Addella's on Oak and opening a restaurant in a pandemic

Andy Downing
Karrio Ballard photographed inside Addella's on Oak

In mid-October, more than two years after signing the lease for the Franklin Park space,Addella’s on Oak, a new neighborhood bar and eatery from the husband-wife team of Karrio Ballard and Victoria Hink, finally opened its doors.

Normally, this would be cause for celebration  particularly following the hurdles and hardships that turned what Ballard initially envisioned as a six-month buildout into a significantly longer renovation  but operating a new business amid a global pandemic hasn’t allowed the pair the time or space to breathe easy.

“Not even a little bit,” Ballard, former owner of Barrel on High, said recently while seated inside Addella’s, a colorful, comfortable space dotted with touches that reflecthis musical past, such as a structural beam wrapped in cassette tape wallpaper. (Hink, former owner of the Angry Baker, also has a lengthy history in the restaurant industry.) “We’re just under a lot of pressure to make this work, because if not the alternative isn’t pretty. And that’s just real, and I’m sure most restaurant or business owners would tell you the same. … So I’m here working myself to death, and we’re doing everything we can to make it happen. And hopefully people will notice that and find a way to support us where they see fit. But I definitely haven’t had that moment where it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. We finally did it.’”

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Ballard, who has lived in the Olde Towne East/Franklin Park area since 2013, first hit upon the building that houses Addella’s more than two years ago, struck by the promise of its location (the structure is just a couple of blocks fromthe forthcoming trolley barn development), as well as the blank slate presented by the interior, which afforded the couple an opportunity to craft a space from the ground up that reflected their personalities. “I’m a bright-ass-color-wearing dude,” Ballard said, and laughed, a fondness reflected in the bar’s lively but not overwhelming palette. Additionally, Addella’s has an immediately enveloping familial vibe reflected in everything down to its moniker, a portmanteau of Addy and Stella, the names of the couple's daughters.

Coming into the renovation, Ballard said he envisioned it taking four months, maybe six max, but permitting delays, issues with contractors and construction lulls inevitable in these types of projects stretched the buildout longer than 18 months. Then in March, the same week a health inspector was scheduled to visit the business to give final approval for its food license, Gov. Mike DeWine issued his coronavirus-driven shutdown order, leading to another seven months of limbo.

At that point, Ballard started to question if the business would ever open. “There were hundreds of times where I was like, ‘This probably isn’t going to work,’” he said. “But we’re so far in, and so much money has been spent. ... I went and worked at Home Depot for a minute, doing what I could to make things happen. It’s just been pulling rabbits out of hats.”

There have been a couple small breaks, but not many. The couple’s landlord offered some temporary rent relief, but as a new business Addella’s didn’t qualify for the PPP loan program offered by the federal government, where loan amounts were based on average monthly payroll costs incurred in January and February of this year, months in which the business was not open.

Even now, Ballard said the restaurant and bar is struggling to adapt to conflicting government actions, where curfews and reduced capacities have not been accompanied by financial aid to help businesses and their employees more ably navigate the pandemic. Ballard pointed to the potential confusion caused by recent decisions on the state and local levels, whereDeWine issued a 10 p.m. curfew on businesses in lieu of a shutdown but thenFranklin County followed with a 28-day stay-at-home advisory.

“That advisory might deter some people from going out,” Ballard said. “So it’s like, ‘We’re not going to force the businesses to close, but we’re going to tell people they shouldn’t go out, but you should still stay open even though there’s no people.’ … It’s extremely frustrating. You try and do all of the things they say, and then they come back the next day and it’s something else. … [COVID] is a serious thing; I’m not saying it’s not. I want people to be safe. But we have rent to pay, people who want to work, who have bills to pay. I don’t know what the answer is."

Amid these continual fluctuations and unrelenting uncertainties, the Addella’s crew is doing what it can to get by, increasing its focus on takeout dining (includingoffering a multi-course Thanksgiving meal; phone orders are due in today, Tuesday, Nov. 24), selling merchandise and banking on weekend business to get it through the weekday lulls. At times, Ballard said he’s gotten the occasional glimpse of what business could be like on the other side of the coronavirus, which has helped sustain him through a physically, emotionally and financially draining year. 

“I mean, we have great reviews and there’s been a lot of positivity [from customers], and that part I expected. We put in an incredible amount of time to make this happen. But it’s those things I can’t control that are the crux of the problem,” said Ballard, noting that even recent news of successful vaccine trials hasn’t been much of a morale booster, since absent the passage of additional state or federal relief it might arrive too late to make a difference. “We’re just taking it day by day and week by week and month by month. In my mind it’s like, ‘Let me get through November and then December before I even dream about what could maybe be in March.’”