Neither rain, nor more rain, nor even more rain can slow the progress at MidCity Huntsville

While constant rain, some heavy enough to cause flooding, has been a seemingly daily companion to the Tennessee Valley community, the wet conditions haven’t slowed progress at MidCity Huntsville.

“We only had three good days in December,’’ said Nadia Niakossary, project coordinator for developer RCP Companies. “But we figured that into the time frame. We’re still on schedule.’’

The multi-use MidCity campus occupies the former Madison Square Mall property and surrounding area. Ground was broken in 2017, the first business on site opened in August and completion date is 2022.

Dave & Buster’s is nearing completion and scheduled to open this summer

Niakossary said work was proceeding on current projects despite weather delays.

“We are diligently working on the construction of the University Drive-facing retail blocks,’’ she said. “When visiting MidCity today, you’ll see five vertical buildings. Top Golf and The Camp with Alchemy Coffee are open for business.

“The Camp just reopened (in March) for springtime, with the food trucks and bar open Thursday through Sunday and the coffee shop open seven days a week. We have a diverse lineup of live music and unique events happening there every weekend.’’

High Point Climbing and Fitness is nearing completion in the center of the frontage and anticipates an opening this spring, Niakossary said. In front of High Point, REI Co-op’s foundation has been set and steel frames are going up.

The opening for REI Co-op, an outdoors store, will be the first for the company in Alabama.

Also, the Dave & Buster’s building is also nearing completion on the west side of MidCity, near Old Monrovia Road. Dave & Buster’s is on schedule to open this Summer.

Construction continues on the REI Co-op store, the first in Alabama

Meanwhile, Niakossary said Pies & Pints is under construction and the building that houses Wahlburgers and other commercial uses has site work complete in preparation for the foundation.

“We are in the design process for the $30 million Aloft Hotel, The Point and Jake’s Mews,’’ she said. “We are also in preliminary stages of the $75 million, 300-unit multi-family residential (complex) over the retail block in the center of the project. We’re also working on a $20 million mixed-use, office-over-retail building.’’

According to the MidCity website, when completed, the campus will include a total of 350,000 square feet of specialty retail, 150,000 of high-tech office space, a wide range of dining options, the 100-plis room hotel, and 560 amenity-rich residential units.

AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown Open for Business

The AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown, the first AC Hotels by Marriott in Alabama, is officially open to guests.

Adjacent to the Von Braun Center and across the street from Big Spring Park, the hotel includes six levels and 120 guest rooms, as well as co-working spaces, event space for up to 200 and multiple beverage and food experiences.

Combining elements of Huntsville’s historic past and contemporary European design to create a modern but comfortable look and feel, the hotel allows guests to co-work by day, and relax and socialize by night.

“We are delighted to introduce the AC Hotels brand to the Rocket City,” said Srinath Yedla, president and CEO of Yedla Management Co., which will manage the property. “AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown remains true to the brand’s philosophy and centers on a frictionless experience for on-the-go guests.”

Developed by Doradus Partners in partnership with RCP Cos., the hotel was the 10th U.S. location for AC Hotels, a global joint venture with Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalan.

The hotel’s three flexible meeting rooms are named after the city’s historic mills — Lincoln, Lowe and Merrimack. Combined, they make up The Gallery at Big Spring Park — an event space for up to 200 guests that overlooks the downtown park and is perfect for wedding receptions.

Attached to the event space is The Veranda — the hotel’s second-story terrace bar overlooking Big Spring Park. The Veranda is set to open this summer.

Atlanta chef and restaurateur Marc Taft was tapped to develop the hotel’s signature cocktail — “The Starry Night,” which is a nod to Huntsville’s integral role Huntsville in America’s space program as well as its burgeoning arts scene.

The AC Kitchen serves a European-inspired continental breakfast selection of flaky croissants, savory egg tarts and Nespresso coffee. A signature piece in all AC Hotels is the Berkel slicer, offering visitors hand-cut meats including prosciutto.

AC Hotel Huntsville Downtown is the first tenant for CityCentre at Big Spring, a $100 million, mixed-use development. City Centre includes 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 277 upscale apartment units and an artisanal food hall.

