Michael Johnson/Livingston County News
Charred American Bar & Grill owner Tom Provo is one of the businesses in the rejuvenated downtown of Mount Morris.
TRANSFORMATION, Part II
Mount Morris still buzzing with new business
- EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published in the July 25, 2013, print edition of the Livingston County News.
Business activity in Mount Morris’ rejuvenated downtown has been on the upswing since 2010. The revival is being fostered by an influx of capital from allied sources: Government incentive awards, property owner investment in basic building restoration, and business tenant investment in remodeling detail.
In 2013, the boom created by this triumvirate of stimuli shows no signs of abating. The latest inventory of new business includes a restaurant, bar and grill; graphic arts studio, and ice cream parlor, while a restaurant expansion, tea room and new antique shop will be soon materializing.
Charred American Bar & Grill, 36 Main St., opened June 28. The new business is owned and managed by Thomas Provo. The 25-year-old graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology is a Mount Morris native who means to “to bring a little bit of New York City back to Mount Morris.”
Charred serves certified beef, stuffed burgers, craft brews, and uses beer as an occasional cooking ingredient, practices which may be the norm in New York City, but are less frequently encountered in the Genesee Valley. Tom says he likes to serve his food in creative ways, with each menu item having a signature flair.
Inside Charred, the customer is struck by the 19th century architectural restoration blended with handsome new cabinetry and functional furnishings, creating an upscale environment accommodating to both family dining and socializing at the bar.
“I want this to be a comfortable bar and grill where families can come but where, later in the evening, people can come to socialize and still get food,” Tom explained.
With seven TVs and the full NFL ticket going to be aired this fall, Charred is undeniably a sports bar, yet, as Tom asserts, “not overbearingly so.” The TV volumes are kept low, so as not to interfere with the music playing lightly in the background for the restaurant customers.
Tom’s business philosophy calls for “accommodating different crowds while focusing on the important stuff. You have a small menu where you do it right, do it fresh and make it the best you can.”
Tom’s father Frank suggests that restauranting is “in the Provo family blood.” Growing up, Tom had plenty of exposure to eating establishments of all kinds during family vacations, and at Grandfather Sam Provo’s Mount Morris Family Diner. (Tom was born too late to have a much recall of Provo’s Party House, which operated on Main Street between 1976 and 1996.)
“As a kid, I hung out a lot around diners with my grandfather and father,” Tom remembers, particularly recalling the Friday fish fry special — revived at Charred — and the excitement of expanding the business into a neighboring building.
While attending RIT, Tom studied at the Hospitality and Hotel Management School, specializing in food and beverage management. His internships included stints with a large Marriott Hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla., working as an auditor with the D. J. DelMonte Marriott in Rochester, and managing an on-campus bakery/coffee shop. Tom graduated into Marriott’s management development program as an operations manager in Boston. He then found a position with SSP America, managing shops in JFK Airport and serving international clientele before moving on to a position as food and beverage manager at the busy Palace Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Returning home during a February vacation, Tom had the opportunity to check out 36 Main St., where landlord Greg O’Connell had gutted the former Fred’s Tavern —and where Tom’s vision for Charred emerged, shared with his parents Frank and Dina.
With the Provos’ commitment to lease, O’Connell replaced the floor and restrooms. The drop ceiling was removed to reveal the original tin, which was repaired and repainted.
Outside, a Livingston County 50/50 facade grant has assisted with window lettering, a hanging sign and lighting that creates what Tom describes as “a bright, energetic feel, which says this is not just a bar but also a restaurant.”
Fellow RIT alumna Ruba Tadros was enlisted to design the Charred logo and brand name as it appears on the window and in restaurant advertising. As a further city-like feature, tables and chairs are set outside for sidewalk service, and the liquor license accordingly amended to allow outdoor serving of beverages.
Another RIT Alumnus, master carpenter Naples Brian DeRue from Naples, built the new bar and cabinets from quarter sawn red oak. Tom’s cousin Polly Temperato of Leicester assisted with interior design. Still other RIT alumni assisted Tom with refrigeration installations and making arrangements with Palmers, the restaurant’s meat and seafood supplier.
Charred has occupancy seating of 75, with 64 seats in place, not counting those outside. Since opening, Charred has served a number of visiting Canadians and continental Europeans. These folks are seemingly steered through Mount Morris by GPS routings charting a shortcut between New York City and Canadian metropolitan regions.
