Blame the painting.
It’s not an excuse, but when Chuck Wood and his family first saw a painting by Janet Hart of what they had been dreaming of for their Hasenauer Building at 1900 Market St., their excitement took over. The “Market Street Bistro” concept was born, and it was announced without fully explaining the idea to their current tenants.
The intent to do so was present as the owners of Crest Investments did compose a letter to the owners of each of the businesses. Mailing it, though, is a separate issue. Those business owners found out about the “pie in the sky” plan on Facebook and on local talk radio when Chuck was interviewed on AM 1600 WKKX.
They screwed up, and they admit it.
Chuck and Vera, and their son, Morgan, are the owners of Crest Investments. The family has lived in Wheeling for the past decade, and they have fallen in love with the municipality. Chuck has taught at Wheeling Jesuit University, and he also has instructed at the Planetary Science Institute, which is headquartered in Tucson, Az. Prior to launching Crest Investments, Vera was employed at the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley, and Morgan obtained his finance degree at West Virginia University.
The Wood family owns approximately 80 rental apartments, most of which are located in the North Wheeling area, and they decided to purchase the large building in Centre Wheeling in February. The Hall of Fame Café, Empress, The Noble Source, Under the Elder Tree, and Indoff Office Furniture are a few of the businesses in operation.
Their dream involves a “restaurant row incubator” with eateries that do not have a presence in the Friendly City, including Greek, Indian, and Thai. They envision a bridge that would connect the downtown district with Centre Market and that would promote entrepreneurship. The have promised reasonable rent and lease agreements, and they insist that they will understand when one of the businesses outgrows the small shop spaces that the Hasenauer Building offers on the street level.
It’s a concept. It’s a dream. Crest Investments has entered an online contest sponsored by Chase Bank’s “Mission Main Street Grants” program. Chase will award 20 small businesses with grants of $100,000, and the winners will be announced in September. The Woods qualified for the next step in Chase’s contest when they attracted more than 250 online votes well before the June 19 deadline. Now, this trio will prepare their official business plan for presentation.
There are no guarantees, and it is Chuck, Vera, and Morgan who refer to this vision as “pie in the sky.” It is based on potential, certainly, but also on their appetites.
You can visit the “Market Street Bistro’s” Facebook page by surfing here:
Novotney: This is not how you wanted to start this Market Street Bistro venture, is it?
Vera: If this happens the way we envision it, I think it will be a win-win for everyone. Unfortunately, though, I think our current tenants were hurt when they first heard about it because they all thought that they were getting kicked out, and that’s not true.
We are very sorry the way it has gone. It’s been demoralizing for the tenants, and it’s been demoralizing for us, too. I like pleasing people, but we handled this poorly. We made a mistake, and we plan on apologizing to every one of them.
Novotney: How did you get into the property rental business?
Chuck: There was an apartment building that came available right across the street from our house in North Wheeling, and that’s when we started Crest Investments in 2006. We have put a lot of work into the buildings that we have to make them better places to live and to help the Wheeling community.
That’s also where the bistro idea came from. We thought it would be a wonderful way to help Wheeling by giving the city something of a food court area with the kinds of food that we don’t have.
Morgan: I convinced my parents to start this company because of what we would be able to accomplish, and a lot our goals have been met by a lot of hard work.
Novotney: At this point, the restaurant row concept is only a vision?
Chuck: We have applied for the funds that Chase is awarding 20 different small businesses across the country, and we realize that there are thousands of businesses that have too. In fact, there’s another business in Wheeling that has applied too.
We have used Facebook and local radio to get the word out, and that’s how we received the 250 votes it takes to get to the next stage in the program. We hope we win because $100,000 would be wonderful, and it would allow us to do a lot of work that needs done sooner than later. There are code updates that have to be completed, and the appearance of the building needs to be upgraded, too.
Morgan: We also know there’s going to be a lot of competition. It’s a free $100,000, so why wouldn’t every small business go about that? There’s nothing guaranteed at this point, and we’re aware of that.
Novotney: Why is it important to help to bring in ethnic foods not available in this area?
Chuck: I have been asked a few times why I write books, and I have answered that it’s because there are books I want to read, but they don’t exist, so I wrote them. The same goes for this concept because I want to be able to go out and get the kind of foods that I can’t get right now in Wheeling.
It’s selfish, and I admit it. I want restaurants that I want to eat at. And food is culture, too, and that’s something we wish to add to in this community. We have a lot of culture, and our arts community is outstanding, so it’s our hope that this can happen so we can add to it.
I think if we are going to really rebuild Wheeling, we have to supply some of the amenities that people are looking for these days. When people are looking into areas they want to move into, they look at the schools, the safety, the downtown, and the culture. This city has a lot to offer, but we don’t have a lot of different choices as far as food is concerned. The restaurants that we do have do a great job, and I enjoy their food. I just want more.
Novotney: What is the timeframe for this bistro project?
Vera: I don’t imagine anything is going to take place for at least two years based on the fact that we just bought the building just a few months ago. If we were lucky enough to win this money from the Chase program, then we would be able to step up the pace.
Chuck: There are things we have to do no matter what, like addressing the front façade of the building. It needs pressure washed to clean some of the grime away, and there are also a couple of areas that need addressed as far as the structure is concerned.
But we really don’t have a timeline right now because we don’t have a lot of money despite what the company owns. Everything we do is really accomplished by bootstrapping because Morgan has had to learn how to do all kinds of different things so we can keep our costs down.
I would hope that we could get our first restaurant into one of the spaces maybe by next summer, but we’ll have to see. One thing we do know is that we’ll never have enough money to perform the renovations to all of the six spaces at the same time, so we’re thinking incremental.
Novotney: How do you believe this bistro concept fits in with the efforts now being made by groups such as ReInvent Wheeling?
Chuck: I feel I have the same goals as the people with ReInvent Wheeling and the Young Preservationist because I have gone to some of their meetings. Those folks have a lot of energy, and they are willing to live in a place that’s not in great shape while they rebuild it. So what they are doing is great for Wheeling, and I feel this project is right along those lines.
Novotney: In your opinion, what is the state of Wheeling today as compared to when you first moved here 10 years ago?
Morgan: I have seen a lot of progress that’s been made, and there have been a lot of people of all ages who have led the way.
Vera: And I have been blown away. I think Wheeling is one of the most exciting cities I have ever lived in. The people have always been very friendly, but then after a couple of years things started happening, and a lot of younger people got very interested and involved.
I think it can go much further, but I do hope that our council members and our mayor work on some of the building codes. There have been other cities who have worked on those codes, so we’re not asking anyone to reinvent the wheel.