While other seven-year-olds were playing outside, Robby Lucas was busy in his father’s kitchen.
He grew up around the bustle of boiling pots, chopping knives, and steaming ovens of Tipper’s Seafood & Steak House in Put-in-Bay. The business of food runs through his veins.
Now Lucas, 35, is preparing to open Cole’s Public House in downtown Amherst.
We sat down with him at the former Cork’s and Stubby’s at the corner of South Main Street and Park Avenue, which closed without warning in early August. “I don’t want people to walk in and think Cork’s is just reopening,” Lucas said. “I want them to see what I’m offering, that I’m breathing new life into this place.”
Catering is already up and running. The goal is to open the new restaurant Oct. 17 and add a second section, the Cork Tree Tavern, in early January.
Behind the scenes, building owner Paul Bires has invested in a kitchen renovation, opening up the floor plan and installing new refrigeration units. Outside, he plans to expand a patio onto the sidewalk along South Main Street and even plans to remount the building’s original black-and-white awning, which he found in storage.
Lucas is developing his menu, which will include rustic Italian food.
Taught in the Old World tradition, the certified executive chef aims to transform every day food using classical techniques. His chicken wings, for example, will actually be pan-fry sous-vide thighs with some buffalo-style heat.
“When you bite into them, it’s going to be all the familiar flavors you know but with a technique you’ve never seen before,” Lucas said.
The idea behind his food is that the “upper crust” of society can afford to spend $700 to savor the meals of amazing chefs, and that’s an experience everyone should have. “Why can’t we do that but in a place where you can wear jeans, relax, and still get all the flavor?” he asked.
Plans for the restaurant include a raw bar stocked with shellfish, which is a rarity in this part of Ohio. Everything will be prepared with Lucas’ “clean food” philosophy in mind, which means minimally processed and pure. “When I get a carrot, I want it to taste like a carrot. When I get an oyster, I want it to taste like an oyster — not vacuum packed,” he said.
Lucas is no novice. After working 11 years in his family’s restaurant, he went to Bowling Green State University to study fine art but quickly took a job as a Toledo sous chef. Deciding there was no point fighting his heritage, he made cooking a career.
About six years ago, Lucas opened Bar 145, aiming to run a bar with top-end burgers. Now Bar 145 is getting ready to open its 11th location but Lucas has resigned from the business to open Cole’s Public House.
An Amherst resident, he said he wanted more time with his wife and two-year-old daughter. Lucas also wanted to get back to his fine dining roots as Bar 145 had become a chain — but leaving the business was like losing a child. He helped build it from a sketch on a napkin to a mult-million-dollar empire.
Driving to work the past three years, he passed the former Cork’s and Stubby’s location every day and dreamed of using his talents at his own restaurant in the location.
His dream is that Cole’s Public House is as comfortable and welcoming as a living room, a place diners can kick back and pop a bottle of wine together.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Chef Robby Lucas says the restaurant business is in his blood. The Put-in-Bay native is opening Cole’s Public House at the corner of South Main Street and Park Avenue in Amherst.