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Setting the “Standard”

What do a brisk beer garden, an open-concept kitchen and an abandoned music hall have in common? Not much at a glance, but they are all part of the innovative expansion of Corso Ventures—marked most recently with the opening of Standard Hall, the third concept from the folks behind The Pint House and Forno Kitchen + Bar. Opening three distinct locations in as many years in the Short North, a neighborhood with no shortage of fine ideas that fade away, is a tall order. Those that stick strike the right balance between dinner destination and neighborhood haunt. “I personally live just a couple blocks away in Italian Village, and have been walking or biking down East Third avenue for about eight years, every single day, to either hang out or go to work,” explained Reed Woogerd, director of operations.

“Almost every time I’ve come down East Third avenue, I’ve turned left. Now that we’ve begun this development process, it feels great to turn right, to be going somewhere new and exciting for this part of the neighborhood.” The Short North nostalgic already know the location well. For a decade, Little Brother’s filled the live music void left by Stache’s. The loss of both still brings a bitter tear to the faithful. A shorter stint as Liquid Café and Lounge fit the neighborhood well as an upscale lesbian nightclub. But this too soon passed.  The space has been empty of all but regrets ever since. But Woogerd doesn’t stir easily when it comes to expectations, or a cursed location. “When we opened up Pint House in 2013, we received a lot of criticism—people who thought we were just night club guys who would bring the wrong crowd to the neighborhood,” he confessed.

“When we were opening Forno, skeptics claimed the building was cursed. In reality, it had only been a restaurant one other time. This is a tough business, not all restaurants are successful; not all small businesses stay open forever.” It’s a little eerie to see a former music hall and nightclub during daylight hours. But it also reveals the details of the space that otherwise go unnoticed—the new, industrial metalwork contrasting the rich, red hues of the original exposed brick, or the preserved central skylight that beams down on the lush, living herb wall behind the bar. The worn and weathered wooden floorboards give the whole joint an instant credibility, as though Standard Hall has always been there.

“I see our venues as much more than an average restaurant or bar. We like to build places that provide both residents and visitors to the Short North a great experience of what this neighborhood has to offer,” he said. “Opening Standard Hall—in a building that has so much history and is dear to the hearts of longtime residents of the Short North—we wanted to make sure we did it justice. We’ve learned people take the redevelopment and growth of the Short North seriously. And as residents of the neighborhood, we are sensitive to what the people here actually want and need.”

“The beauty of the restaurant business is that it revolves around the basic human need for social interaction, the catalyst of which is something that we can all agree on that we love—food and drinks,” he explained. “So, if we don’t try to reinvent the wheel, and if we stay immersed in our community and continue to grow with the team of restaurant professionals we’ve been building, then we get concepts that feel genuine and original without taking the general public out of their comfort zone.”

Expansion isn’t exclusively an external process. Ideally it really does starts from the ground up. Woogerd recalled his own rise within the organization, and how it was actually a former restaurant employer who suggested he and Chris Corso, the company’s founder, would be a great fit.

That pay-it-forward philosophy hasn’t been forgotten, nor have the staff who are opening Standard Hall. The general manager, Kyle Westerburg, and assistant manager, Nate Taylor, both started as bartenders at Forno. In fact, the management teams at all three locations are a collection of former servers and support staff. The kitchen side is likewise deep with promotions from within. The company’s executive chefs include a former line cook and a pantry cook. Standard Hall’s own executive chef, Daniel Kamel, started as a sous chef at Forno.

This commitment to cultivating and promoting excellence creates a customer experience typically found only at restaurants and bars that have had enough time for the staff to settle in. Standard Hall has that from the day they open the doors.

“When you look at our menu, you will recognize a lot of things. We have offerings that you are used to seeing at other restaurants and bars,” he noted. “We have a mojito on our cocktail menu, a lot of places do. But we are growing our mint on a living wall behind the bar and plucking it fresh for each cocktail. We are serving our Philly cheesesteak on an Amoroso roll that we ship from Philadelphia. The idea here really is to set the standard.”

Asked if three concepts was the goal, or just the beginning, Woogerd remained open to possibilities.

“I guess you could say that our growth is synonymous with the growth of Columbus. When the right opportunities arise, and when we feel our team is ready, we will continue to grow,” he replied. “I think the thing that we are already doing, that can’t be recreated, is that we live in the community and have been invested in the community for a long time. Generally you don’t see out-of-town developers coming in until some local guys have had some success. We want to continue to show that Columbus is a viable market.”

Columbus has often taken its inspiration from elsewhere, with a steady influx of transplants and immigrants fueling the food and drink scene. But now, it’s starting to come into its own—a metropolitan and cosmopolitan mix as diverse and distinct as any dining destination.

“I’d taken trips to Austin and Nashville and seen that relationship between space and the community,” he said. “We wanted that same feel, so someone walking down the street in the Short North could see and sense the energy inside and get drawn in. You’re attracted to it.”

“Columbus is a growing foodie town. People who live here love going out to restaurants, and people in the Short North will sometimes hit five or six different places on any given night,” he explained. “It’s up to us to provide a little different flavor for each concept. The challenge is providing an experience for people who travel to bigger cities like Chicago, New York, to go to restaurants. We want them to come to our venues and feel like they’re having that kind of experience.”

To experience Standard Hall, check them out at 1100 N High St., or at standardhall.com.

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