The mural on the side of the building has been up for a year, but Cola’s restaurant finally will open Monday, serving American cuisine with a full bar in a prime downtown spot.
Jeff Balish – whose family also owns Garibaldi’s in Five Points – will open Cola’s at 1215 Assembly St., near the corner with Gervais Street.
It will be the family’s fifth restaurant and its first new one in 20 years. The restaurant group, which also owns restaurants in Savannah and Charleston, is on the cusp of a post-recession growth spurt. The company recently bought more property in Charleston and is looking for locations in other markets, Balish said.
“It’s a cautious progression,” he said. But “we’re definitely on the growth cycle.”
Balish took his time with Cola’s. He bought the Assembly Street building – formerly John Paul’s Armadillo Oil Company -- six years ago.
“We were going to do something with it, and then the economy crashed and we decided to wait,” he said.
Now, as the economic recovery trudges along, Balish is ready to open what he hopes will become as much a Columbia institution as Garibaldi’s, which has been here nearly three decades.
“I’ve been taking my time with it,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s right. We plan on being here a very long time.”
Cola’s will serve American food with an Asian influence, which will range in price from $10.95 for a shrimp po’ boy with fries to $28.95 for a rib-eye steak with garlic-herb butter, battered onion rings, creamed spinach and crispy mashed tater tots. It also will feature appetizers, such as pulled pork barbecue egg rolls for $8.95 and Bloody Mary oysters for $10 a half dozen.
Balish will start by serving dinner Mondays through Saturdays, and then will add an extended Friday and Saturday menu, including late-night breakfast. By the beginning of next year, he hopes to be serving Sunday brunch and lunch five days a week.
Cola’s will feature a full bar with TVs – a first for one of the company’s restaurants – and old-time librarian’s rolling ladder.
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant, which will seat 200, also will have private dining rooms. Balish will take limited reservations for the first few days to work out logistics. He will have 60 employees.
The name of the restaurant is a double entendre, Balish said. Cola is local shorthand for Columbia, but the restaurant also is in an old RC Cola bottling plant from the 1930s and 1940s.
It features exposed brick and the original broken tile floor. Garage doors in the front will open it up to passers-by.
“I wanted to have something with energy that anybody can come in off the street,” Balish said, adding the dining rooms allow for fine or casual dining. “You can make it what you want.
“We want to have great fun.”
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