Wolf’s Ridge plans to open new restaurant, Understory, in Old North Columbus

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Wolf’s Ridge Brewing is ready to try something new.

Understory, the brewer’s next venture, will take up about 10,000 square feet of Kelley Cos.’ nearly 20,000-square-foot Open Air project at 2571 Neil Ave. in Old North Columbus.

It’s a restaurant, but not like the company’s downtown flagship. It’ll serve Wolf’s Ridge beer, but it isn’t a new taproom.

“We didn’t want to do a replication of Wolf’s Ridge,” co-founder Bob Szuter said. “If we do this right, we think it’ll be an awesome addition to the city.”

The guiding principles are the same – attention to detail, innovative food and drink, great experience – but it’s not a simple recreation of the current restaurant or taproom.

“One thing we’ve really enjoyed is making meaningful memories and experiences for people,” Szuter said. “Something I’ve thought was missing was more of a connection to nature.”

Wolf’s Ridge is landlocked and inarguably urban. Its current patio literally is on a street. For all the food and drink and service it can offer, it can’t create a natural outdoor environment.

That’s a large part of the allure of Open Air.

Understory will be split across multiple spaces in the building, but one of those is a lower level with walkout access to a patio close to the Olentangy Trail.  

“It’s a gorgeous space, mostly shaded,” Szuter said.

The food operation will be more casual and quick-service. The menu is still being developed, but Szuter described the idea as plant-based, simple executions.

“We want to be able to welcome people straight off the trail,” he said. “You can come in a little sweaty and not feel out of place.”

Part of that more casual approach is a point of differentiation, but part of it also is necessity. The kitchen in the space is small and not ideal for a more traditional sit-down operation.

Wolf’s Ridge beer will be on tap (in addition to new cocktail creations), but the brewery side of the operation will do something different as well. Oak foeders will be installed to allow head brewer Chris Davison to do more oak-aged lagers, a style he’s already toyed with at the main brewery.

Beyond that lower patio space, Understory will have a terraced event space and a lounge complete with library tables – a nod to the building’s history as a school. Free-flowing and self-seating is how it was described. Open Air is a redevelopment of what once was the Columbus Open Air School

“We’re going to have these pockets of character,” Szuter said.

The opening will occur in stages. The event space is expected to open in September with the first events booked for October.

Wolf’s Ridge worked with architect Schooley Caldwell and designer Flat Black on the project.

The two-story school building was constructed in 1927, designed by Howard Dwight Smith, the architect of Ohio Stadium and several other buildings in and around Columbus.

The school was built for students who were susceptible to tuberculosis in the belief that fresh air would help build resistance, as described in Kelly Cos.’ 2019 application for Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits. It has a natural setting, outdoor areas and plenty of windows and gathering areas.

Butcher Shop Fitness already operates out of a 3,000-square-foot building on the site. A local café – also is expected to be announced soon – will provide additional food options for the shared spaces. Two offices spaces remain available as well.

Szuter said in addition to considering expansions on their own, they’d been approached with opportunities for new locations several times over the years, including sites at Easton Town Center and in the Short North. They previously turned down an opportunity to join what’s now Open Air in 2018.

With the launch at that time of the brewery’sHickory Room event space, Szuter said the timing wasn’t right to add a new project as well.

He said the turbulence of the pandemic helped focus the business, but it also made Szuter hungry for a new project so he reached out to Kelley Cos. to see if that opportunity still was there.

It was.

After a February tour, Szuter said he fell in love with the space.

For more business headlines, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.

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