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Bret Holbert and his wife, Sherrie, are back in the food business as proprietors of “107″ — an open air beer and wine garden at 107 Grand Ave., just off the southwest corner of the Plaza in historic downtown Paris.
The Holberts, who for 12 years owned and operated 24th Street Cafe, took a historic building whose roof had collapsed and was slated for demolition — and turned it into something unique for Paris.
They left it without a roof — on purpose — and made it into something like Paris had never seen before, something akin to the family-atmosphere, open air beer gardens of Central and Southwest Texas.
“What a great thing to do, to salvage some of Paris’ early history and turn it into something real cool and progressive,” said Ray Trotter, who owns a gallery on the Plaza and was one of the establishment’s first customers at last week’s opening.
“I used to get my hair cut here for free in this building. It was a beauty college,” said Trotter, who was born and raised in Paris and recently returned to the city after being gone for more than 40 years. “They took something beautiful and made it more beautiful.”
Joining Trotter at a table at the grand opening were Koa Hawn and Julia Trigg Crawford.
“It’s beautiful. Somebody just told me today it was Opening Day, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m blown away. It’s great,” said Hawn, a native of Hawaii who moved to Paris a year ago.
“I’ve been waiting for it to open for months, so I’m tickled to see the doors open,” said Crawford, who like Trotter was born and raised in Paris.
“This is my first glass of wine here. it’s great. I love the concept. When I first saw it months ago, it was raining, and I looked in and saw how this could work even in inclement weather, so it will be fun — rain or shine,” Crawford said.
Hours are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., “or later, as needed,” on Friday and Saturday.
“Plus, we just decided to open for lunch on Saturday,” Bret said Friday. It’s a no-smoking establishment, in keeping with the new smoking ban that just went into effect city-wide for public places.
The official opening on April 11 came two days after an informal run-through two days earlier — a “soft opening” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night “so we can get our system down.”
It was anything but soft, Bret said.
“We had a huge turnout. We were slammed. We turned out a ridiculous amount of food,” he added. “But that’s OK. That’s why you have nights like that. You work out your kinks. You find out what works good and what doesn’t, and you start to formulate a system. People are coming in for the food in addition to the wide selection of beers and wines that we have.”
Capacity is 99 people. There’s seating for 80.
In a question-and-answer interview with eParisExtra, the Holberts talked about how “107″ came about.
Question: “What gave you the idea for this?”
Bret: “I’ve been looking for something to do after I retire from the fire department in November after 30 years, so Sherrie and I began to brainstorm. We knew we wanted to do something in food, but something different from 24th Street. Last summer, we took a swing down through south and central Texas — San Antonio, Comfort, Fredericksburg, places like that — and there are these little beer gardens on every corner in that part of the state. People come in, and it’s a real family atmosphere. We stopped in San Antonio, and there was this place on probably a half acre of land, a building where the bar was. It had a playground where kids could play, and families came in the afternoon and sat down under the big oak trees and relaxed and had something to eat and had something to drink if they desired. As we traveled, we kept seeing these and thought, you know, this would be a good idea. So we began to consider that.”
Q: “How did you decide on this building, which just a couple of years ago the city was putting barricades in front of to mark as unsafe?”
Bret: “We knew we wanted to do something downtown, but there wasn’t really an open spot like you would think of a garden, and so we weren’t sure if we would be able to. Well, Sherrie saw this building one day, and she said, you know, we could probably get that building for a good price, and we could gut it and put a beer garden in there. And so we began to ask around as to owned it, found out and approached that person. He said, sure, I’ll sell it. and so he did. The rest is as you see it now. It came from a building whose roof had collapsed onto the second floor — that was rotting away, and there were discussions about demolishing it — to this. Everybody seems to be excited about it. because it’s so different than anything else. That’s the word that we keep hearing — different. And we think that’s a good thing.”
Q: “So you came up with the open air idea rather than putting a new roof on it?”
Bret: “Right. We knew we wanted open air, something that was at least similar to the open air beer gardens that we had seen down in San Antonio and Austin and Fredericksburg and places like that. We knew that we didn’t want to move inside and just have a place where you can have a beer and a burger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We had a great living doing that for 12 years, and that’s great, but we wanted to do basically something that Paris had never seen — not in my lifetime anyway. So we came up with this concept. We understand there are going to be days where the weather is too bad to open, and we’re OK with that.”
