A Place where everyone knows your name STORY & photos by Kass Fincher When several partners, including Chad Phillips, Eric Reitz, Scott and Sharon Evans and others opened their bar/restaurant on February 2nd this year, they had several things going for them ... a good location, regular clientele from the previous business in that space, and a good sense of the niche their new business would fill.
So when the former business – the Halftime Sports Bar – closed late last year, the friends jumped on the opportunity to work together there to create a cozy, friendly tavern that would feel like home to local residents. It would be a sort of Cheers environment, where everybody knows your name. The partners describe what was possibly their biggest advantage – insider knowledge. “The bartenders knew what people wanted.” Phillips says. “They had been there for about two years, and they knew all about what our customers wanted – the food, drinks, bathrooms, bands, layout. Scott, Sharon and others were regulars there too, so when the opportunity came to do the business, we approached them for their financial expertise. The bartenders knew what we needed to serve in food and drink, and our other partners knew the business side.” The partners knew what their patrons wanted and set about making plans to fulfill that vision. But they were amazed and gratified by the commitment from many of the former bar regulars to help them succeed. What started as ‘let’s just paint the walls and clean up some,’ became a full stop remodel because of the customers’ feedback and friends helping out. The partners spent 36 days redoing everything from the floors, to the walls, to the custom built bar. About 12 regular patrons did all the work for nothing, buying the supplies, doing all the work. The whole bar and tables were built by people who patronize regularly. They also got great help from local businesses, many of whom are regulars too. They were driven to do it fast because every day someone would come by and say ‘hey when are we getting our home back?’ It was fast, chaotic; a lot of decisions were made on the fly. Apparently the patrons’ involvement in getting the new business started helped strengthen their love for the endeavor. “We learned fast; none of us had any experience doing any of this,” says Phillips. “But it came together – everyone that helped us renovate and get started here were regulars. They were just looking for a place to call home because the other places didn’t do that. This is a place where you come, where I know what you want to drink and I know your name, and I hand it to you when you walk in. The people here are what we call a ‘chosen’ family.” It appears that their vision is paying off. “The bar business is tough,” Phillips relates. “but that local clientele is what keeps the business going, especially in the off season. Business has been very good. Some people who had left the former bar have returned; new people are coming in and our regulars have grown tenfold. People who weren’t regulars have become regulars.” Seating about 200 people and open seven days a week, Local’s Tavern is becoming known not only for its friendly atmosphere, but also for great fresh food and affordable prices. Almost everything on the menu is under $10, and chicken, seafood and beef options are all fresh and hand cut. Beers are $3 for domestics and $4 for crafts – a value hard to find anywhere else. The partners explain: “We wanted to have a place where you can come regularly and spend $20 and have good food, drinks and friendly talk. We didn’t want a $100 customer once in awhile; we wanted a $20 customer every day.” Some of the most popular appetizers are the crab bites (fresh, not breaded), shrimp tease, egg rolls and most definitely the “Colossal Nachos.” The “Big Ol’ Baskets” choices offer shrimp, chicken and flounder and the very popular quesadilla, perhaps too big for anybody to eat at one sitting. Of course every tavern worth its salt has wings and burgers. The burgers here, though, are a full eight ounce, hand pattied grade A beef, cooked to order. Steaks are never frozen; they’re cooked to order as well. Favorite sandwich choices include the Cross Creek chicken, Northend Wrap shrimp, La Club and the Brotherly Love (you guessed it – a Philly cheese steak). But despite many menu options, Local’s is eager to please their customers’ unique needs. “We’ll do anything you want, because it’s all cooked to order,” Phillips says. “If you want something you had as a kid, some comfort food like a fried bologna sandwich with fries, we’ll absolutely do that for you.” The kitchen is not large, but the staff is big-hearted. Numbering at 21 currently, many of them also pitched in with the renovations and gave extra time on their own to get the tavern up and going. That created loyalty and a personal commitment to the business, according to the partners. And most restaurateurs know how important that can be, since low turnover among staff is an important piece of any restaurant’s success. Open 11-2 a.m. every day of the week, each evening offers a special focus. Mondays are jumbo wing night; Tuesdays are trivia night; Wednesdays are open mic, with a house band that anyone can join; Thursdays offer a DJ; Fridays and Saturdays have patio music outside; Sundays have afternoon patio music. The partners are exploring other ideas for this summer. They are looking at cornhole and pool tournaments each Sunday. They’ve had interest from a Corvette car club and motorcycle clubs who might have a group night. And they’ve done lots of benefits for customers, even in the short time they’ve been open. One such benefit was for the family of a biker patron who had died from an accident and another who had passed from cancer. They also did a charity poker run – a motorcycle ride – where the bikers go to five different bars, pick up a card at each place, and the best hand wins some money. And of course tamer events are always welcome. As Phillips relates, “We’ve had lots of community gatherings – baby showers, birthdays, gender reveal parties, you name it. Since there’s no special event space, we have lots of room so people can just casually gather, or we can move tables around and create a separate area for them.” One of Local’s most unique services is a free shuttle on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. “We’ll come to your house and pick you up, then after you’re done here, we’ll take you home,” according to the partners. “Of course, we know many customers who are using it. It’s not usually a phone call saying ‘come to this address,’ it’s more often ‘hey Mitch, this is Bill, come and get me!’” It’s apparent the owners have a commitment to the community and their patrons. Welcoming everyone to come out and join their friends, the partners sum up the tavern’s appeal. “This is not a bar where people are sitting on their cell phone,” they say. “We have people ages 21 to 80 and from all walks of life enjoying our place. Everybody looks out for everyone else – if you’re sitting at the bar by yourself, one of your friends there will come up and ask, ‘is everything going okay?’” And that’s most definitely a Cheers moment.