“I think I went underwater in November 2014," Jon Seelbinder says. "It felt like somebody was dunking my head in a pool."
He's talking about the feeling of the exponential growth of what is now Local Icon Hospitality
, the restaurant group that includes the Architect Bar
, Greenlight, relative newcomers Level Up
and Linus & Pepper's, and Virgil's Original Taqueria Taco Bar, which opens next week, and Little City, which launches next month.
“We went from the Architect Bar and the Greenlight, and then all of a sudden, we've got three buildings and six concepts— seven if you include catering,” Seelbinder says.
He's standing among the renovations of the space that will soon house Little City, a brewery, taproom, and market located on the ground floor of the West Building at the corner of North and Harrington streets in Raleigh's Glenwood South neighborhood.
“It's been a crazy year. One of the busiest, hardest years of my life," he continues. "We had so many irons in the fire. It was like we took a deck of cards and threw it on the ground, and now we're trying to get our piles back situated. But they're coming together and that's a really good feeling.”
The newest piles include gourmet sandwich shop Linus & Pepper's (see the INDY's enthusiastic review
), which opened last fall in the space below Local Icon's bar and arcade Level Up on Salisbury Street. In the same spot will be Virgil's, a taco bar doing a “soft opening” this weekend and at various points during the coming week. “We'll unleash going into April,” Seelbinder confirms.
Next up after Virgil's is Little City, a concept sure to excite anyone familiar with big-city living. “It'll be a prepared foods market, like a city bodega,” Seelbinder says. Along with a variety of grab-and-go foods, which will range from deli meats to cheeses to take-and-make boxed meals with recipe cards, there will be an onsite kitchen, brewery, and taproom with more than fifty seats, plus more outside.
The taproom part will be up and running first. Seelbinder says they're pushing to open the doors in less than six weeks. Initially, the taproom may serve beers from other brewers. Little City has all of its brewing permits in place except for a key one from the feds, which could take as long as another half-year.
Stephen Monahan will serve as the head brewmaster. Monahan studied at the Siebel Institute of Technology; his job interview with Seelbinder was via Skype from Germany, where the World Brewing Academy is. He has worked at such spots as Unknown Brewing and says Little City will begin with “classic American styles.”
“All of my focus right now is on perfecting a great IPA recipe—one that will encompass the best parts of the style and also differentiate ourselves from everyone in town. We want to be different, and IPA is not the easiest style to be different in. A lot of the most successful ones are pretty similar," he says. "After that, I'm going to be working on a caramel amber and then a chocolate porter.
As a self-described “hop head,” he names Australian Galaxy
as his preferred hop but laments its cost. That means you shouldn't expect it in the everyday batches, but don't be surprised if he uses it in the occasional one-off brew. “As often as Jon can afford it,” Monahan offers with a laugh.
Seelbinder says that the taproom will look different than most of its neighbors.
"It's going to be very clean and crisp, with almost a nice market-type feel—white tile, clean wood, brass. A lot of taprooms feel like breweries, and we love that, but we're right here in this building where there's such a mixed crowd of male, female, older, younger," he says. "We want to make sure that when folks walk into this space they get a great feeling from it.”
If you're on your way home and in need of a quick dinner idea, you'll also probably get a great feeling at Little City. Or at least you will when the retail market portion of the project is up and running this summer. The original plan for Little City was for it to be a gourmet market. The brewery part was incorporated into the plan later in the process, so it's a tad ironic that the market will now open after the brewery and taproom. Once it does, expect Little City to become a neighborhood hub. The plans show areas mapped out for a deli case, meats, produce, cheese, a dairy case, and single-serve drinks. Some are located in the retail area, while others are in the open kitchen.
“What we're hoping to dig in with is the fact that there are residents here who have a need,” Seelbinder says. “There will be lots of take-and-bake lasagnas and prepared food. There will be a coffee counter. During the daytime, everything will be kind of grab-and-go. After five p.m., we'll reserve the seating for the brewery and food program."
Don't expect the food to bring back horrible memories of two 2 a.m. sandwiches wrapped in plastic and plucked from some gas station pseudo-deli, either. Overseeing the food at Little City will be Andrew Klamar, executive chef for Local Icon. Klamar worked for rock star chef Sean Brock and was chef at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville before joining Local Icon last year. The plan for Little City's menu is to expand on the sandwiches found at Linus & Pepper's, plus bring in more salad options.
"Raleigh's growing. I've been here sixteen years, and I've seen it grow up around me. I just feel like it's our time to bring things that are unique and different enough. A taco bar doesn't exist downtown, so we're doing Virgil's. A gourmet sandwich shop downtown fits a niche, too, so we'll bring that," he says. "We're not breaking the mold. We're not reinventing anything. We're just doing it a little different."