Q: “It’s open air, but at the same time, you have umbrellas over some tables, and other parts are covered by a partial roof. So you can still stay open for business, even when it’s raining?”
Sherrie: “We preserved what the building was. We wanted everybody to see how cool a building it was. We wanted it to feel you were in a different city, like Austin or San Antonio or Fort Worth or Fredericksburg, sitting in open air. Basically, when it rains, we’ll have a day off. If it’s just a light rain, a light summer rain, it’s not a problem at all, you’ll stay completely dry. we have areas free to sit under that are dry, and three of our tables have umbrellas. The kitchen and the serving area is completely enclosed, as are the bathrooms.”
Q: “So, are you looking forward to this?”
Sherrie: “I am. I’m anxious and excited and a little nervous. We’re out of our realm here, but we’ll do it. Our soft opening went really well. It was just friends and family, people who would tell us the truth about what we needed to change. We fixed a few things. We are starting out with five employees. We are a little over-hired for the first couple of weeks until we can see. I don’t want to be short-handed. We aren’t opening until 4 in the afternoon. I’ll probably be coming in at 5, but I have hired a manager, Mindy Wilson, who will be here at 4. She’s got a lot of experience, so we’re well covered. We have two cooks who cooked for us for years and years at 24th Street — Bret’s old team back together and we’re comfortable with them.”
Q: “What are you hearing from your customers?”
Sherrie: “They love the feel. They haven’t experienced anything like this in Paris, and that was our goal. They also like that we’re preparing different products that they’ve not seen. We’ll try to do something different than everyone else is doing. It’s a casual, laid-back place. We don’t want it be a bar. The beer companies and wine companies said they would give us neon signs and all that, but we’re not going to do any of that. We want it to be more of a place where you can spend time with friends and relax. We want to have good food, but not turn into a bar-type thing.”
Bret: “The only thing alcoholic we sell is wine and beer. We don’t sell any spirits at all. I talked to some of the people who owned beer gardens that I talked about earlier. Some of them had been in the business of a full-on bar business before and chose to get out of it because they just preferred a different atmosphere. A guy in San Antonio said he had a bar for quite a few years on Sixth Street in Austin, and he said there were things going on there all of the time. I don’t want to give bars a bad name, but it’s just a different crowd and we just decided we weren’t going to sell spirits. We have a selection of beers all the way from light beers to dark beers, and then we have wine from inexpensive wines all the way up to better higher-dollar wines.”
Q: “What are the ‘different’ food offerings you are offering?”
Bret: “We have a selection of three tacos — pulled pork, brisket tacos, and fish tacos. We have quesadillas, garlic fries, cheese tray with fries, a selection of cheeses, and a selection of fresh fruits.
We have various sauces that we’ll drizzle on the slate that if they care to they can drag their cheese through or their sausage or something like that.
“We have pulled pork sliders – traditional southern pulled pork sandwiches with pulled pork barbecue sauce and cole slaw. We have brisket sliders with sauteed onions and horse radish, and we have our flatbreads, which were really popular on our soft opening. We have beef fajita, which is similar to the ingredients for our regular fajita — beef fajita meat with grilled onions and bell peppers and avocadoes. And we have what has really been popular — grilled chopped sirloin, not hamburger meat, but thinly sliced sirloin with roasted red peppers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts and a greek yogurt-based sauce. And then there’s our fish and chips, which have turned out to be the “dark horse.” They were crazy popular at our soft opening. We serve three nice filets of fish with a nice generous helping of french fries. We make our own jalapena tartar sauce in house.
“Our nachos also are real popular. We have regular nachos with cheese and peppers, and then we have pulled pork and brisket and chicken. Our wings — we have three different wing sauces.
“We have a traditional, what you would call a buffalo sauce; a sweet chili pepper sauce; and a pepper sauce called Chef Perry sauce, a gift from chef Michael Perry at Bois d’Arc.
“And then one of our things we’re really excited about — a black and bluebell float. It’s Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, and then over that we pour Shiner Bohemian black beer. If you’ve never had it, it sounds kind of strange, but if you ever taste it, you’ll love it and you’ll have it again. It’s really, really good.
“On our kids’ menu, we have chicken strips, grilled cheese sandwiches, things like that.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra