MOUNT VERNON – Tina and Brian Laemmle are accustomed to commitment – to fulfilling their dreams.
Take their history together, which began merely by chance. Tina, from a town of 4,000 in western Kentucky, met Brian, from Grove City, in Florida when they were teenagers. They were on vacation with friends and family.
They exchanged phone numbers and vowed to stay in touch after vacation ended. They did just that, and 11 years later, they vowed to spend the rest of their lives together.
It was with a similar level of commitment that the couple held onto their next dream – owning a business. After living in Columbus initially, they moved to Mount Vernon seeking more of a small-town feel. They soon fell in love with the city and particularly the property at 109 W. Ohio Ave., which seemed to have its own little corner on the west side of town.
They got to know the owners of what used to be Rookies Sports Pub and would occasionally stop in for a drink or two. They expressed interest in the place, even making an offer on it several years ago, and when the former owners were ready to step down, they knew who to hand the keys to.
In July, it finally happened – the Laemmles became business owners. And at that time, they made yet another vow – to further what the bar’s former owners had already started, and transform the place into a revamped, casual attraction.
“To see it start coming to fruition was really a neat thing,” Tina said on Thursday, six months later, at the bar’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “You know, every time we came and worked on something, we felt proud of it the next day.”
Tina’s referring to the total revitalization of the establishment, which she and her husband pulled off over the summer. As Brian described it, everything but the “bare bones” of the establishment has changed, including the name, which is now “Moss Rose.”
It’s a tribute to Tina’s grandmother, who had a passion for growing flowers, and also to a jazz club near her hometown that went by the same name. Tina said she and her friends would frequent the club during their youth, as it had "fantastic food and a beautiful setting." The club has been closed for some time now, Tina said, and she decided it would only be right to name her place after such an establishment.
Amid the chaos of their official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, the couple thought back to the late nights and early mornings they worked over the summer to renovate the bar while keeping it open at the same time. They managed to do this while also working their day job (they both work at Dandy Products in Mount Vernon, which makes erosion control products for construction sites).
The bar’s interior now features a refinished hardwood floor, as well as new, black-padded barstools and booths. Local artist Sterling Farley painted the south wall; it says “Moss Rose” in a red and black, graffiti-esque design. Farley will soon complete designs in both refurbished bathrooms as well.
On the outside, Brian said they have already tried to establish “a little more (of a) backyard atmosphere.” There is new patio furniture, including umbrella tables and coffee tables, and the entire exterior has been repainted.
In order to keep the bar open this summer while simultaneously performing renovations, the couple did most of their work on Sundays (their off-day). They would work from the time the bar closed early Sunday morning to the time it reopened again on Monday afternoon. They only had to close the bar on a couple occasions – once to get the floors redone and another time for plumbing.
“We just kept it open. They sold it over the weekend, we opened on Monday,” Tina said. “We didn’t sleep.
“But it’s never been grueling for us, though, because this is something that we both wanted. This has been (Brian’s) dream for years.”
While the couple has already received positive feedback from customers and community members on the renovations, they’re most excited about what they’re introducing after the new year: a revamped (and tastefully unique) food menu.
The couple hired lifelong chef Tim Bunch to anchor a kitchen that will turn fresh, local food into unique barroom cuisines. Bunch said there will be no sorted appetizers or entrees, only one list of items from which customers can mix and match.
That list will include “sweet, thick onion rings in an IPA batter,” as well as deep-fried sauerkraut balls with sausage included. They will serve sliders, barbecue beef sandwiches and chorizo sloppy joes. Brian, who will cook alongside Bunch in the kitchen, has also introduced an in-house veggie burger recipe to the menu.
They’ll have salads, daily soups, and homemade desserts such as cheesecake and pie.
“You know, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Bunch said with a smile.
But they are bringing in some flavor from the south, Brian said, as he has picked up recipes from places such as New Orleans and has added them to the menu.
“We’ve traveled quite a bit and have been to New Orleans, and eating really good food down there, it’s something you want to bring back – it’s fresh, good food,” Brian said. “We wanted to give everybody the opportunity to have the same kind of experience we’ve had.”
While Brian has managed restaurants before, he’s trying to learn as much as he can from Bunch. Bunch has spent the better part of his life in the culinary field. He began his career just outside of Boston, working for hotels, country clubs and restaurants before moving back to Cleveland, near his hometown of Akron. He worked as the sous chef at Great Lakes Brewery before coming to Loudonville to run Brass Plate Cafe, which led him to buy a house in Mount Vernon in 1994. He’s been here ever since.
“He is a culinary genius,” Tina said straight-faced, as Bunch laughed.
Tina and Brian have known Bunch since July 2013, when they met under unusual circumstances – one of their friends was looking to buy a house, and Bunch was the one selling it. Brian and Bunch met and immediately hit it off. They had lunch at The Alcove that day and, as Tina said, “became inseparable shortly thereafter.”
Bunch emphasized the importance of not only a diverse menu, but also a local one. He believes customers will be able to taste the difference.
“We’re trying to source everything locally, for the most part. We’re buying fresh as much as possible, buying fresh and local as much as possible,” Bunch said. “Instead of going with the big restaurant purveyors that deliver and stuff to your back door, we’re trying to buy it pretty much entirely fresh, local stuff.”
Brian and Bunch are working through the final details now – pricing the menu, etc. – before they can officially begin serving food. Bunch estimates that during the summer, when traffic is highest and the kitchen is in full-swing, the bar will likely employ up to 10 people, including several waiters and waitresses.
The food will compliment the bar’s drink selection well, Tina said, as Brian and Bunch have already paired several cocktails with certain dishes. The bar, which features a full array of beer and liquor, also includes a selection of over half a dozen wines.
“I think they go together hand-in-hand,” Tina said of the food and drink menus.
Tina envisions Moss Rose as part of the blossoming downtown scene, but also as its own entity. She and Brian both feel that the bar fills a need in Mount Vernon – the need for a casual, neighborly pub with a unique menu to match.
“We just wanted to make somewhere that was comfortable, homey, and that had fantastic food,” Tina said.
“And it seems like a place that, you know, you don’t have to have a certain dress code to go to, or you don’t feel out of place. We want everybody to feel like they’re totally welcome,” Brian continued.
“Some of the places that are a little more high-end in town, you know, you feel maybe out of place if you wear a t-shirt and jeans and you come in and everybody’s dressed in dress shirts. So we just want everybody to be 100 percent comfortable and have a place that’s almost like their next-door place, where they can hang out and have some food.”
There are still some changes Brian and Tina would like to make to the place. They want to install a new roof in the spring, and they are looking to redo the patio. Brian wants to install a rod-iron fence around the patio to increase visibility both inside and outside the establishment.
But for the most part, Brian said, the major changes have been done now for about a month. Now the couple can look forward to trivia nights on Tuesdays, karaoke on Thursdays, and every night in between. Moss Rose opens at noon Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday, and closes at 2:30 a.m. every night.
It’s been a long road to get to this point, where Brian and Tina sat on Thursday and watched as local leaders checked out the new place after all its major renovations had been complete. It was a summer of hard work and hope, and now the couple’s dream is coming true before their eyes.
It’s been nearly six months since they began their new journey. Has it been worth it?
“Absolutely,” Tina said without hesitation. “Every day has been fun since we bought this place. There is always something new, something going on. There’s new customers, we get to meet new people.
“I half expected to be in a panic at this point. You know, this was a big thing for us, to buy a business. But I haven’t regretted a day of it.”