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After 15 years of cooking in other people's kitchens from Dallas to Toledo, Erika Rapp will soon settle into her own in downtown Toledo.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," Ms. Rapp said. "I think it's every chef's dream to have their own restaurant."
Registry Bistro, on the first floor of the historic Secor Building at Jefferson and Superior, will open soon, featuring what Ms. Rapp calls modern American regional cuisine. The plan is an emphasis on shared plates, but the menu will have traditional entrees as well. Dishes will change seasonally.
"It's not fine dining, but we're kind of coining ourselves as casual elegant. We want our guests to have a great dining experience, but minus the formality of traditional fine-dining restaurants," she said.
If bar food is more your flavor, or you're hoping to grab some brats before a Mud Hens game, new options for those are coming soon too.
Heading into mid-March, several new taverns and eateries have begun serving patrons or are edging toward their opening dates, adding more options to a downtown dining district that seems to be building upon itself.
Already open is Slap Shots, a reincarnation of the North Superior Street bar of the same name that had been closed for some time. Under new ownership and management, it reopened last week. Marco's Pizza chain founder Pat Giammarco is still working to rehab a building at 611 Monroe St. into an Italian restaurant expected to open this year. Also coming soon are two new bars in the Warehouse District. Sisters Julie Ketterman and Linda Ball are bringing back Ye Olde Durty Bird at 2 S. St. Clair Street, and former Table 44 manager Jim Mettler is opening an all-new tavern called Ye Olde Cock n' Bull on Huron Street across from Fifth Third Field's home plate gate.
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"I think the residential capacity [downtown] is way up, and business feeds business. If you can go down and have your choice, as well as go to a concert or see a ball game, it makes it more exciting," Ms. Ball said. "You can see it turning around."
Cynics -- and perhaps realists -- will point out that downtown has had plenty of failed ventures over the years. There are all sorts of statistics, some more reliable than others, on the percentage of new restaurants that fail. But the fact of the matter is many do. The spot that Slap Shots occupies has seen establishments open and close several times over the past few years.
But there's a sense of optimism that now is a good time to be downtown.
"I think it has great potential, especially on the weekends. It's very busy when there are events going on downtown," Slap Shots manager Corey Hughes said.
Mr. Hughes hopes to capture crowds before and after special events at the Huntington Center and cater to the sports crowd. Slap Shots' menu features burgers, wings, pizza, and salads. His is one of the few night spots north of the arena. Most of the eateries and drinkeries are centered south of the arena.
The restaurateurs there see the growing cadre of establishments more as the bait to get customers downtown than they do sharks that will cannibalize each other's business.
"Restaurants are different than retail, and entertainment districts kind of feed on themselves. It's one of the few things where truly more is better," said Sam Zyndorf, a commercial real estate broker with the Toledo office of Signature Associates.
Mr. Mettler, who has been working at the 9 North Huron St. location since September, said he's still a few weeks from opening. His bar will feature 34 draft beers and frequent live entertainment.
"I think it's a good location," he said. "Over the years since the ball park opened, the way things have progressed, the corner of Huron and Monroe streets has kind of become the epicenter."
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Three of the most popular restaurants downtown, PizzaPapalis, Table 44, and The Blarney, share that spot. Mr. Zyndorf expects more restaurants and pubs to pop up in that area.
"I think you're going to see more. They're not all going to make it, but the same can be said for Monroe and Talmadge. Could we have an entertainment district? I would think it's the only place we are going to have one," he said. "If we're going to have one in Toledo, it's going to be downtown."
While it won't be a sports bar, the Durty Bird is going to focus on the ball-game crowd with its patio. Ms. Ball said they'll have hot dogs and brats outside before Mud Hens games, and are planning to have an outdoor barbecue pit where they'll be able to do pig roasts.
"We're gonna keep the fire going and try to promote a little more outdoor activity on that patio," she said, adding that the inside of the building will be brighter and more open than it was before.
The owners are focusing the decor on Toledo's history -- things like Willys and Libbey -- and hope to open on St. Patrick's Day.
Ms. Rapp, who formerly was the chef at the Toledo Museum of Art and the executive chef at the former Diva downtown, is also looking to the past and making use of the Secor's historic architectural features.
She and her sister and business partner, Vickie Rapp, say the 1908 building has a lot of history, and they're trying to tie in as much as they can.
"It's a cross section between new and old," Vickie Rapp said. "We're bringing in elements of the 1900s, the 1930s, in different pieces of furnishings we have and updating that with a more contemporary, trendy look."
They plan to start by serving the dinner crowd, opening the bar at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. An official opening date hasn't been set.
Bill Thomas, director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, said that while the group is happy to see more entertainment spots coming into downtown, they aren't actively seeking them.
Mr. Thomas feels there's already a good offering of that, and while more is better, he would rather see more places for people to live downtown.
"With the amount of entertainment we have, we have enough interest to generate residential desire," Mr. Thomas said. "Really what we need is product to fill that. From there, we can move into the small grocery store, the small book store, the small drug store."
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.