A new restaurant will soon take the place of the Starting Gates Bier Halle on Union Street.
Ric Wasserman, co-owner of The Pigskin Bar and Grille, 38 N. Court St., and Bella Vino, 22 W. Stimson Ave., said he is opening a new restaurant, The Corner, at 120 W. Union St.
“It will open when it’s perfect,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said the restaurant will have a core menu of “Southern comfort” food, such as chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, beef short ribs and crab cakes. That core menu will not change, but the restaurant will have an additional specials menu with rotating dishes made by the restaurant's chef.
The inside of the restaurant will be contemporary, Wasserman said. The restaurant will also feature a bar, catering mostly to cocktails.
“It’s going to use a lot of stone and glass for the design,” Wasserman said. “It’s going to be very clean looking. The bar will also be a really nice bar. There will be a craft cocktail theme, and we will have a really nice wine list with craft beers on tap.”
Jaelyn Smith, a freshman studying journalism, is from North Carolina and said she would be interested in trying The Corner to see if it is like the southern cooking she grew up with.
Smith said she has found chicken tenders, grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese in the dining hall that remind her of home.
“I love (Southern food) because I grew up with it,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t say (Northern cooking) is necessarily a big difference, it’s just better because it’s where I’m from.”
Wasserman said he thought of the idea of The Corner when he was traveling to large cities.
“The restaurants that we’re building up on Union Street very closely resemble the restaurants that I see in every city that I go to,” Wasserman said. “These very contemporary bistros are very cocktail-forward. They also have really good food using a lot of creative elements you don’t see everywhere.”
Having lived in Athens for nearly 30 years, Wasserman said he wanted to recreate those type of restaurants for his friends and the people of Athens.
“I just wanted to have that here for the people who have lived somewhere else or traveled a lot to have this kind of experience without having to leave town,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman calls that section of the street “Union Facing Athens,” which he said is gaining critical mass in terms of more and more businesses arriving.
“In addition to a lot of people living there, you have a lot of people working there,” Wasserman said. “In addition to that, there’s a lot of restaurants.”
John Lefelhocz, co-owner of Cycle Path Bicycles, 104 W. Union St., said the businesses around West Union Street benefit each other by creating competition and traffic.
“We see a lot of West Green people come over during lunch time, and we will also have more people once the medical school is opened,” Lefelhocz said, referring to the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine's move to Union Street. “There’s going to be a lot more beehive activity down here.”
Lefelhocz said he believes Athens influences small business owners because the community sets what the businesses are going to do and how they will survive.
“We meet the market demand,” Lefelhocz said. “Athens is challenging, but at the same time it’s not boring by any means because we have the sort of change every six months. There’s the section of summertime where things change up and the section when students come in and change things up.”
Wasserman said he sees West Union Street turning into a destination for people to come when they want to escape the activity of Uptown.
“We see this as a destination for people to go out to eat and drink and see in a nice environment that is not as crazy as Uptown in terms of activity,” Wasserman said. “It’s a lot easier to park in than Uptown, and we think that area is going to turn into a really nice place for restaurants.”
Wasserman said he believes The Corner will have an advantage of serving both cocktails and food. The Corner will be using locally raised meat and vegetables for its meals, but it is not afraid to retrieve finer foods from far away.
“The ability to serve people a full-service meal is definitely going to help us out,” Wasserman said. “The only thing this restaurant will be dogmatic about is quality. … It’s an adventure to be there because you’ll get a different experience every time you go.”