Before Saint’s Pub opened in 2010, Kristen Vails struggled to find a restaurant to open in the 16th Street Plaza District just west of downtown.
Four years later, the district is home to four restaurants, a dessert shop, a wine bar, coffee shop and sports bar. And after David Wanzer bought the former Blair’s Upholstery building at 1732 NW 16, he didn’t even bother putting up a “for lease” sign.
Instead, Wanzer joined up with retail specialist Allison Bailey and chose what operators they thought might make the best next addition to the district.
“The Plaza District has a special mix of tenants already,” Wanzer said. “We wanted to carefully curate and cultivate our tenant mix to add more life into the district.”
The first tenant, Wanzer admits, was determined before he ever bought the building. Oak and Ore, to be operated by Micah Andrews, will add a craft beer restaurant inspired by Andrews’ travels to Chicago. The second tenant, Roxy’s Ice Cream Social, was sought by Wanzer and Bailey after determining it was the one and only candidate they wanted to consider.
Raena Mutz, owner of Roxy’s, is as flattered by the attention as she was when her ice cream truck became an immediate hit with food truck fans when it launched a couple of years ago.
Mutz said Roxy’s will continue to operate its truck, and will add a second truck this summer. And when the shop opens this summer, it will boast an old-fashioned counter where customers will be offered not just Roxy’s mix of fresh made ice cream, but also fountain drinks, shakes and sundaes.
Andrews, meanwhile, has 11 years of experience in the food and beverage industry and began what he calls a love for the craft beer community several years ago. It was during a trip to Chicago that he saw the potential of a craft beer restaurant.
“I think we’re 10 years behind the market, and we’re growing every year,” Andrews said. “I think we’ll have double-digit growth ahead for us.”
Andrews said the craft beer community is unique, and Oak and Ore will be a perfect fit with the tight-knit Plaza District.
“It’s a community of people, of businesses that work together to better the community and promote artisan craft items,” he said. “And that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I am passionate about.”
Vails credits the risks taken on by the district’s pioneering retailers with helping attract Saint’s to open as its first new eatery and bar, and also helping it and other restaurants to become a success.
“They took the risk on, they showed others the potential, especially The Mule and Empire Slice House,” Vails said. “And ‘Live on the Plaza’ was becoming such a success that people could see the potential of people milling around on a Friday night.”
The two new eateries will be opening as the Plaza District continues to grapple with a scarcity of parking. But Bailey notes the district is thriving because of its density, and people are adapting. Residents from nearby Gatewood and Classen-10-Penn neighborhoods are walking to NW 16 just as they did when the street was first developed as a retail corridor in 1919.
“I feel it’s going back to a previous era of how residents and retailers work together,” Bailey said. “And it worked in that previous era when people were walking, using other types of transportation to get to businesses that are densely packed together. And that’s a good thing. That is what the future looks like — the 1930s and 1940s when it was bustling and everyone was walking around.”
The Plaza District has a special mix of tenants already. We wanted to carefully curate and cultivate our tenant mix to add more life into the district.”