Couple opens a second restaurant in Brewery District

Denise Trowbridge, For The Columbus Dispatch

December 3, 2013

Jack Whitney's, a restaurant and private event space, opened in the former Handke's at 520 S. Front St. on Nov. 20.

It's owned by Kevin and Lori Ames, who now admit they can't own just one restaurant.

They have owned and operated nearly 20 restaurants through the years in Columbus, including the Press Grill, Cafe Lola, and Burgers Dogs and Fries. Last May, they opened Frezno Bar and Grill in the Brewery District, proclaiming that it would be their one and only, final restaurant project.

Yet, here they are again with Jack Whitney's.

"We couldn't help ourselves. It's one block away from Frezno's" at 460 S. Front St., said Mr. Ames.

"We weren't really looking, but were always kind of keeping our eyes out for something different and not too far away."

Then the former Handke's, which also briefly had operated as McCaskey's Grille, became available.

"It's a stunning space," he said. "It's beautiful, with stone and carved details. Usually, there is a lot of construction involved with opening a new place, which adds stress. This one didn't have that dimension," which made it too tempting to pass up.

"We did go in and spruce up the basement and banquet facility, and add a chalkboard and new menu to make it more fun," he said. Otherwise, a little bit of cleaning, decorating and organizing, and the restaurant was ready to open in a matter of weeks.

Jack Whitney's is operating as two distinct venues: Jack Whitney's is the restaurant upstairs; the Cellar at Jack Whitney's is the event space in the basement.

The restaurant occupies 2,500 square feet and is open for lunch and dinner. The menu features soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as craft beers, wine and specialty cocktails.

The Cellar seats up to 200 people, and has a separate bar and kitchen and its own dance floor.

Although it's a basement, the Cellar has a lot of character, such as exposed brick walls and vaulted ceilings, and plenty of lighting to brighten it up. The basement alone covers more than 5,000 square feet. It will be open only for private events and special occasions.

"We're not using it as a dining room," Mr. Ames said. "I think that's the mistake others made. They tried to make it one big place, but I'm treating it as two separate places."

The name stems from the Ames family. Several relatives either were named Jack or had Whitney in their names.

"Plus, it sounds like a great place to drink," he said with a laugh. "The idea is to have an affordable bar and restaurant space with a different price point than Frezno's. Jack Whitney's is modeled after Press Grill, focusing on happy hour and quick lunches."

Mr. Ames views Jack Whitney's as part of a revival of the Brewery District dining scene. The neighborhood is coming back into its own as a destination for dining and entertainment, he said.

"We will never have the same stretch of retail that goes on for miles that the Short North has, but we have a lot of different entertainment spots and an abundance of event space, and we're close to Downtown."

He's optimistic about the area's ability to draw crowds, thanks to the nearby Shadowbox Live, as well as new apartment developments.

"The Short North also appeals to a little bit younger crowd," he said. "We draw a more-adult crowd, because we're close to German Village."

Who knows whether there are more Ames restaurants to come? Even the Ameses aren't sure.

"You try to relax and think that this is all you want to do, then you get to a point where you have a good idea and think you can handle another restaurant," Mr. Ames said.

"If you have a good plan and a good staff, why not?"

Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at