The chef-owned restaurant will replace Wunderbar and Pierogi Mountain, which recently vacated the 130-year-old building on South Third Street.
BJ Lieberman, former head chef at the Michelin-star-winning restaurants Rose’s Luxury and Little Pearl in Washington, D.C., and his wife, Bronwyn, will open their first restaurant in a historic building in German Village, a space that housed the original Max & Erma’s.
The new establishment at 739 S. Third St. will be named Chapman’s Eat Market to honor the bygone Chapman’s Poultry Market, which was run by Bronwyn’s great-grandparents in the Clintonville area in the early 1900s. Chef Lieberman has already made his first hire, bar manager Seth Laufman, former owner of Downtown’s Blind Lady Tavern and a past Columbus Monthly Tastemaker.
The husband-and-wife team signed the lease agreement on the space this week, and while their plans certainly didn’t call for opening during a pandemic, the restaurant is moving forward anyway. The plan, like so many these days, has just changed a little bit.
“It’s a wild thing, having to go into it with the Plan B that would have normally been the backup plan,” Lieberman says.
That backup plan means that, at least in the short-term, the restaurant will also be a market that focuses—like so many restaurants right now—on takeout. The original plan was to serve dinner only with the option of opening for lunch if it wasn’t making enough money; now, Lieberman says, the restaurant will be obligated to serve lunch if it is to have any hope of being solvent. Chapman’s was originally planned to open in June, but “I just don’t see a path to doing that now,” Lieberman says. “But we’ll have all the pieces in place.”
Lieberman says he isn’t planning to remodel the historic ground-floor space, which until recently was occupied by Wunderbar and Pierogi Mountain. (Kollektiv, a coworking office space, occupies the building’s second and third floors.) But he is planning a redesign—and, partly because of the pandemic, he’ll be doing a lot of the work himself. The entrance to Wunderbar, at the corner of South Third Street and East Frankfort Street, brought patrons into the bar. Chapman’s entrance will move to what had been the bar’s emergency exit on South Third.
The street-level restaurant has three separate areas, including the bar; Lieberman says the two dining rooms will get paint “floor-to-ceiling.” The bar will remain, but he’s having a custom bar top crafted from brass by a local artist in Obetz.
Like chefs throughout the country, Lieberman has no idea what the restaurant industry will look like over the coming months. Will restaurants remain takeout-only? Will they be permitted to open to diners, but with tables spaced six feet apart? Will servers be allowed, or will customers put their orders in remotely?
“I’m hoping they keep the to-go cocktail thing going at least through the next 18 months while restaurants can’t be whole, because you rely so, so much on the alcohol sales,” he says. “And honestly, I kind of hope they keep the to-go alcohol stuff forever. It’s such a cool thing to be able to pick up dinner and a Manhattan at the same time.”
The goal, he says, is to remain true to the couple’s original vision: excellent food made from high-quality ingredients, sourced locally when possible. Making people feel like they belong.
“I think we all need to try to not lose ourselves during this time,” Lieberman says. “But when I started working on this 18 months ago, my mission statement had more to do with who we are and what we believe in. And applying that to this new venture is really informing the decisions I’m making—that means they might not be the easy decisions, but they are the right ones, I hope. If we are keeping true to who we are and to what we believe, it should feel the same.”
Editor’s Note: You can read more about chef BJ Lieberman in the April issue of Columbus Monthly, which is out now. Or look for Laura Arenschield's profile of Lieberman online next week at ColumbusMonthly.com.Information is critical. Read our latest reporting on the coronavirus response here.