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Everything that you Need to know about Knead

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Rick & Krista Lopez are no strangers to Columbus diners. The duo opened Crescendo Pastaria in Shawnee Hills in the mid-nineties, and later opened Trattoria La Tavola, which closed earlier this year after a solid 10-year run. Prior to their own ventures, Rick worked at Tapatio, a memorable spot for many on Columbus Underground.

Last month, the Lopezes announced their plans to return Downtown with Knead, a new made-from-scratch dining experience that aims to be open in February at 505 N. High Street. We recently sat down with Rick and Krista to find out more about what we can expect from their latest restaurant concept.

Walker Evans: I think the closing of La Tavola earlier this year caught a lot of people off guard. Judging from the response on CU, it sounds like a lot of people were fans of the restaurant. What led to the closure?

Krista Lopez: We just couldn’t keep our lives balanced there anymore. Towards the end, Rick was working ridiculous hours, and he would never see our kids unless I brought them into the restaurant. It wasn’t worth it, so that’s why we finally decided it was time to close the doors. It just didn’t make sense for us anymore.

Rick Lopez: Yeah, It wasn’t for lack of business or anything… you know, everything happens for a reason and I felt that we made some mistakes and we’re happy to have the opportunity to do it all again. Life’s a learning experience and I don’t know anyone who’s successful that hasn’t failed at least once, if not a few times.

KL: We did learn a lot of lessons from there. It was a good 10-year learning experience for sure.

RL: It’s also easy to end up being a slave to people sometimes. Out there, our customers would come in and want what they want, and have to have the same thing all the time. When I’d write the menu, I’d have 8 to 10 items that I just could not take off because everyone would complain. You can’t be seasonal and be locked into a menu. It’s just not possible. It was very frustrating because it also stymies your creativity. That’s why we’re looking forward to moving back Downtown where we can do our thing and have people appreciate it.

WE: At the very least it sounds like you’ve gathered a nice built-in fan base to carry over to your next project. From time to time I still hear people reminisce about Tapatio. Have you heard from folks who are excited and following your new project?

RL: We’ve had a great response since the news first broke last month. People we haven’t heard from in ages are calling and writing us. This part of Downtown is one of the best areas that people from any suburb are willing to drive to. But we also have a crowd down here who used to drive out to Riverside or Powell to our restaurants. It sounds like everyone is excited to have us down here. I think we’ll bring our brand of no-nonsense, common-man-gourmet, blue-collar kind of thing that we do so well.

KL: Yeah, we’re known for making everything from scratch. That’s why we thought the name “Knead” was perfect. It should make you think about using your hands for cooking. Everything will be homemade… breads, pastries, sausage, pasta, sauces, et cetera.

WE: Do you have your menu concept laid out yet?

KL: We have a formula for it.

RL: We’re going to incorporate the North Market into everything we do. I know a lot of the vendors there, as well as the farmers who bring their products there to sell. We’ll probably do a minimal amount of items on our menu, maybe 16 total, and separate it into small, medium, and large sizes. Probably eight of the items will be weekly or bi-weekly, and the other eight will change daily based on what’s coming in at the Market each week. We’re going to do a lot of “whole animal” concepts and utilize everything from nose-to-tail. We’ll continue some of the things that we started in our older restaurants… making our own pancetta… we had our own mortadella for awhile… that’s something I’ve really been getting back into again. So, we’ll probably do a lot of that sort of thing. That’s why the size of this new space is so great. I can experiment with stuff like that and cross flavors. I love making homemade tamales, and we used to make homemade tortillas at Tapatio. If you look at an enchilada and a cannelloni, they’re very similar, so we’ll cross the flavors and do something like a crepe filled with roast pork and a green chili sauce… or a duck and butternut tamale with brown butter… just playing on the similarities and differences across cuisines. There’s a big movement out in California that’s a fusion of Korean and Latin flavors, and we’re going to be doing something similar with Mediterranean flavors. A lot of the seasonal products in Ohio are things you’d find in southwest cooking. We’ve got a little farm space out by where we live, and it’ll just get bigger for next year… we’ll definitely be growing our own chilies for hot sauces. I was known for hot sauces at Tapatio, and it’s funny that people will sometimes still ask for items and recipes from there. I think time has finally caught up with what we were doing at Tapatio. I was reading Rick Bayless’s book that he recently re-issued, and he was saying that when he first wrote it, you couldn’t get chilies in the grocery store. Chipotles were exotic. But now everybody cooks with them. A lot of fast food places have chipotle-mayo on their items now. So I think a lot of the food memories from Tapatio wouldn’t be so spectacular right now because everyone is doing those things. It was a special place in a special time. Krista and I actually met at Tapatio. We used to live a block away from each other down here in the Short North, so the area still has a special place in our heart. We always wanted to come back down here and it feels good to finally be coming back. I feel like we’ll be bringing something here that’s not already being done. Having the chef-owner concept will be great in this area. John Dornback is one of the classic examples of that over at Basi Italia, and his place is awesome. I have a very high regard for him and what he’s been able to do, so I feel that we’re very similar.

WE: Before we sat down to chat, you guys mentioned that you’re going to be adding a sidewalk patio space. Can you tell us a little more about that?

RL: Well, we want to keep our budget minimal, but we will get the patio up and running out there, and let it kind of take on a life of it’s own and let it evolve. It will look nice and be a comfortable place.

KL: It will definitely stand out with flowers and plants and everything. Of course, our focus will be on the food, and not the decor.

WE: So what will your hours at Knead be like?

RL: We’re going to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have a baker who will be in at 4am who will work as my sous-chef and right arm. When Skillet opened, we ate there and found a lot of similarities to what we’re going to be doing. That place is awesome. It’s worth the trip if you haven’t been yet.

KL: We actually looked at opening in German Village. There’s really not too many locations where we haven’t looked. We were thinking about making a little video and taking people on our journey over the past nine months because we’ve been location shopping and it’s been really crazy. A total roller coaster with locations and investors and everything. It would probably be therapeutic for us. But this location by the North Market ended up being the best deal.

RL: I think the location has ample parking, and I like the fact that it plays off both The Short North and Downtown… sort of being in between in that “North Market Area”. I like the mix of foot traffic through here… getting some of the working and convention crowd, some folks from the North Market who want to grab a bite to eat, and some of the neighborhood regulars as well.

KL: This area is still growing too with all of the new housing currently being built down the street.

RL: The most important thing about this space though is the size. It’s about 25,000 square feet. When we first opened La Tavola, I literally cooked everything, and I really want to go back to that. I’m a glutton for punishment I guess. I love being behind the line cooking. I do like to come out to talk to people, but I won’t be the guy in the clean chef coat that walks around the restaurant. I’m the guy getting dirty back there. If I’m going to own a restaurant, I’ve got to do what I love to do. Krista will be splitting up some of the baking duties with our baker Josh, so that she can focus on the things that she’s really good at and enjoys doing. We’re just really excited about all of it. We really want to maintain the feeling like you’re in somebody’s home when you dine here.

Knead is scheduled for a February/March 2010 opening at 505 N. High Street.

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