ON THE AVENUES: BSB’s second five-year plan begins now.


ON THE AVENUES: BSB’s second five-year plan begins now.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’m the first to admit that Thursday’s ON THE AVENUES column (“I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say”) was consciously offered as a primal scream of artsy-fartsy annoyance with persistent municipal tone deafness. In it, the same phrase was repeated thirty-odd times, with a purely intentional poison-pen coda.

Venting is good for the soul. However, the column was neither “Revolution 9” nor Andy Warhol’s soup cans, and perhaps I shortchanged loyal readers, so please accept my apologies. Today I’ll make it up to you by abruptly changing the subject.

Tomorrow (Sunday, March 9) is the 5th anniversary of Bank Street Brewhouse’s soft opening, with the first official day of business coming on March 10, 2009.

NABC’s high command decided quite some time ago not to do anything special to mark these anniversaries; after all, lives and businesses go on, at least until they don’t, and we’ll use the time saved to prepare for marking our decade of longevity in 2019.

By the way, did you know that anniversary number ten is to be celebrated by the gift of tin?

As we’ve approached the end of the first five-year plan, I’ve been reaching back into 20th-century history for analogies. Since last September, and with enhanced intensity the past two months, you might say that we’ve undertaken a round of perestroika at the expense of glasnost, which is to say that economic restructuring (perestroika) has been occurring at Bank Street Brewhouse without concurrent openness (glasnost).

Translation: We’ve been making changes, and not talking very much about them. Back in those USSR days, there was plenty of talk, but not enough reform. These days at BSB, we’re hoping it’s the other way around.

My personal position since January 1 has remained unchanged: We’d begin to make these necessary structural changes, and as soon as someone asked me, I’d be my usual truthful self and tell all. As I imagined all along, free-lancer Steve Coomes was the first to notice, and to ask. Here are the answers, and as usual, Steve gets it right.

Restaurant Roundup: Bank Street downscales, TPD upscales, chef Schwartz to Doc Crow’s, Doc Crow’s to Cincy, by Steve Coomes (Insider Louisville)

The partners behind Bank Street Brewhouse have scaled back its gastropub menu in an effort to control costs and better position the operation in the casual marketplace of downtown New Albany.

That’s the official way of saying, “Oh, the menu it is a changin’.”

The new BSB menu?

It’s different, but not radically so. We simply looked at what was selling and what wasn’t; we kept the former and did away with the latter. The second most difficult decision was to let go of the pork chops, but only after we learned that those few servings being sold in an average month generally were being purchased exclusively by our landlord and his family.

(Note to self: Who needs rent parties when we might have periodic Pork Pitch-Ins?)

By far the hardest part was relieving Chef Matt Weirich of his position of almost three years, but Matt’s a class act from start to finish, and we all love him dearly. He’s a talented young man, and has landed on his feet. I suspect you’ll be seeing a lot more of him, and locally, too.

BSB’s current General Manager, Kimberly Durham, is managing the kitchen, where staff remains in place. She’s crunching numbers and making improvements designed to set a banker’s heart racing … and even make a few bucks for the company.

In Steve Coomes’s phrasing, we’ve gone from being a gastropub to pub, but semantics aside, items like the burgers, croque, fish, frites and tacos still are being made the same way as before, and by the same folks. Of course, so is the beer, which remains nonpareil.

The as-yet-unanswered question is whether these moves will improve the bottom line, and although early returns are favorable, five years of trench warfare have proven nothing if not the merit of taking an extremely long, patient view.

Bank Street Brewhouse is a warm weather kind of scene, and to have maintained our sales equilibrium these past two months while retooling in mid-air with the engine light flashing during the coldest winter in recent memory strikes me as no mean feat, and a favorable first step. But it’s only a first step, and that rhetorically hackneyed jury remains out.

Since the Sherman Minton Bridge reopened in 2012, we’ve been tantalizingly close to aligning Bank Street Brewhouse’s financials and aesthetics. But five-tool players only succeed when they use them all in synchronicity, and close only counts in Horseshoe Casino’s proximity to the Floyd County border. We’ve never quite gotten there.

I’ve always tried to be honest when asked, “How’s Bank Street Brewhouse doing?” To be sure, in five years of business, enough mistakes have been made to preclude restful sleep for the rest of my life, if I were to opt for self-flagellation – and I don’t, because at the same time, especially in this brutally competitive line of work, keeping doors open for more than a year or two qualifies as an achievement in itself.

Consequently, given the number of eateries and bars debuting in downtown New Albany during this same span of time, most of which still are in business, it makes me feel good to know we made a beachhead and weathered 60 whole months. BSB’s original business plan was entirely obsolete by March 11, 2009, but one plank of the platform always has held true: We promised to be leaders, and not followers.

This we have done. But screw the elegiacs; after all, this isn’t an obituary. We’re still alive and kicking, if evolving into a slightly different sort of food and drink beast than before. The landscape downtown is different, and a career in opportunism beckons.

Lately, I’ve been conceding to close friends that it’s just dandy if other establishments move to the front and guide the peloton, as we’re perfectly content to draft for a while and enjoy the slipstream. Yet even this analogy is imperfect. When it comes to craft beer, there are no holes in NABC’s lineup. We’ll be placing greater focus on the future of the brewery operation in the context of an American brewing scene gone wild. The road ahead is long.

NABC always has been an evolutionary process, and it will continue to be. Thanks to all our friends and customers who’ve supported us along the way.

Without you, there is no us.