When PCC moved to its new Columbia City digs this summer, Third Place Books owner Ron Sher took over the market’s former home in Seward Park with plans of turning it into a sorely needed South End bookstore; his vision included splitting the floor plan between books and an all-day restaurant, a formula designed to create a gathering spot for the neighborhood.
It turns out the owners of Flying Squirrel Pizza Company will be the ones moving in to Sher's new space; they're planning an all-day restaurant, coffee bar, and pub, known together as Raconteur. Flying Squirrel founder Bill Coury says this term for a skilled storyteller seems fitting for an establishment that shares a space with a plethora of new and used books.
While the bar will be in the basement, the rest of Raconteur is separated from the bookstore only by low walls, a purposeful design to encourage people to wander the aisles while waiting for a table, or page through a magazine with an Americano in hand.
When the building's transformation from grocer to bookseller is finished, there will be a full coffee bar at the entrance, with house-baked pastries and bagels from a recipe that was the forbear to Flying Squirrel’s pizza crust. The downstairs pub will have 20 taps and slightly Belgian and German overtones, both in the beer choices and the menu of housemade pretzels and sausages.
Coury is still tinkering with the restaurant menu, but he's thinking unfussy, comforting food with a variety of influences—a burger, tacos, a falafel sandwich, a take on dan dan noodles—with minimal fried stuff and the same sort of local sourcing you’ll find at Squirrel. Brunch service at the pizzeria's Georgetown location has become a testing ground for some Raconteur brunch recipes. "We know we’ve got a waffle down,” says Coury. Biscuit and huevos rancheros research is also reportedly going well.
Just don't show up at Raconteur expecting pizza; "there's a really great pizza restaurant down the road," says Vescovi. Yes, he's referring to the original Flying Squirrel, barely a half mile up the road.
Coury and business partner Brian Vescovi say they didn’t exactly have a business plan for a 100-seat day-to-night food and drink compound lying around. When Sher bought the building, the guys set up a “welcome to the neighborhood” meeting to hear what the developer had in the works.
"We figured he already had someone in mind,” says Coury. Instead, he and Vescovi left that conversation with a tentative agreement to work with Sher, a developer known for building community spaces out of books, food, and drink; Third Place's Ravenna location (also a former PCC) has a cafe and pub, both operated by Vios.
Right now the 1950s-era building at 5041 Wilson Ave S is very much a construction zone; Sher’s team has ripped away the drop ceiling panels to expose the wood barrel ceiling and trusses and are adding plenty of windows, a fenced in patio, two private dining rooms in the basement, and lots of grand old wood. Raconteur is shooting for a mid-February open, but obviously that's subject to change.