Ella is designed to celebrate local food and art in a single space...
The conversation started over a sold piece of art-glasswork about to be sent overseas. How exciting, thought Amy Schottenstein. She had never before visited the colorful Hayley Gallery, which features Ohio artists in its bright showroom. After only a few minutes, she and gallery owner Hayley Savage were chatting like old friends.
"It was kismet," said Savage, who opened the gallery in New Albany in 2007. "I remember calling Amy the next day and saying, 'I feel like I met my new best friend.' "
At the time, in 2009, Schottenstein was operating popular seasonal restaurant Summer Stock Food and Flowers in Lakeside, Ohio. A one-time registered dietitian, the New Albany resident opened the restaurant near her vacation home to offer the gated, affluent community more diverse, healthy food choices.
Inspired, Savage thought they could accomplish the same thing in New Albany, a city not known for an abundance of restaurants.
Now, the duo is set to do just that, planning a November opening for their contemporary American restaurant Ella, a moniker that stands for "eat local. love art." The concept is meant to create a seamless flow of art-on the walls, on the plate and on the palate.
"Rather than wait for somebody to come in, we're putting our money where our mouth is," Savage said. "We live here. We understand what people want."
Savage easily recalls the first time she met New Albany Mayor Nancy Ferguson and told her she was opening an art gallery.
"That's wonderful," the mayor said. "But we really need places to eat."
Built on the end of a small red brick plaza on state Route 62, Ella will focus on all things local. Ingredients will be sourced from area farmers and vendors. The artwork hanging on the neutral-toned walls of the 3,100-square-foot restaurant will come from Ohio artists and rotate monthly. The décor will be an extension of the new Hayley Gallery location, built next door.
The restaurant layout is designed to cater to large parties, with spaces that can be sectioned off and tables easily moved to create communal-style dining. Toward the front, more intimate areas are perfect for couples. On the side, a 75-seat patio will offer a large outdoor option. And an open window will give guests a view straight into the kitchen.
It's obvious Schottenstein and Savage want diners to feel connected to the chef and to the artists. There's a comforting calm to the way they speak about Ella. They're grounded and proud; certain they know their future customers.
After all, with six children between them, it's likely Savage and Schottenstein are the parents sitting next to you at the high school football game.
"It was about having that gut feeling that if we want it," Savage said, "then our neighbors want it."
Awoman hovered over the piece of art Savage had donated to a charity silent auction, circling it again and again.
"Do you like that?" Savage finally asked."I love it," the woman said.
Savage introduced herself, and as many often find with the single mother of two, the women got to talking.
"I am going to be opening a restaurant," Savage told her.
"My husband's a chef!" the woman said.
Travis Hyde, the former executive chef at Z Cucina di Spirito and a member of the first graduating class of New Albany High School, had been looking for a new opportunity. Ella was a perfect fit.
"The timing is almost euphoric," said Hyde, who lives in Westerville. "I used to always say, 'I am going to open a restaurant in New Albany.' It was so weird."
As executive chef, Hyde tweaked the initial working menu created by general manager Schottenstein, adding his own simple-yet-creative touches. Moving forward, the two will collaborate on menu items to ensure there is something for everyone: entrées priced from $12 to $26 that range from steak to chicken to seafood, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free choices.
"It's food that pleases all the palates. It's stuff you can make at home, you've had at home, but this is better," Hyde said. "We don't want anyone to feel like they are walking into some pretentious restaurant. It's an extension of your home."
With a white tablecloth background, Hyde admits he has no plans to change his style of cooking. He's going to turn out the same upscale dishes, but with a familiar approach. It will be a play on American classics, such as shrimp cocktail that's been flash grilled and roasted chicken with butternut squash puree instead of standard mashed potatoes.
"This is very much a meat and potatoes town. I'm a very meat and potatoes guy myself," Hyde said. "I just like to get creative with my meat and potatoes."
It's been a busy two years of challenges and successes since Savage and Schottenstein first discussed this project.
Part of their journey included winning a year's worth of business coaching through a New Albany-sponsored program, and they used that time to hammer out the details of Ella and its feasibility.
Now, as they prepare to open their doors, they're confident in their food, their feel and their concept.
"We have a buzz," Savage said. "There's one word we hear from everybody: finally."
Photos by: Will Shilling