At the new Grandview venue, expected to open in November, two former colleagues from The Sycamore are getting the band back together again.
After Trillium Kitchen & Patio closed this summer in Old North, its executive chef and co-owner Bradley Balch was a bit disoriented. He wasn’t sure what to do next.
Then, he got a call from Michael Vehlber, a former general manager at The Sycamore in German Village, where Balch was the opening chef. Vehlber’s pitch: Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music, the 7-year-old music venue and restaurant in Worthington, was raising the bar on its forthcoming spinoff in Grandview, Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen, where Vehlber is the new G.M. Its father-daughter ownership team of Charlie and Natalie Jackson planned to amp up the dining experience, and they needed a chef.
Sure enough, Vehlber and Balch agreed to team up together again.
“[In Worthington], we consider ourselves both a great [restaurant] and a great live music venue. For us, we take both just as seriously,” Natalie says. However, she’s cognizant that many people, rightly or wrongly, will always categorize the Worthington location (5601 N. High St.) as a “pizza joint.”
“And we’re pretty ambitious. … We want [Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen] to be a top 10 restaurant in 2020. That is definitely a goal of ours,” says Natalie, who was familiar with Balch’s food at The Sycamore and Trillium.
The approximately 9,000-square-foot Grandview venue, which housed the sports bar King Avenue 5 for nearly 13 years, is split into two main areas. Local design outfit Sketch Blue is reimagining the space, which offers a much larger kitchen and overall footprint than the Worthington location.
Although pizza is the main focus of Natalie’s original spot, the new Natalie’s (945 King Ave.) will take a different tack. “Here, we’re going to completely blow up the menu,” says Balch, who doesn’t like to pigeonhole himself into one cuisine. The new location will feature five pizzas—all baked in an Italian-made, Morello Forni gas and wood pizza oven. (The pies will even get their own dough room.) The domed oven will sit front-and-center on the more intimate side of the split music venue, facing the main dining room and next to a small stage that’s ideal for jazz trios and the like.
On this side of the venue, customers will be able to order dinner from a full menu. Balch, one of Columbus Monthly’s 2017 Tastemakers, plans to offer small plates like arancini, grilled octopus and oysters, as well as several entrées such as chicken confit with creamed corn and a churrasco-style bavette steak, both sourced from Ohio farms. Meanwhile, the accompanying concrete bar will show off a cocktail program curated by PJ Ford of The Light of Seven Matchsticks, Natalie’s sibling speakeasy in Worthington.
Vehlber says the Natalie’s team is going for a classy yet casual atmosphere that maintains a music hall feel. “Fine dining—too many people equate that with a white tablecloth and a price tag, and it should be a mentality in just how you conduct yourself,” Vehlber says. “You can do it in a casual and fun and friendly way. To me that’s fine dining.”
On the south side of the building is a larger music hall for bigger shows. During a walk-through in early October, the room was being prepped with a combination of new and donated sound equipment. “Charlie Jackson takes his sound very seriously, so there was a lot of nice equipment already here, and he said, ‘No we’ve got to get better,’ ” Vehlber says. The space will also feature custom moss installations by Planthropy, serving both as pops of color and valuable tools for sound absorption.
In the larger venue, a limited food menu is planned, with a bar that’s built more for speed than bespoke cocktails. Vehlber estimates the space will accommodate 150 to 175 people for seated shows, while general admission concerts will make room for 350-plus attendees.
What started as a simpler undertaking—making a few changes here and there to the old King Avenue 5—has turned into “this huge project,” Natalie says, but one in which a lot of people have stepped up. “I feel like people are putting in time that we have not necessarily paid for. It’s become kind of a passion project,” she says. “People believe in the space. They believe in what we’re trying to do, and so extra time and energy and commitment has been put in to this. I think it’s really going to show when we open.”
Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen is expected to make its debut in November, serving dinner Tuesday through Sunday to start. The venue’s first booking is local singer/guitarist Angela Perley, whose show is set for Thanksgiving Eve.