ON THE AVENUES: Challenges are forever, but downtown New Albany’s food and drink purveyors keep on keeping on.

0
12

Last week Cox’s Hot Chicken in downtown New Albany disappeared overnight. A few days later, NABC’s Bank Street Brewhouse wound down after ten years, just as its owners had announced earlier.

Six months versus ten years; a self-described sports bar that never jelled, as opposed to an eatery/brewery/taproom unable to solve the daunting mathematics of an oversized brewing system.

In slightly differing ways both these stories were viral for NA Confidential, which is highly appreciated by the editor (that’s me). Lots of new readers came to the page, and I hope they remain.

Concurrently a bizarrely detached News and Tribune didn’t help much in clarifying these events, with most staffers apparently diverted to serve as hucksters for Abbey Road on the River occurring right behind their office in Jeffersonville (it was a fine event, by the way).

I felt bad for one of the newspaper’s newest reporters, who was forced to cite Facebook posts as sources because the business owners involved weren’t answering calls. However, at Insider Louisville old pro Kevin Gibson went deeper on the Cox’s situation.

The building is owned by Bertrand Properties LLC, and the lease is held by Matt McMahan, who opened the now-defunct Big Four Burgers restaurants. Cox’s Hot Chicken is owned by Andrew Cox.

McMahan confirmed there is another restaurant working on opening in the building, but declined to say who they are or what the concept will be.

Asked why Cox’s closed so suddenly, McMahan said only, “partnership issues.”

Or, purely typical.

The heavy metal commentator Eddie Trunk is fond of saying that somewhere around 95% of music-related disputes are about money, and this percentage probably reflects reality in the food and drink sector.

Not enough money = not much of a future.

At the same time, each of these cases is entirely unique. It’s all about location — except when it isn’t. Prices were too high, or not high enough. Bad service and noisy ambiance, too-hard barstools, unclean bathrooms, filthy smoking areas, awful on-line ratings; the list goes on and on, with enough variables to prompt doctoral dissertations.

Concurrently an overview of social media comments, taken in aggregate, suggest that very few of us know how the restaurant business actually works or understand the multi-dimensional dynamic of a (presumably) free market.

But let’s not blame the Internet for this one. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Richard Nixon resigned at roughly the same time Burger King started saying this?

Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders, don’t upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way.

Seriously?

Their way?

You want these people, barely capable of matching their own socks and who can’t bear the thought of using Arabic numerals, to believe they deserve to have “it” their way?

Egads. The decline of civilization began in 1974. The arrival of Yelp only made it worse.

What I’ve enjoyed most these past few days are the on-line experts debating what these two recent business closings say about downtown New Albany.

They say quite a lot, although not in the way many observers intend. While not absolving our City Hall from culpability (more about that in a moment), let’s survey the food, drink and dining scene over the past year and a half.

Spoiler alert: a free-fall it ain’t.

Match Cigar Bar’s branch on Main Street closed, and quickly was replaced by Double Barrel. Roadrunner Kitchen came to life adjacent to Double Barrel, where Urban Bread and others used to be, then moved to Underground Station near the estimable Aladdin. Mirin subsequently replaced Roadrunner Kitchen.

Feast BBQ closed and the space was purchased by The Exchange. Comfy Cow on Market ceased to exist and was remodeled as a bar called The Earl.

Following a fire, Hitching Post underwent a complete (and notably shrewd) rebuild. Nearby, Dragon King’s Daughter’s occupied another renovated former supermarket building. La Tiendita got bigger, sank, and was replaced by El Sinaloa.

Pints&union and Longboard’s Taco & Tiki both came into being, and Quill’s vacated one space for occupancy of another. La Catrina occupied the former DKD slot facing Elm Street. Gospel Bird perished, but NA Standard will be opening there soon.

The Elks Lodge and the Red Men both continue to serve food and drink. Meanwhile no establishment downtown is using its indoor and outdoor square footage more wisely than Floyd County Brewing Company, which has come into its own as a beer and brewing destination.

The huge old department store building where La Rosita once lived, which everyone (including me) thought would be impossible to repurpose, soon will become RecBar, an entertainment venue with a kitchen of its own. At the Breakwater, Bliss Artisan recently began serving pizza and ice cream.

Then there’s Toast, Café 157, 410 Bakery and Adrienne’s; Daisy’s, Lady Tron, Hugh Bir’s and Brooklyn & the Butcher; Seeds & Greens, Brownie’s, Habana Blues, Hull & High Water and Bella Roma. Pride and Pastime. All of them keep regular business hours sans palpable drama.

Yes, Cox’s Hot Chicken and Bank Street Brewhouse are gone. As Gibson informs us, the former will become something else soon enough, all but assured by McMahan’s continued involvement.

Bank Street Brewhouse is available for purchase as a turnkey operation, admittedly complicated by the brewing system’s size. Judging from the calls I’ve rerouted as an ex-owner, interest definitely is there. Be reminded that Steve Resch still owns the building, and it should be obvious that he gets things done. There’ll be a new occupant.