Popular Madison Lunch Spot Main Street Cafe Now Open for Dinner

MADISON — For those who don’t know, the City of Madison was once called Madison Station and it grew up around the Madison Train Depot. Sitting alongside the train tracks that still sees two trains per day, in the 1950s the building held the original City Hall and a two-cell jail.

Tony and Cindy Sensenberger renovated the depot building in 2000 and opened what has become one of Madison’s favorite lunch spots – the Main Street Café. They added a kitchen and outdoor dining area. The jail cells? Private dining rooms!

“From day one when I came here in September, some of the very first questions I got was ‘When are you guys going to open for dinner?’” said co-owner Tammy Hall. She and her husband John bought into the Main Street Café last October. “We finally got the logistics worked out and we are thankful for everyone who helped us take this journey.

Main Street Café is known for its lunch menu of salads, sandwiches, and quiche, as well as yummy chicken, pork, and fish entrees, and even an Italian flair. The new evening menu will reprise some of the lunch entrée favorites but will also feature steaks and fresh recipes for fish and pasta.

The café is also famous for its strawberry pretzel salad, which mixes layers of sweet and salty into a concoction suitable more for dessert than a salad.

“With the expansion of downtown Madison, the new Avenue Madison, the baseball team and all the people it will draw into downtown, the city wants a vibrant downtown nightlife,” said Hall. “Expanding our hours to include dinner is part of the agreement.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, Madison Mayor Paul Finley applauded the Main Street Café owners for their vision of downtown.

“Thank you for making the Main Street Café a place people can enjoy both day and night,” he said.

The new hours are 5-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations for parties of more than five people are accepted, too.

‘Tis Time for the Wearin’ o’ the Green and the Spendin’ of It …

If all you know about St. Patrick’s Day is shamrocks, leprechauns, and Lucky Charms breakfast cereal, you might be surprised to learn there is an economic message wrapped up in all that ádh mór coming your way March 17.

This year, the 42nd annual Ellen McAnelly Memorial St. Patrick’s Day Parade will draw 1,500 participants and more than 40,000 onlookers along the downtown Huntsville route, bringing a lot of “green” to merchants in its path!

May your pockets be heavy, and your heart be light, may good luck pursue you each morning and night – Irish Proverb

Luck is an integral part of life and prosperity in the Irish tradition but the phrase “Luck of the Irish” is an American expression and not an Irish one.

According to Edward T. O’Donnell, an author and professor of history at Holy Cross College, the phrase took hold during the California Gold Rush in the second half of the 19th century when many of the most successful and famous gold and silver miners were of Irish and American Irish descent.

There is little doubt that at least a little bit of luck has been involved in growing St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and Huntsville’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade into one of the city’s most popular holiday celebrations over the years.

Ellen McAnelly moved to Huntsville in 1977 from Galway, Ireland. Wanting to introduce authentic Irish tradition, culture, food, and hospitality to North Alabama, she opened Huntsville’s first Irish restaurant – Finnegan’s Pub – at 3310 South Memorial Parkway and the following year, she started what was known for many years as the Huntsville St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The short route followed a southerly path along the west side frontage road of Memorial Parkway, ending at Finnegan’s.

McAnelly died in 2009 and, shortly thereafter, the parade moved to downtown where it was renamed in her honor.

“The Huntsville community really lost a landmark when Finnegan’s closed in 2013,” said Anya Douglas, president of the Irish Society of North Alabama and the parade director. “A lot of people met their spouses there, accepted marriage proposals, and conceived children after a night of fun at Finnegan’s.

“The original patrons recall many special occasions and events occurring at the original Finnegan’s Pub.”

May the road rise up to meet you; may the wind be always at your back Irish Blessing

“That first year, there were 18 people in the parade and almost no audience,” said Sonnie Hereford, one of the first and only remaining parade coordinators from 1978. “There are only 17 people in the picture taken for the newspaper that day because one of the participants had skipped work and he was afraid if he showed up in a picture in the paper, he would get fired!

