UPDATE 8/31/2013: No Va is OPEN for Business! Check out pics and my review HERE.
UPDATE 7/1/2013: Just got a note from Brad Sorenson with an update on what is going on with NO VA -
Things are getting really close now. Construction is pretty close to complete with inspections taking place and little odds and ends being finished. I have started hiring for the kitchen and we should be training with in a couple weeks. I don’t want to make a guess on when an opening date will be until we have set it in stone on our end.
Remember that mega post I did on what’s happening on Rainey Street? In the post, I talked about 87 Rainey Street located in the Rainey Street District of Downtown Austin, and how I had not heard any updates on just what exactly was going on in that space. Well, that must have hit Brad Sorenson‘s (the head chef of the new concept, perhaps more widely known for his stint on The Next Food Network’s Star) Google Alerts, because he promptly posted a comment on the Blog saying things were still a go for the restaurant concept.
Which was great, but I wanted more info – so I emailed him and asked if we could meet. I was actually very surprised when he said okay.
So we met. Last week. And, let me just say this – the guy OOZES affability. He’s also real, real tall.
I was absolutely charmed, I will admit – but not only by him as a person, but also by what he told me about NO VA.
First off, NO VA is the name (there’s a space in between “O” and “V”, 2 words), not NOVA, as it’s previously been reported. There’s actually a cute little story behind the name, too, Brad tells me. “No va” is what the owner of the business said when he looked at the house at 87 Rainey Street when he initially purchased it, in late 2009. He said “No va”, because, at the time, this modern home with clean lines did not “go” with the rest of the homes on Rainey Street. The phrase was catchy enough to stick, so the restaurant became “NO VA”. (Which, when I first heard the story, I thought to myself, why would anyone want to name a restaurant something that could mean “Don’t go”? – but I guess it doesn’t really translate to that.)
So, I didn’t ask, but from some basic research, I found that the house was last purchased in late 2009 (remodeled in 2003), which would mean that, at that time, the house definitely DID NOT go with most of the neighborhood, as many of the rehabbed bungalows have only appeared in the last year or so. For awhile, the owner leased out the home and its garage apartment, but I guess at some point decided to convert it to a restaurant. Pretty cool!
Brad was really open about the concept and his dreams and plans for NO VA. He said the plan is for there to be a bottom floor with an outdoor patio (capacity of about 30 people), a bar area (capacity of about 35 people), and an upstairs dining area (max capacity about 45). The kitchen will be small, but functional, with 8 burners, 3 ovens, and a few deep fryers. They will likely hire about 20 people (including back of house and front of house). Everything will be made from scratch, including the condiments – and he wants everything in the restaurant to feel organic and touchable. He wants the vibe to be “unstuffy.” He also told me that the restaurant is taking initiatives to be Certified Green, which, if they succeed, would make them the 4th restaurant in Austin to be Certified Green (I looked up an article in Statesman from 2010, though, which lists 4 that exist already: Snap Kitchen, La Condesa, Barr Mansion, and Pita Pit – so if that’s still accurate, I guess it would actually be the 5th).
While Sorenson says there aren’t IMMEDIATE plans to be open for lunch, it is something they hope to be able to do long term, and maybe even do a lunch delivery service. He says they probably won’t get into the breakfast game, as its very hard to do 3 services well under one roof. However, NO VA will do a Sunday brunch from 11am-3pm-ish, and he hopes to do some funky things to make it special (one of his brainstorms is to have a 3 piece string band play, but only play 90s hip-hop tunes – love it!).
Chef Sorenson also gave me the impression that NO VA will try to collaborate with other area restaurants on certain things. For instance, he mentioned that NO VA may try and work with Banger’s to buy their franks for some of the menu items. He also mentioned perhaps working a valet deal in collaboration with El Naranjo.
On the valet note, he did mention that they, as a business, were just as concerned with the sidewalk / parking / street light situation as many residents, and hope that the issues will be addressed soon.
Sorenson says that they hope to be open in December 2012. However, as with any rehab project (in the case of 87 Rainey, they need “commercialize” the infrastructure of the building and then do the build-out – which is a fairly major project), there may be delays, so it could end up being in the first part of 2013. I know folks at the Villas on Town Lake, The Shore Condos, and the Milago Condos are already excited.
The vision is to have a Bar Menu, and then a Dinner Menu (with Starters / Salads / Desserts). The focus will be on good, “American” food with accessible price points. Sorenson said he hopes to be able to keep the bar menu items (things like Cheeseburgers, Pizzas, Tacos, Hot Dogs, and something called “Welsh Rarebit”) at around $10 or less. Dinner items (think Beef Short Ribs, Pork & Beans, Grilled Chicken, Steak, and Halibut) at a $22-$25 max.
Chef Brad Sorenson: He’s young, he’s from Concord, Michigan (although now living in the Hill Country – but will probably move closer in once the restaurant opens), and, in his words, “poised to break-out” on the culinary scene. He graduated from the Culinary Institue of America in 2005. He was a finalist in The Next Food Network Star, and has had stints at two pretty well-known restaurants in Ohio – BOMA and Black Creek Bistro. Funnily enough, a nearby patron at the coffee shop where Brad and I were talking came up to Brad during our interview and told us that he had overheard our conversation, had eaten at BOMA and Black Creek Bistro, and had thought the food at these establishments was some of the best he had ever eaten. Pretty complementary, and the fact that a complete stranger interrupted our conversation just to tell him that speaks volumes to me.
JC Rodriguez (GM): x-Malaga, grew up in Spain, and has some pretty kick-ass mixologist experience to hear Sorenson tell it.
Joel Mozersky (Designer): If you don’t know this guy, you should. Just check out his project list on his site.
Website coming soon: novaonrainey.com.