Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vacant Drivers space getting smoked with new restaurant tenant

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 2/14/2014

Smoked Creations BBQ, a popular downtown Ottawa eatery, is preparing to make tracks for Logan Street. But the business’ popular model train will be staying behind.

A better locale, a top-notch facility and acres of room were three driving factors behind the restaurant’s planned move to the former Driver’s Sports Bar at 222 E. Logan St., Jeremy Clevenger, Smoked Creations co-owner, said.

Smoked Creations BBQ, a popular downtown Ottawa eatery, is preparing to make tracks for Logan Street. But the business’ popular model train will be staying behind.

A better locale, a top-notch facility and acres of room were three driving factors behind the restaurant’s planned move to the former Driver’s Sports Bar at 222 E. Logan St., Jeremy Clevenger, Smoked Creations co-owner, said.

Clevenger has circled March 5 on the calendar as the date he would like to open in the new location — March 12 at the latest, he said. Clevenger plans to move the restaurant on a Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to minimize the time it will be closed and then open on a Wednesday, he said. March 5 and March 12 are Wednesdays.

“There is a lot to get done between now and the move,” Clevenger said. “We have to get licenses [food and adult beverage licenses do not transfer from building to building]. We have to get the TVs hooked up, furniture and fixtures, utilities switched over — there’s going to be a lot happening all at once.”

The hassles of moving, however, are minor compared to the benefits the restaurant will reap from the new location, which the business plans to lease, Clevenger said.

“This is a better opportunity for us,” Clevenger, who co-owns the restaurant with Chancy Riemer, said. “It’s a great location, and the building is awesome. There’s more parking, and parking has been a big issue for us [at 306 S. Main St.] I feel like we probably lost some business because there was no place to park.”

Having a banquet room and a prep-style kitchen space with ample refrigeration on the lower level of the Logan Street building will benefit his catering business, Clevenger said.

“The business has expanded so much I’m literally out of space,” Clevenger said of his Main Street address. “I’m looking at a catering job for 280 people, and it will take every inch of space I currently have [to handle the job].”

The Logan Street building, with more than 7,800-square-feet of space, is freshly decorated on the main floor restaurant level in an Ottawa University theme with black and gold, and an Ottawa High School theme adorns the lower level in red and white, Clevenger said. He plans to move the historic photographs now adorning the walls at his current location to the new restaurant, he said. The Logan Street building also houses office space on the third level, above the main restaurant area.

“This is definitely going to be an Ottawa restaurant, with the OU and OHS themes,” Clevenger said.

Clevenger credited the building’s owners, Jim and Linda Lewis, for the work they have done on the building to create an inviting atmosphere. He said the soon-to-be vacant store front on Main Street will be available for rent.

Jim Lewis, a 1964 Ottawa High School graduate and current owner of the family-owned Checkers Foods in Lawrence, purchased the Logan Street property in October 2013 at an auction for a reported $190,000.

Three parties had expressed interest in the building, Lewis said.

“I’m renting it by the square foot at such a reasonable rate that I thought I would be able to find someone quickly,” Lewis said. “One the parties was ready to lease it right away, but he wasn’t local, and I wanted to try to find someone locally first. I could have leased it for a higher rate, but it would have sat there for a while, and we didn’t want that.

“The building had a great ambiance, and we just came in and put the icing on the cake,” Lewis said. “One of the things we did was to remove the crossbars from the windows. The cross patches had separated the windows into smaller panes, and we removed those and it really opened it up with those nice big windows. The view is spectacular across the [Marais des Cygnes River] levee — you can see the Baptist church steeple and the courthouse.”

The Logan Street building previously was known as Ike and Mike’s antiques shop, before being developed as a restaurant called Coconuts in the early 2000s, according to Herald archives. That business never came to fruition, but in 2006 the building was purchased by Bob Clements and opened as Drivers Sports Cafe. Drivers closed Dec. 31, 2012.

Lewis was pleased Clevenger wanted to move his business into the building, which now has been vacant for about a year, he said.

“I’m happy with the return on my investment, and it will be a great opportunity for Jeremy,” Lewis said. “He has a good product, and he’ll be able to expand his product line [Clevenger said he plans to expand his burger and barbecue sandwich offerings]. There’s a really big bar area so he’ll be able to expand his bar business. I just think he’ll do really well here.”

Smoked Creations initially will be able to sell beer at the new location, Clevenger said, but obtaining the license necessary to serve liquor could take a few weeks to process the paperwork through state government agencies.

“We should have a full bar within a couple of months,” he said.

In addition to broadening his menu, Clevenger said, he plans to expand his business hours. Eventually, he said, the larger building also might require him to increase his staff of 14 employees.

“We plan to be open seven days a week,” Clevenger said. “I’ve already told the staff to plan on working more hours. I think [customers] will come at us like gang busters, like they did when we opened [October 2012 on Main Street]. I’m really excited about moving into the new location.”

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