River City Winery is a special case. Successful for nine years, it hit the skids in late 2018 – neither for lack of patronage nor the quality of the food and wine, which were excellent, but because of an ownership dispute. This one’s murky.

Lastly, the Green Mouse says there may soon be a tenant for the kitchen incubator space in the rear of Destinations Booksellers — and the long moribund Vincennes Street corridor is showing signs of revival.

Does any of this sound like a death knell?

Agreed: there are reasons to be concerned … but downtown is not in catastrophic retreat. Independent food service operators, whose job it is to do the math, keep filling the spaces left when a previous operator departs. Would they be doing this in the expectation of failure?

Turnover isn’t the sign of a ghost town. It’s indication of relative health in the grassroots, where capitalism occasionally remains capitalistic. Why must a socialist like me be the one to inform you that market corrections are constant and ongoing. They’re happening all the time. It helps to remember that grassroots entrepreneurial capitalism tends to lack a net. It’s unforgiving, and casualties are a constant.

For local independent business owners and managers, life stays complicated. Decision-making involves numerous moving parts, deriving from the input of hundreds of key players, including workers, farmers, bankers, media, middle men, lawmakers, and of course, customers.

As such, pertaining to lifting all the downtown food and dining boats, together and as a unified growth sector of the economy, previously I’ve reiterated the need for greater cooperation between these entities in the form of a completed restaurant association.

Rather than repeat these arguments, you can read the post here: ON THE AVENUES: Necessity was the mother of NARBA, a food and drink invention in need of re-animation.

Wait – what was that?

“NEVER MIND, DOWNTOWN IS IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE OMIGOD THE PARKING IS HORRIBLE.”

That’s plain stupid, but obviously certain preconditions have quantifiable influence, including wharehousing one’s car, the economic climate as a whole, today’s snow storm, tomorrow’s heat wave, who we are as a city, and where we want to be.

By the way, we’re having an election in November.

Of course, the state of infrastructure matters much: sewers, the power grid, water, garbage, policing and ordinance enforcement. Transportation concerns exist beyond coddling your ride: shall we remain 100% car-centric, or are there multi-modal mobility options?

Jeff Speck thought so, but Jeff Gahan apparently doesn’t. Consequently a huge opportunity was squandered in 2017.

To me, job one is encouraging density in downtown residency, not by bribing huge developers to pursue one or two showpiece projects, but by providing fair incentives for two-dozen smaller ones.

The more people living within walking and biking distance of historic downtown business district, the better the business climate, and the speedier the shift to balanced offerings; as Bluegill has been asking forever, how far must one walk from his or her home NOT to drink craft-brewed pastry stouts or eat Peruvian street food, but just buy a damn roll of toilet paper?

Still, my conclusion is that one good way to assure a future for your favorite downtown eatery or watering hole is to encourage residential infill. Several acres of downtown real estate have been scraped clean of buildings and now sit, coated with rain-deflecting asphalt, to be used only on widely scattered occasions as special event parking lots.

Until people are living downtown in bricks and mortar rising from the current unproductive barrenness, we’ll continue chasing our tails.

I’ve also come to realize that in spite of the advantages of having a combined Clark and Floyd County tourism bureau, which include a fine staff and useful economies of scale, the city of New Albany needs to devote time and resources to itself, for itself – and by this I’m NOT talking about the blind man’s bluff approach of billboards and advertisements currently emitted by the city, which generally serve as mayoral campaign blurbs more than “Come to Squalidity City” enticements.

To put it bluntly, outsiders contemplating where to spend their money simply don’t give a flying fug who currently serves as mayor, whether it’s Gahan, Real or the ghost of Erni. Rather, they’re looking for reasons to come check out the city.

Can we please begin providing them with these reasons, and not settling for North Korean-sized images of our own Dear Leader?

Our combined tourist bureau would be even more conducive to us with a visitor center presence in Floyd County, preferably downtown New Albany. I’m told this is something that has been considered by SoIn. Which candidate for mayor will work with them to make this happen?

Finally, we need to be doing whatever we can to promote local independent businesses.

When it comes to the city’s typical economic development expenditures and abatements, it cannot be denied that the bigger the subsidy, the more likely it is being deployed to support chains and far flung corporate empires that drain cash from the local economy every single day.

Summit Springs is the most purely grotesque current example, an inexcusable and atrocious 100% car-centric environmental blotch, set to be stacked with national franchises offering low-income jobs to workers who can’t find affordable housing amid Gahan’s mantra of luxury-first.

Will the people staying in those hotel rooms even know there’s a classic downtown setting less than a mile away, or will they hop back into their cars and head to Louisville — or Veteran’s Parkway?

Yes, we have issues like these, and they need to be addressed.

No, the sky’s not falling because two independent small businesses closed.

And: Death to Burger King and all the rest of the chains.

Recent columns:

May 21: ON THE AVENUES: “Pints&union, where the classic beer hits keep right on pouring.”

May 14: ON THE AVENUES: Where do we go from here?

May 6: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Ghosts within these stones, defiance in these bones (2018).

May 5: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Our great and noble leader soon will be going away, so let’s break out the țuică and make a joyful noise.

LEAVE A REPLY