Steve Spence and Brandy Davis Spence, a restaurant-industry couple who previously worked together at Shinsei, bought the Corner Bar on December 7 and will begin some serious upgrades, including opening a restaurant within the space.
They'll be joined by chef Jason Czaja, a fellow Shinsei alum, who will help ramp up the quality of food on the bar menu and eventually work on the restaurant menu.
Having enjoyed a successful working relationship together at Shinsei, the Spences, who both graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, always planned to open a place together down the road. When the Corner Bar went on the market, they dove in.
"We bought Corner Bar for its history and potential," says Steve Spence. "We don't want to change the aesthetic."
"Growing up in Dallas, I knew it as Chelsea's Corner, when I was getting old enough to go out and have a beer," Steve recalls. "I always loved the location. That area is great, and the McKinney Avenue address is fantastic."
Outfitted with pool, Golden Tee, Silver Strike Bowling and big-screen TVs, Corner Bar has been hosting karaoke and slinging beers to SMU kids and neighborhood regulars for decades.
"It was built in 1930, and it has great character, good bones," Steve says. "It's why it's been able to stay open as a bar since 1974, when Chelsea's Corner opened."
The character of the bar was part of the appeal.
"We bought it for its history and potential," he says. "We don't want to change the aesthetic. We want to keep the feel of Corner Bar, but it needs modernizing and polishing. It's been running on its own volition, but it needs to go to a different level."
Their first plan: open for lunch.
"We'll begin lunch in January, and we're going to revamp the menu," he says. "It'll have traditional bar staples like chicken wings and French fries, but we'll hand-cut the French fries, it'll be everything from scratch with fresh produce, sourced locally as much as possible. We'll have 17 to 20 items on the lunch and bar menu, with small plates, appetizers and some charcuterie."
There'll also be a strong focus on classic American sandwiches.
"There's been a big push for good sandwiches," Steve says. "You're starting to see some places popping up that do a good job at getting people away from going to Potbelly.
The Spences will be joined by chef Jason Czaja, a fellow Shinsei alum, who will help ramp up the quality of food on the bar menu and eventually work on the restaurant menu.
"Jason grew up in Chicago, went to school in Iowa and worked in Kansas City. He grew up on items that aren’t common staples here, so he'll introduce some of those to mix up the menu."
Czaja joining the Spences was a matter of fortuitous timing, Steve says.
"He made a two-year commitment at Shinsei and was coming up to the end of that time," he says. "It just so happened that when I was leaving, his time was coming up. We all had a terrific working relationship, and we respect his love and passion for food."
Once lunch is underway, they'll initiate action on a separate eatery.
"The plans are tentative, but we have a good idea of what we want to do, to introduce a separate menu and separate entity in the building, with a full-service, sit-down restaurant," he says. "We're thinking raw bar items, a wine list. We've got a blueprint in place of what we can do with the space we have available. The building is big. It has a lot of space that doesn’t get utilized."
Ideally, they'll incorporate facets of the building's history.
"That's something we would definitely like to do, to go down that path of re-habbing a place that has a great history," he says. "The farthest back we've been able to go is the 1940s.
"It was a restaurant back in the '40s. We've heard whispers that when it originally opened, it was a family grocery. And also that it was a speakeasy at the same it was a grocery. We’re trying to find out more information, looking for some of the names of families that were involved, and incorporating all of that into the place."