In the Works

The building? Deed in hand. Architect’s plans? In their final drafts.
Concept? Try concepts. Three, to be exact, each from the mind of a proven Blue Dome District entrepreneur.
Joe Momma’s Pizza owner Blake Ewing, Shelby Navarro of One Architecture and an anonymous third party have been at work on a much-fabled strip of hip at Second Street and Elgin Avenue.
Ewing and Navarro have secured the 5,800-SF building just south of the Joe Momma’s at 112 S. Elgin Ave. The plan is to divide the building into three spaces, each hosting a business concept.
The current plan is to turn the skinny space just next door to the south of Joe Momma’s – an 18-foot-wide space, to be exact – into a salon. The shop, already dubbed The Green Room, will be a sustainable salon sporting organic business practices, a waterfall and even a live tree growing through the space. Like Joe Momma’s, The Green Room will keep its doors open into the wee hours of the morning.
Next door and in the same basic shell will be a tattoo and piercing shop, separate from the salon in deed according to state law but not in concept.
Next door will be Ewing’s pet project, an arcade bar concept, which he’s leaning toward calling The Grog Shop.
In the bar will be vintage arcade games – think Frogger, Galaga and Pac Man – along with a pool table and Skee-Ball games that spit out tickets redeemable for beer at the bar. On the menu will be gourmet hot dogs, homemade chili, pretzels and nachos.
“We’ll have several beers on draught, and we’ll have a house grog that will be, basically, like a trash can punch,” Ewing said. “And, we’ll mix soft drinks that fall outside the mainstream. You could get a Jone’s cream-and-rum mixed how you like. We’ll serve these really simple, non-pretentious cocktails – not at all hoity-toity.”
“It’ll be a fun, hang-out, play-games type of place – perfect for dates,” he said.
The plan for the remaining space, which abuts an alley and the space tapped for the arcade bar concept, is for a blues-and-barbecue concept Ewing plans to call Back-Alley Blues and BBQ.
The restaurant, sporting an alley only entrance, will specialize in quick-serve barbecue. Orders will be taken at the counter, served up within a minute or so and plenty of table room to dine, prop up elbows and stockpile extra napkins. Live blues music will set the mood on weekends, with a jukebox boasting nothing but blues during the workweek. The goal: To achieve a smoky, Memphis-style, back-room barbecue place.
While the plan was to develop the space with independently owned businesses, “when it comes down to it, we don’t trust anyone to do anything as cool as we would,” Ewing joked.
While Navarro draws up the plans for the spaces and holds part-ownership of the building, Ewing will tend to the day-to-day management of the building and the businesses within it. The pair is seeking equity capital as they move forward with build out, with the bar to go under construction first and the salon/tattoo parlor afterward.
Completion of the bar is already scheduled for year-end 2009 in anticipation of the opening of the new Driller’s Stadium northeast of the new restaurant strip forming along Elgin Avenue.
If these concepts seem like the quintessential boyhood dreams, that’s because, for tattoo-sporting, barbecue-gumming, beer-loving Ewing, they were.
“I’m not so much into running restaurants; I’m into making them up. And, I definitely want to do things that are part of who I am, things that show my personality. I love blues music and barbecue – it’s hard to go wrong with that. I’ve been an arcade rat since I was a kid. Crystal’s Pizza on Sunday afternoons. If you grew up in this town like I did, then you probably had that experience somewhere along the way,” he said. “People already love the vintage games we have here at Joe Momma’s. We pull $1,000 in quarters a month out of those things.”
Needless to say, Ewing is glad of his 2008 move from a spot adjoined to the All-Star Sports Complex in south Tulsa at 61st Street and U.S. 169 to the Blue Dome District.
“There are things to be proud of here, and the stuff that’s new is getting better. We’re looking to complete the wheel of cuisine. All we’ll need then is a steak place – a chop house serving up eight cuts of meat. I guess the race is on for who gets to that one first,” Ewing said.
The move to mixed-use hasn’t been without hiccups. A deal with Thyme: An American Bistro chef Bill Harris to come into the space with an upscale wine bar and restaurant fell through when a loan for start-up capital buckled.
“There’s a definite wine crowd in this town. Partner that with his food, which is incredible, he would have been jammin’,” Ewing said. “We’ll get him here one of these days.”
Plus, the spaces are old. Ewing’s vision for the Elgin-fronted spaces is challenging to the parameters of state building codes, and thanks to the size of the space, he’s up against that favorite developer’s line item, the fire sprinkler system.
“We’ll have to shell out $40,000 to sprinkle the thing,” Ewing said. “That’s 10 percent of our building budget, gone.
“I don’t have the half-million dollars in the bank that it’s going to take to make these things go. So, we’re moving forward somewhat recklessly. That’s what we did at Joe Momma’s. You get going and you hope people come along and buy into what you’re doing.”
And get going he has. By the close of its first year this winter, the 5,700-SF Joe Momma’s will have seen sales of about $1 million.
“I’m really hopeful for what we can be. I think the ballpark opening down the road and a revitalized Brady District is the beginning of downtown being a place not just loyal Midtowners visit,” he said.
“I think the coolest thing about the growth of our downtown, and the Blue Dome District especially, is that, for the most part, you have a hand full of young people driving it,” said Ewing. “Elliot Nelson at McNellie’s Public House and I are 30, and Mary Beth Babcock at Dwelling Spaces is not much older than us. Brian Prewitt at Blue Dome Diner and Chris Armstrong at Arnie’s are young. You look around and you have a bunch of really young people making this happen. It’s not a bunch of old guys with money.”
Tulsa, Hard Rocked
The long-anticipated Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, including country star Toby Keith’s restaurant I Love This Bar & Grill, McGill’s on 19 and the Hard Rock Store, launches Monday afternoon.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation and will be operated by Cherokee Nation Entertainment, the gaming business arm of the tribe.
Speakers at the launch event will include Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; David Stewart, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Entertainment; and Toby Keith, along with a slew of state and local community officials.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa will feature five dining venues, including Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, and the fine-dining penthouse restaurant, McGill’s on 19. Also on hand will be five nightclubs and entertainment venues; more than 125,000 SF of gaming; 350 hotel rooms and suites; 35,000 SF of convention space; and the Cherokee Hills Golf Club championship golf course.
True to the Hard Rock brand, the property will also feature a collection of rock-inspired music memorabilia worth more than $2 million.
CNE signed a licensing agreement with Hard Rock Hotel Holdings LLC last year, setting into motion the only Hard Rock location of its kind in Oklahoma. It’s the seventh Hard Rock Hotel & Casino location in the world.
Chef Jeff Headed to Tulsa
Food Network personality Chef Jeff Henderson attended a special Tulsa Community College commencement last week to inspire incarcerated men to pursue higher education.
Chef Jeff, an ex-convict-turned-TV-host, spoke to inmates at their commencement July 30 at Dick Conner Correctional Center near Hominy. A Las Vegas executive chef, a best-selling author and motivational speaker, Chef Jeff shared how he found success after spending 10 years in prison on a drug charge.
Following this year’s ceremony, TCC announced the Second Chance Scholarship, funds that will pay for inmates to take classes that would otherwise be out of reach.
TCC faculty have taught college-credit courses at Conner Correctional Center since 2007.

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