When it comes to high-profile restaurant properties, few are more tantalizing than the former Greenhouse Tavern. That restaurant on E. Fourth Street famously – and abruptly – closed its doors in February 2020, one month before the pandemic forced all other restaurants to do the same.
As of a few weeks ago, that property officially became unavailable. Now we know who claimed it: Gabriel Zeller and Julie Mesenburg, the husband-and-wife team behind Barra Tacos, Char Whisky Bar, Avo Modern Mexican and Lago at Lakeside, a seasonal operation in Marblehead. (The couple recently sold their ownership stake in Barra to a partner.)
It’s a remarkable journey for a pair of industry veterans who opened their first spot, Barra in Sandusky, just four years ago. When they were presented with the chance to take over such an iconic space, they knew it was too good to pass up.
“How many opportunities do you get to be on East Fourth Street,” Zeller asks rhetorically. “Probably one. If we say no now, will we ever get another opportunity to be there. It’s not like those guys move out all the time.”
Zeller and Mesenburg have their work cut out for them. The construction crews have yet to begin work on the project, which is expected to stretch through spring and summer and into fall. When it does finally greet its first guests, it will do so as Indie.
“It’s a big space to renovate,” says Zeller. “It’s going to be a massive undertaking and I think four to five months is a reasonable amount of time.”
The punch list is long and growing. Zeller said that plans include resurfacing the bartop, completely rebuilding the backbar, reinventing the entire seating arrangement, repainting every (28-foot) wall and bringing in new furniture. The goal, he adds, is to make the restaurant unrecognizable to previous diners.
“We’re going from a rustic farmhouse look to more modern and clean,” he explains. “When you walk into Indie, I don’t want people to think it looks like the Greenhouse Tavern. I want people to ask what was here before.”
Other interior changes are being done intentionally to reduce seating indoors to about 100 guests, far fewer than its predecessor possessed. That number will be joined by 30 seats out front and 40 upstairs on the roof. Zeller will be sealing off the rear mezzanine (perhaps to be used as private dining space), converting the front window seats to open waiting areas, and eliminating all kitchen seating, including the former chef’s table.
“I want to maximize that space for kitchen service,” Zeller says. “I’ve worked in kitchens, I’ve helped develop all the food items on our menus, and I understand the challenges that my guys go through. I try not to put too much on their plate. I don’t want to have them fail or to have a bad customer experience.”
Subtle nods to independent music have always reverberated through Zeller and Mesenburg’s restaurants, but none more than Indie.
“The concept came from us going to concerts together for the last 17 years,” Zeller shares. “We’ve collected concert posters of shows that we’ve attended. I’m having all of those framed and that will be the art. So it will have a nice music atmosphere.”
That theme will transfer to the curated music played throughout the space, the occasional live music to be performed inside and out, and the lengthy list of signature cocktails.
Zeller says it’s still too early to nail down a menu, but he describes Indie as a seasonal “New American” eatery offering small plates, sharables platters and signature plates. His chef will be Steve Clarkson, who has worked his way through Avo, Char and Barra.
For Zeller, who says that he was managing other people’s restaurants as recently five years ago, the experience is almost too much to believe.
“It’s somewhat shocking, but extremely exciting at the same time,” he says. “Greenhouse was an iconic place in Cleveland for 10 years. I’m excited to go into that space and be on East Fourth.”
(According to Zeller, this deal is contingent on financing.)
Courtesy Gabe Zeller
Julie Mesenburg and Gabe Zeller of Avo, Char and Indie
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