Saturday, February 02, 2013

A new restaurant for the Charitone ...

The new Hotel Charitone restaurant will be an adapted version of the Market Fresh Grille operation at Urbandale's new Hy-Vee, which several of us Chariton types checked out for the first time last fall. The Charitone decor will be determined in large part by architectural elements of the restored building.

There's been a good deal of speculation about who would develop, open and operate the new restaurant that will fill the first floor of the resurrected Hotel Charitone when it re-opens later this year. Ray Meyer and Ruth Comer answered that question officially on Friday during Noon Rotary's  meeting --- Hy-Vee.

Ray is the Charitone's most consistent and persistent champion and serves as spokesman for Hotel Charitone LLC, now reconstructing the grand old building that is a focal point of Chariton's square. Ruth is Hy-Vee's assistant vice president for media relations. The two are married, but that's beside the point.

You may remember that Hy-Vee, with a $1.6 million commitment supplemented by a $500,000 pledge from the Vredenburg Foundation (established by Hy-Vee's first family), is the major stakeholder in the Charitone project. Contributions from other organizations, businesses and individuals are being channeled into the project through the non-profit Lucas County Preservation Alliance.


Hy-Vee's newest Charitone project fits neatly into one of the corporation's newer areas of innovation --- developing venues for upscale family dining and social gatherings within its stores.

The prototype has been operating as Market Fresh Grille in the huge new Urbandale Hy-Vee since last year. If you want to read about a visit several of us made to "Chez le Hy-Vee" during early November to check out the new operation, follow this link. The major photos here date from that visit.

Plans for the new Charitone operation are just being developed, according to Ruth, so nothing has yet been set into stone. And that continues to be the case in Urbandale, as it adjusts to meet market needs.

The Charitone restaurant will not be called "Market Fresh Grille," for one thing --- Hy-Vee expects to limit that name to Urbandale and is experimenting with alternative branding for other venues. On the other hand, it's unlikely to be called "The Captain's Lounge," a name that resonates for some in Chariton, either.

Although the space on the Charitone's first floor is of considerably more architectural interest than what's available in vast new supermarkets, it is much smaller --- estimated seating in the Charitone's main dining area is 70; in the adjacent dining area near the bar, 50. So this will be a smaller-scale operation. Here are preliminary plans for the Charitone operation (right click and open in a new window for an HD version):

Because of space constraints, kitchen size will be limited, too. That will mean a more limited menu than what is available at the Urbandale operation, according to Ruth, but the goal will be to bring to Chariton the best and most popular offerings served there.

No decision has been made concerning operating hours in Chariton. Market Fresh Grille is a dual-purpose operation. Until mid-afternoon, the restaurant area is open to seating for those who eat from daytime breakfast, cafeteria and specialty menus. At 2:30 p.m., the seating area closes to that customer base and is turned around --- cloth tablecloths and napkins, a wait staff and menus are brought out, the bar opens and the area is reserved thereafter for more formal dining.

The bar is expected to operate much as the Market Fresh bar does --- serving beer and wine to accompany meals or other family-friendly gatherings. Currently eight craft beers are available on the Market Fresh menu --- including Knoxville's Peace Tree --- and that is expected to carrry over. There are no plans for a tavern-like operation.

This is the bar area of Urbandale Hy-Vee's Market Fresh Grille. Something similar is planned for the Charitone.

The Charitone restaurant will operate and be managed independently, although there is likely to be some "synergy," as Ruth put it, with the food service operation at Chariton Hy-Vee, now itself in the midst of a major expansion and reconfiguration.

Guests will enter the the Charitone restaurant through the original hotel entrance or, if handicap access is needed, through a new ground-level elevator-accessible entrance on the building's north side. Smaller "family" restrooms will be located at first-floor level; larger restrooms on the lower level.

Although there had been some discussion early in the Charitone project, first announced almost exactly a year ago, of attempting to locate a franchise restaurant operation, Ray and Ruth pointed out the obvious difficulties of making that work in a smaller market. Hy-Vee's newest commitment to the Charitone offers the long-term commitment as well as operational scale and flexibility needed to make a new restaurant for the Charitone work.

Ray also brought along to Friday's meeting a near-final version of plans for the apartments that will fill the upper three floors of the Charitone. Extensive concrete work is going on inside the building now and framing of the apartments and work on the restaurant space is expected to commence once that has been completed. Again, right click and open in a new window to see the plans clearly.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what the prices will be for meals. The prices have increased in the places on the square, so there has been much more home cooking going on for some of us. I learned to make a lovely NY cheesecake though, by staying home to cook. I admit I was hoping for a value meal deal sort of cafe that a family could afford. But sure it will be a nice place.

Anonymous said...

hyvee is a good grocery store although fairly overpriced, however the thought of a hyvee owned and operated restraunt makes us hesitate to try it since they have not produced quality product thus far in many of the locations they currently have market fresh and deli style products. I feel this location, menu and product will not live up to the hype and ultimately fall short but only time will tell