buildings [1011 and 1013 S. Fort Thomas Ave.] that are under construction.”

Restaurants, in particular, are key to any city’s success and Gorman hopes the reopening of 15 N. Fort Thomas Avenue, no matter the concept, gives the central business district some momentum and movement in terms of filling vacant properties and seriously considering redevelopment further down the road.

“What I want to see is that everybody comes together,” Gorman says. “The citizens, the business owners and the city, and they recognize that there’s crazy amounts of economic development being made with our neighbors in Covington, Newport, Bellevue and Dayton. The more they do and the less we do, the more it hurts us. And so, the more difficult it is for our local businesses that are here to thrive. I think they will survive, because they are really smart business owners and they’ll figure it out.

But it would be nice if they could just really thrive.”

To thrive, Gorman says the central business district needs a lot more critical mass. “If we only have two to three businesses that are open and we have a lot of empty space, it makes it more difficult for existing businesses to thrive,” Gorman says. “So I would love nothing more than to see a really aggressive plan that would involve some redevelopment of the central business district.”

Gorman and Meyer have only had their hands on the building at 15 N. Fort Thomas Avenue for about three weeks. Meyer and his family have spent nearly every waking moment, when not at work and school, cleaning and painting the property, and taking inventory of what they have to work with. They have no plans to do a huge kitchen renovation. They’re optimistically cautious, being careful with spending in order to ensure success.

Currently there’s no fryer, grill or stove—but there is a large brick oven, which the owners of 15 North Pizza installed. The brick oven is now a permanent fixture of the restaurant, as the building’s structure was changed to bring it in. Without other equipment, any food they make will need to be something that can be cooked in a brick oven. To open quickly—within a few weeks—Meyer says they can serve pizzas, with possibly a few smaller items, such as soups and salads.

A liquor license takes time, so if they do open quickly, alcohol won’t be on the menu—at first. But Meyer and Gorman have also considered the possibility of renting the property out through the first of the year. Folks could bring in their own alcohol and caterers, and use the space for parties and events, popular during the holiday months.

Because the property has sat vacant for almost a year, preparing the property to reopen does take time. “I’d like to get it open as soon as possible, but it’s not just flipping a light switch,” Meyer says.

Meyer and his wife, Jenny, have a combined 20-year history of working in the restaurant business, including service, management, financials, work flow and staffing. They, along with Gorman, plan to consult with people who live in Fort Thomas to figure out how, exactly, to make this property, with all its difficulties in work flow and space, succeed.

“I think that if Fort Thomas doesn’t do something, and our neighbors keep doing stuff, that it’s really not going to be good for our town,” Gorman says. “I feel like we just need to do something and I think the sooner we do it the better.”

And this then circles us back to folks like Gorman and Meyer. Folks who are attending meetings, strategizing and investing, and folks who, along with his family, are up late at night, washing walls, sweeping floors and painting trim. So if you drive by 15 N. Fort Thomas Avenue and see a light in the window, know that there are people out there trying to bring it back to life, just as there are people out there trying to see our city—and those who own businesses in it—not just survive, but thrive.

Only then, do we all win.

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