Columbia chef and restaurateur Kristian Niemi plans to help boost the revival of North Main Street with a multi-use complex that will include a restaurant, beer garden, bocce courts and concert hall.
Niemi said he and his business partners purchased a 7,100-square-foot building at 2510 N. Main Street this week with plans to create NoMa Revival. The name pays homage to the revitalization of the North Main district.
"We'd been looking at North Main for at least two years, and a lot of solid businesses have planted their flags there," said Niemi, who has managed or owned several of Columbia’s best known restaurants, including The Blue Marlin in the Vista, Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe in Five Points and Bourbon whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole kitchen on Main Street.
He said his newest venture will be in an area of North Main Street that is almost at the center between downtown and Sunset Boulevard. “It'd be nice to plant a flag there and say, 'Look, all of Main Street has a lot of offer. You can cross Elmwood and there's a lot more that's going to be happening out here,'" Niemi said.
Niemi’s plans add more momentum to the North Main Street corridor. The War Mouth, an upscale restaurant, opened in the area late last year, and plans were announced several months ago for two craft beer breweries and a super-sized tasting room.
"North Columbia is ripe for investment right now,” said Cecil Hannibal, executive director of the Eau Claire Development Corp., which serves as a catalyst for economic development in the Eau Claire and North Columbia communities. “We're glad to see people staying downtown but they're also starting to come uptown and do business.”
Restaurants play a central role in the social, intellectual and artistic life of a community, Hannibal said. Niemi “is the king of restaurants and it's exciting to know that his brand and his style of restaurants are coming to North Columbia. . . . I think it's just going to open up a lot of great opportunities for North Columbia."
The building that Niemi and his partners purchased was built in the 1930s as an A&P Grocery Store. It most recently was home to a printing company that closed eight years ago.
With 7,100 square feet of interior space, Niemi has a lot to work with.
"This will be the first restaurant I've ever had where I'll have freedom of space — every other restaurant has been hemmed in by its physical limitations," said Niemi, who added that the restaurant at Revival will not be a themed cuisine restaurant but will focus on serving "hyperlocal products."
The massive interior space coupled with the property's large lot size also allows for a lot of extras that aren't housed on one site anywhere else in the city. They include the beer garden, bocce courts, cold smoke rooms, a butcher counter for the restaurant and for retail sales, and the concert hall — to be called Revival Hall — that will seat up to 150.
Behind the restaurant, which he plans to open in spring 2017, will be an “old-school, open-pit” barbecue house where hogs and other meats will be cooked, Niemi said. He’s quick to point out that the restaurant won’t be a “barbecue place,” but customers looking for a “sit-down, semi-fancy” barbecue dinner can stand outside with the pit master and “watch your hog come off the pit.”
Niemi’s entrance into the Columbia dining market began at The Blue Marlin on Gervais Street, where he was the restaurant’s first general manager. From there, Niemi opened Mr. Friendly’s in 1995 and later opened Gervais & Vine in the Vista and Solstice Kitchen in northeast Columbia. In 2013, he opened Bourbon whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole kitchen at 1214 Main St. Earlier this year, he sold another original restaurant — Rosso Trattoria Italia, which he opened in Forest Acres in 2009.
"I guess the one thing I can be proud of is that every single restaurant I've opened is still open," said Niemi, who currently still owns and operates Bourbon.