Tim Knowles, proprietor of Mount Morris’ successful Questa LaSagna restaurant, has incorporated a similar kind of specialist merchandising for his new venture Zeppo’s Ice Cream Parlor at 91 Main St. The name is borrowed from the youngest of the five Marx brothers, who left comedy acting to make his fortune as a talent agent and inventor.
Tim says he was inspired to keep homemade ice cream sales at the location following the departure of former proprietor Jay Phillips.
“It was a great place to have ice cream on Main Street,” Tim said.
“Like here (at Questa), I wanted to use the approach of having a home-made product using fresh, locally-produced ingredients.”
Zeppo’s is rapidly becoming known as a flavor proving ground. “If one of the experimental flavors turns out to be popular, we will do it again,” Tim reports.
Zeppo’s ice cream is made with high butterfat and “low overrun,” that is, with only a small difference between the volume of the liquid emulsion ingredients and the frozen solid product. A low air content insures higher quality and superior taste.
Among the spectrum of about a dozen flavors on sale at any given time have been ginger-lemon, blueberry, strawberry, mango, peach, kiwi lime-toasted coconut, toasted walnut-honey, vanilla-chocolate caramel, and coffee with sea salt chocolate caramel. A number of the exotic flavors have been supplied courtesy of Jane’s Pantry, located right across the street.
“We’ve been having so much fun finding things in my store to put into Tim’s ice cream,” said proprietor Jane Oaks.
“We’ve come up with some great flavor brainstorms.”
Zeppo’s will be staying open every day, from noon until sundown, through October.
The Pantry Mouse Tea House
Visitors to Jane’s Pantry will notice a shrouded indentation in the north wall — the entryway into 82 Main St., the neighboring commercial unit which is going to become The Pantry Mouse Tea House. It will be a tea room affiliate of Jane’s Pantry, whose enterprises will comprise two-thirds of the Eagle Block main floor.
An estimated two dozen-plus varieties of loose tea will be served, including Jane Oake’s flagship Kenyan back tea, winner of North American and European championships. Available for bulk purchase will be nearly as many boxed teas as currently sold at The Pantry
Tea house construction is nearing completion. There is new wainscoting throughout and a new wall separating kitchen from serving parlor, connected by a double hinge swinging door, perhaps recalling Jane Oaks’ family legacy in the bakery business.
Mouse-themed tea art will decorate the walls. The wallpaper — whose color components are all tea colors — will, Jane says, “create a lush, warm comforting atmosphere.” Walls will display product for sale as well as a collection of antique tea pots, and serving ware.
Tea will be served in an assortment of ceramic and glass cups and saucers. Customers will be able to choose from an eclectic collection of historic and contemporary ware. There will be a children’s table with the serving sets appropriately scaled for young people.
The tea room will serve green, white, oolong and black teas, representing degrees of fermentation. Pu-erh, a fermented tea compressed into a cake, will be available, as will naturally non-caffinated African Rooibos, Indian chi (usually supplemented with spices and milk); and Japanese matcha, a stemless powder which is consumed with the beverage.
Also served — hot or cold — will be creobrew, a brewed cacao bean which has been roasted and ground like coffee, but in fact is a very pure form of chocolate — minus the dairy and transfat components.
Pastries will be sold to compliment the tea, including Jane’s specialty scones, English butter tarts, imported Dutch almond fingers, and siroop wafers (cookies with caramel in between, meant to rest over a hot tea cup so that the caramel melts and permeates the wafer.)
Tea room hours will be from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. At other times, the room will be available for group and club gatherings.
Partners for Progress
The openings for Charred and Zeppo’s was celebrated July 26 with a ribbon cutting hosted by the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce tourism office.
Meanwhile, more business improvements are in the works for downtown Mount Morris.
Knowles will be expanding the seating area of Questa LaSagna into the neighboring building, formerly a real estate office. An archway entry will be opened between the two structures.
On the other (south) side of Questa LaSagna, at 59 Main Street, Rebecca and Derek Crocker, both gifted artists, recently opened a graphic design company, Southpaw Creative.
And on Chapel Street, around the corner from the Eagle block, a new antique shop will be opening in August, one of what are now nearly a dozen such businesses, anchoring one another and making Mount Morris a destination location, in which auxiliary, non-antiques shops benefit as well.
Tim Knowles and Jane Oakes are among the founders of Partners for Progress, a new Mount Morris organization of citizens and businessfolk working in cooperation towards the economic and cultural prosperity of their community.