But when the Byrson City office of the Employment Security Commission vacated its prime location in the heart of downtown last year, the empty storefront was a blessing for the owners of the neighboring coffee and wine shop Cork and Bean. Co-owners Scott Mastej and Ron LaRocque wanted to expand ever since they first opened about three years ago.
“I think we wanted to do it from the day we started,” Mastej said. “We would not have been able to do it without this space next door.”
For the last two months, the downtown favorite has been closed for a major interior expansion, including knocking out a portion of the wall that once separated it from the next door building to create a new restaurant space. Thankfully, the two buildings were once connected in the past, making the tear down relatively easy. A small, brick hall connects the two sides, which both feature lots of hardwood and medieval-looking, black metal light fixtures. The pair has commissioned a local artisan to create two specialty wood signs. Both will read “Cheers y’all” and tell patrons which room they are about to enter — either the dining room or gathering room.
“It’s those little things,” Mastej said. “We were able to put personality into it.”
The new side of Cork and Bean will be a full-service restaurant, offering the sweet and savory crepes that the shop is known for as well as more hearty menu items. Mastej said that the menu will likely change often and depend on what the chef and other kitchen staff feel inspired to make.
“We have given them the creative license,” Mastej said, adding that everything will feature “fresh, local, organic ingredients.”
The addition of a full kitchen will allow them to make menu items that they couldn’t previously, due to limited space for kitchen equipment, which included only a microwave and crepe griddles.
“Customers have requested new and different things, and we could not do that without a kitchen,” Mastej said.
The old side of Cork and Bean has received its own remodeling. The coffee counter was replaced with a bar, and patrons can order up light fare, a coffee drink or alcohol beverages. Cork and Bean previously offered bottled beers and wine, but it will now include a full-service bar with a bartender serving up everything from glasses of wine to locally brewed beers to cocktails.
Mastej and LaRocque are also looking into the possibility of having music of the singer-songwriter variety.
The pair has gone all-out to upgrade their business, even driving as far a Pennsylvania for furniture. The hickory chairs that customers will sit in are Amish-made. LaRocque had to go through a non-Amish middleman to place and pick-up his order. Because the Amish can’t use phones, some businessmen will hire a non-Amish person to take phone calls for them, rather than relaying on handwritten, mailed messages back and forth.
“It was the hardest thing ever,” Mastej said, but the chairs are “definitely something special.”
While Cork and Bean previously fit about 35 seated customers, the new expansion made space to seat between 85 and 90 people.
Not only has Cork and Bean expanding spatially, but it has also more than doubled its employees. When it temporarily closed in early January, the coffee and wine shop had eight employees. When they reopen, the staff will boast 10 new workers.