 “The funny thing about the history of the parade is that it grew in popularity and size almost exclusively because it had been mocked as the smallest St. Patrick’s Day Parade ever.”

The parade took another big hit just days before the 1997 event when then-Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer denied the group a permit because of a series of fender benders in 1996 allegedly caused by drivers on the Parkway gazing down on the parade marching along the frontage road.

At the last minute, they received an invitation to move the parade to downtown Madison where it had its largest participation and audience yet. For that one year, it was called the Madison County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day Anonymous Irish Saying

“The parade is community inclusive even if you are not Irish,” said Douglas. “It is free to participate and free to attend but it brings a tremendous amount of business to the downtown area including shopping, dining, and entertainment.”

The most anticipated parade event is the Blessing of the Flags at St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church on Jefferson Street. 

“When Father Bill (William M. Kelly, S.D.S.) performs the blessing ceremony over the Irish and American flags, it really has special meaning for the American Irish community and leaves everyone, Irish or not, with a ‘Wow’ feeling,” said Douglas.

Another popular attraction at the parade is the Father Trecy Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ float.

Father Jeremiah F. Trecy moved to Huntsville in 1860 because of health problems and established a parish here. The church was built of native stone from Monte Sano Mountain, but construction was halted during the Civil War while the Hibernians prepared hospital facilities and tended to the wounded on both sides of the conflict.

‘Tis better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money!Anonymous

Since it isn’t St. Patrick’s Day without some libation and food, many pubs and shops along the parade route will be offering St. Patrick’s Day specials.

The parade’s main sponsor Straight to Ale, Keegan’s Public House (who bought Finnegan’s and moved it downtown), and the Jefferson Street Pub are all opening at 6 a.m. serving an authentic Kegs & Eggs Irish Breakfast prior to the parade, which starts at 11:30. Green Bluff’s Brewery, Pints & Pixels, and The Marini Bar & Bistro will offer all-day live Irish music and $1 green beer along the parade route.

While you’re there, be sure and lift a glass in a famous Irish toast: Here’s to a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold pint and another one!

A Brand New Time in South Huntsville or, Rather, a New Brand

In the next couple of months, south Huntsville will enter a new era. In fact, a “brand’ new era.

South Huntsville business owners, community members and government officials are coming together to create a vibrant and thriving district.

Extending from, essentially, Martin Road south to the Tennessee River, South Huntsville Main Street will be a corridor reflecting a diverse lifestyle of work and play.

Just imagine, driving south on the parkway through the Martin Road “tunnel.” On the “ceiling” and the sides are row upon row of colored lights.

Talk about a grand entrance!

And as you exit the “tunnel,” laid out in front of you are banners on the light poles welcoming visitors.

There are local businesses along the road, each touting their wares and inviting customers inside.

The South Huntsville Business Association, with Executive Director Bekah Schmidt and President Jerry Cargile, has been the impetus to improving this part of the city.

A major step was being accepted into Main Street Alabama, a nonprofit organization that uses a national model with a 40-year track record of revitalizing downtowns and neighborhoods.

The process concentrates in four areas: organization, design, promotion and economic vitality. Each one is guided by Main Street’s transformation strategy to remain focused on a specific market-based outcome.

With a solid and active SHBA, the organization stage is answered. The design aspect concerns itself with aesthetics and function, such as the tunnel lights, improved landscaping and redesigned parking areas.

Promotion will incorporate some of the design aspects as well as sharing information and marketing the district. Economic vitality is key in that there must be room and desire for businesses to grow and prosper.

To help in the process, SHBA has launched a South Huntsville Community Survey. It is anonymous and the feedback will help provide direction for businesses to grow in South Huntsville. The findings will be shared with the public at a community meeting June 6. You can find the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/sohunt. For information, visit http://shba.biz/

Also at the meeting, the Main Street Alabama officials will revisit south Huntsville to launch a branding presentation, which includes a logo for the district and several variations of it; a marketing strategy; and other information to help south Huntsville soar to new heights.

(Bud McLaughlin is editor of the Huntsville Business Journal. He can be heard every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. with Fred Holland on WTKI-FM 105.3 and 1450 AM.)

