Wolf’s Ridge Brewing to bring Understory to the Old North neighborhood in October

The latest concept from the brewery, located in the renovated Open Air building, is set to open in stages starting this fall

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

At the tail end of a difficult year, and amid a growing sense that the pandemic could be nearing its end, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing co-owner Bob Szuter said the business felt a need to refocus its energies.

“Being completely candid, when you’re looking at bankruptcy, and you’re having discussions and wondering what that would look like, you get a renewed sense of whether or not this is worth it," he said. "And, for us, it is worth it to keep this going and really do the things we’re passionate about.”

So as aspects of the current business started to stabilize in February, Wolf’s Ridge began to look for opportunities to expand, eventually landing on the newly renovated Open Air building at 2571 Neil Avenue in the Old North neighborhood, a location that first popped on Szuter’s radar on 2018. (At the time, the business declined an opportunity to expand into the spot, focused instead on developing its existing event space Downtown.)

The site will be the location of Wolf’s Ridge offshoot Understory, a new concept that will carry forward aspects for which the business has become known (beer will remain central to the venture, with a focus on oak-aged lagers) while introducing new wrinkles (the small kitchen will be more veggie-centric, with a menu Szuter described as “progressive”). Other tenants in the building include a to-be-announced local cafe, which will also have food options available in the shared space, as detailed in the press release.

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The Open Air building, long empty, most recently served as administrative offices for Columbus City Schools. Initially, though, it operated as the Open Air School, reserved for children at risk of contracting tuberculosis, giving its current rebirth at the tail end of a different pandemic added resonance. (“It felt very appropriate in many ways,” Szuter said.)

This history as a schoolhouse will also inform some of the space’s design aesthetic, particularly in the bar area, which Szuter described as a hybrid “library-slash-cocktail lounge.” 

Current plans are for the new business to open in stages, beginning in October with an upstairs private event space that includes an outdoor terrace and can host upwards of 100 to 150 people. That will be followed shortly thereafter by the downstairs restaurant and cocktail lounge, which also includes an expansive, forest-facing outdoor patio that can accommodate an additional 100 people, Szuter said.

“It’s a gorgeous view, with this extremely deep connection to the physical environment that’s hard to find anywhere in the city, really," said Szuter, who noted that the name Understory was informed both by its position as an offshoot of an existing brand, as well as a reflection of the new business' forest-adjacent location. "This is first and foremost, for us, a chance to round out the Wolf’s Ridge experience, and to be able to provide something we’ve missed by being landlocked here Downtown, away from nature. ... We want to connect with customers that are on the trail (the Olentangy Greenway Trail runs next to the building). People that are biking, running, hiking. … It feels like something a bit more connected to the community, and that’s something we’ve seen customers are looking for.”