GREENVILLE — The initial opening plans for a new restaurant downtown might have proved a little optimistic, but the project is still well on course for an opening soon.
The renovations began in July on the former Sportzters bar downtown to be converted into a New American style restaurant called “The Merchant House,” recalling the history of the building. Georgeanne “George” Lambright said in July that said the building was constructed in 1880 and was home to mercantile businesses, housing “dry goods”-type stores for most of its history before it eventually became a bar.
Lambright and her husband, Randy, are partners in the business, while their daughter Cassie, and her fiance, Chris Campbell will be running the restaurant.
Plans at the time were to open sometime in the fall, but as is often the case, there were some delays along the way. In this case, however, most of the delays were pretty good things.
Chris Campbell, a managing partner of the restaurant, said during the renovation process almost the entire interior was stripped down, and some hidden treasures were found that they wanted to highlight.
Some decorative copper has been revealed and is being polished up to showcase. The tiles were stripped down to the wood floors that will be cleaned up and varnished for a rich wood finish. Elaborate Corinthian capitals were found topping the columns that had been partially obscured by a drop ceiling.
“We found some beautiful things we wanted to keep,” Campbell said Thursday. “Our initial vision has evolved and changed. We’ve wanted to take our time and do it right.”
The electrical and plumbing in the building needed significant work. “The electrical system is actually all brand new,” Campbell said.
The partners also have taken their time getting just the right equipment for their purposes.
“We were able to use about half of the kitchen equipment that was left,” Campbell said. “Some of the equipment has to be very specific for what we want to do.”
Campbell said all of the bar equipment is being replaced.
The restaurant will include a waiting area with comfortable seating near the entrance. There will be small tables as well as bar stools situated on the bar side. At the rear of the bar, patrons will be able to watch their pizzas being made in the large stone gas pizza ovens.
The main dining area will have several tables as well as a long booth seating area along one wall, with the bench running one entire side and chairs on the other side of the tables. A stage area also will be in the main dining room, featuring duos, acoustic musicians and comedians. The stage area will have additional seating when there is no entertainment.
For those patrons who prefer to be a little more out of the way, there is a loft area that will look down on the bar on one side and the main dining and stage space on the other. The loft, Campbell said, will feature couches and chairs, as well as bar stools, suitable for cocktails or coffee and appetizers while enjoying the “best seat in the house” for either the stage or the bar TVs.
The walls were stripped to the brick, with decorative areas cut into the old plaster. Along the rear of the bar area, stonework was added to the wall by hand.The ceilings were retiled with decorative panels that hold true to the original style of the building. The flooring was pulled up to reveal the original wood. Paint and years of grime were stripped away to show off the glass bricks above the front windows.
No specific date has been set for the opening yet, but Campbell said they are aiming for opening before the end of the first quarter next year. They plan to start hiring and training staff members by the end of January.
Campbell reiterated the business partners’ desire to keep as much local as possible, from the staff to the entertainment to the ingredients.
Campbell encouraged anyone interested to visit the restaurant Facebook page at facebook.com/TheMerchantHouse406. There they can follow the progress of the renovations or inquire about jobs or services. He encouraged potential entertainers or suppliers to inquire there as well.
Even though the doors will not be opening for a little while, the restaurant is selling gift certificates for the Christmas season. Every purchase of $25 or more will earn an entry into a drawing for two tickets to the private opening event. Call 248-971-4699 or 248-952-4122 to purchase gift certificates.