Saturday, September 28, 2019

[EXCLUSIVE] Wheelhouse Craft Pub & Kitchen Rolls into Onetime Old Hickory House Near Decatur

A new locally owned eatery is planned for a long vacant restaurant space near Decatur.  The owners of Wheelhouse Craft Pub & Kitchen recently started renovations of the building at 1479 Scott Boulevard near Suburban Plaza to suit their needs.  Contrary to incomplete and inaccurate reporting by another website, Wheelhouse is not in any way associated with Meehan's Public House or its parent company, 101 Concepts.
Ian Macken, who is managing partner of Meehan's in downtown Atlanta and will remain there for the foreseeable future, is involved in the new concept, but only as a consultant ahead of its opening.  He will not be part of the day-to-day operations.  Instead, Macken's wife Kathryn, brother Robert, and sister-in-law Stef, will all be operating partners of Wheelhouse.  Kathryn, currently office manager at the nearby Waldorf School, will remain there, but assist in marketing of the restaurant.  Robert, currently bar manager at Meehan's downtown, will leave that role in the coming months to move into an operations role at Wheelhouse.  Stef, who previously worked at Meehan's, is currently a bartender & trainer at Fox Bros., and she, too, will leave that role in the coming months to become part of the operations team at Wheelhouse.  Another member of the team, also currently at Meehan's Sandy Springs, Paudie Long, will join the operations team at Wheelhouse ahead of its opening.  Years ago, Kathryn was  a bartender at Fado's original Buckhead location and it was there that she met her future husband.   Ian, Robert and Paudie are all natives of Ireland.

Ian Macken gave ToNeTo Atlanta an exclusive first look at the space and detailed the inspiration and motivation behind the new venture. 

All of the involved partners live in the surrounding community and have watched as recent developments like Decatur Crossing and North Decatur Square brought new dining options to the area, but none that were local joints, owned by local folks, offering local fare.  Wheelhouse intends to change that. 
The interior progress
Rather than demolish the 50 year old building that was originally an Old Hickory Inn, the predecessor of Old Hickory House, the Mackens have spent several years (and plenty of resources) on behind the scenes bureaucratic red tape, permitting, and other details to get the building ready for its renovation and eventual use as a restaurant again.  

It's worth mentioning the long history this specific space has had as a restaurant.  According to The Atlanta Time Machine, this location had for decades served barbecue.  In the early 1950s, the restaurant was known as Old Hickory Inn.  A few years later it became the Old Hickory House and stayed that way until the 1990s.  The restaurant later became Big Greg's Barbecue, which lasted a few years.  Following that, it re-opened as Rockin' Rob's, another barbecue restaurant.  Rockin' Rob's lasted for a couple of years or so, and was later replaced by Maddy's, another barbecue restaurant.  Maddy's closed in 2011.  In early 2012, Fox Bros Rib Joint announced their plans to open a new restaurant in the Maddy's space, but later abandoned the idea.  In late 2012, 101 Concepts planned to open their Meehan's Public House concept at the old Maddy's, but they, too, later called off their plans.

While rumors at the time were that structural issues had caused both restaurant groups to abandon their plans, that was in fact not the case.  Without going into detail, Macken reasoned that in both instances, each restaurant group had things arise internally that prevented the restaurants from opening. 
The smokers from Old Hickory House
Macken tells ToNeTo Atlanta that it was he who had first nudged the owners of 101 Concepts into the idea of opening in the space, and after their plans fell through, he continued to stay in touch with the owners of the building, Karl and Lizzie Jaeger.

After Karl's unexpected passing in early 2016,  Macken and Lizzie decided the best way to honor Karl would be to follow through on their planned restaurant.  The Jaegers also own the adjacent Gulf station, and after Maddy's closed, Karl would store excess wheels and other car parts in the former restaurant.  The Wheelhouse name, though thought of by Stef, and agreed to by all, actually has two meanings.  Your wheelhouse is your comfort zone, and the owners want all to be comfortable in their place, but also the place was literally Karl's old "wheel-house." 

As Macken put it, "this project is about following through on a vision that we all shared.  A vision that involved community, friendship and family." 

Lizzie is the restaurant's landlord as well as a partner in the business.  Her involvement and ownership of the adjacent Gulf station provides additional parking for the eatery during off-hours of the service station. 

While the Wheelhouse menu is still being finalized, diners can expect to see elevated pub fare in an approachable and affordable setting.  With Macken and his brother both being Irish with backgrounds in Irish pubs, several potato dishes are likely, but the eatery will not be an Irish pub.  Whether you are a vegetarian, pescatarian, on keto, reducing your consumption of red meat, or any other diet, the owners plan to have something for you.  "The Wheelhouse plans to connect with local farms and vendors to provide fresh, comforting foods and drinks in a warm friendly environment."  The owners are toying with the idea of offering a BBQ sandwich in honor of the building's rich history as a BBQ eatery.

Although slightly apprehensive about drawing comparisons to existing establishments, the Mackens are hoping to create the same sense of community that they have personally experienced at Oak Grove watering hole The Grove.  Established in 2006 in a converted service station, The Grove has become a popular neighborhood eatery for neighbors to gather in.     

Macken describes Wheelhouse as "built for the locals, by the locals."   
Early rendering of what the Wheelhouse exterior may eventually look like
The partners plan to have a wall within the restaurant dedicated to the area's history and the restaurant's past life.  The Mackens have already accumulated several old photos of the restaurant as earlier concepts but encourage locals in the community to share what memories or photos they have for potential inclusion. 

A patio is planned as part of the restaurant, but would likely not open immediately.   Barring unforseen issues, (this is your cue to knock on whatever wood you have nearby), the partners hope to be open in early 2020.  

Are you excited to see a local restaurant coming to the Medlock community?  What kind of food would you most like to see on the menu?  What is your earliest memory of the building in which Wheelhouse is opening?

Please share your thoughts below  


Ham said...

Good to see an empty space redeveloped. For me personally it doesn't sound that attractive, but hey I'll probably check it out anyway. I always liked Maddy's the food was decent and it tasted better with the nice Blues they always played.

Anonymous said...

Ain't nothing greater than a "Decatur Tater" !!!

Anonymous said...

The location is just around the corner from Melton's App and Tap, which I've enjoyed for years. Is another similar concept necessary so close by?

Unknown said...

Woohoo! Finally! These owners are delightful people and have demonstrated tremendous tenacity in getting to this point. I'm glad these are local, independent owners and hope more of the development in the greater neighborhood furthers a trend. Look forward to having a pint at The Wheelhouse!

Anonymous said...

nice to see new local business, but real issue will be the lack of parking, and difficulty of getting in and out of what little parking they have.

Eric Benjamin said...

Awesome. Love having more non chain restaurants in our part of ITP..

Anonymous said...

wasn't this also 'twelve oaks' kosher bbq in the early to mid 1990s?!?

Unknown said...

If they are of Irish descent, I hope they also have the Celtic gene for live music. I used to play at Maddy's and it was always a fun time. I'd love to play some of my songs (and covers) as a solo guitarist or with a couple of my musician friends. I always start and end on time. I play at the volume I'm told to play at. I know this is a shameless plug, but here is a place you can hear some of my tunes. Please give me a try!

Thanks and best of luck with the new place!
Harrison Brown

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