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! Celebration Means Big Business

Any celebration that includes parades, costumes, beads, masks, King Cakes, and adult beverages can’t be all bad.

And, like just about every other holiday or celebration in the United States, it’s big business.

Mardi Gras, aka Fat Tuesday, has gone well beyond its Gulf Coast start and is spreading its bead-laden roots throughout the United States. 

The annual celebration seems to have grown exponentially over the past decade. Universal Studios Orlando touts its 2019 Mardi Gras as “Florida’s biggest party,” complete with specialty neon cocktails.

Tracing its origins from 17th and 18th century Europe and France, this traditional revelry of “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf, got its start in the United States at the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile, aka Mobile, Alabama, in 1703. 

But, by 1718, soon after New Orleans was founded, Mardi Gras, as we know it, took off.

The combination of southern coastal regions, cities situated along the Mississippi River, and the French ancestry of many of those working near these areas helped to expand Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras is the last night of Carnival season, which begins with the 12th night after Christmas. It’s also the night before Lent.

Depending on where it falls on the calendar, Mardi Gras can occur anywhere from early February to as late as Mid-March.

Celebrated mainly in areas with large Catholic populations, Carnival is the big “blowout” leading up to Lent.  

Huntsville’s local community and city visitors participate in the celebration Mardi Gras, which provides a little boost to the city’s economy.

King Cakes

Available only during Carnival, King Cake is typically made with braided brioche dough, laced with cinnamon. The dough is then glazed with icing and topped with purple, green, and gold sugar. From plain to fruit and cream cheese filling, King Cakes of all varieties are available for purchase at the local grocery stores, specialty bakeries, or ordered online from regional bakeries. What sets a King Cake apart from other kinds of cakes is the small plastic Baby Jesus inside. Tradition has it that whoever finds the baby in their slice is obliged to buy the next King Cake.

Beads

During the late 1800s, glass beads were tossed into the crowds by the parade Krewes, thus becoming an instant hit among the New Orleans revelers. Beads still are the most popular parade “throw” passed out in parades, only now, those beloved tossed beads are usually made of plastic.

Everyone Loves A Parade

Aside from the random smatterings of celebrations at many of the local bars, Huntsville’s present version of Mardi Gras didn’t fully get on the radar until 2014, the year of its first parade. The inaugural Mardi Gras parade and festivities drew about 500 costumed participants, with thousands more watching from the sidewalks.

As in New Orleans, Fat Tuesday in Huntsville will be quiet by comparison, but local eateries, such as Cajun Steamer and PoBoy Factory, and a few others will celebrate March 5.

Huntsville Among Best Cities to Start a Restaurant

We all know that restaurant openings have become almost a monthly occurrence here in the Rocket City.

Well, now we know why.

According to bidonequipment.com, a restaurant equipment supply business, Huntsville was ranked 23rd among the 150 most populous U. S. cities, just behind New Orleans (22nd) and ahead of such “food cities” as Memphis and Nashville. Its ranking is the highest in the state.

Opening a restaurant is a risky endeavor that includes many factors that play into the success of a restaurant – none more important than location.

The Washington, D.C., area dominates the top of the list with both D.C. and Arlington ranking No. 3 and No. 1, respectively. San Francisco, which is home to the most restaurants per capita, also falls within the top 5. Elsewhere, cities with growing restaurant scenes like Austin, Nashville, and Denver show why aspiring restaurant owners might not want to rule out second- and third-tier cities.

While there are many cities known for their cuisine that made are list, such as San Francisco, Miami, Charleston, and New Orleans, it’s interesting to see smaller cities such as Huntsville, Chattanooga, Fort Collins and Raleigh make the cut as well.  

Overall, when it comes to finding an ideal location to start a restaurant, it’s not all about sales. Factors like over-saturation, competition and disposable income are all metrics to keep in mind when researching a market.  

To determine the best cities to open a restaurant, bidonequipment.com compared 236 cities. From there, they considered annual restaurant sales per capita, competition and market saturation (restaurants per capita), workforce (the number of restaurant industry workers per capita) as well as median income in each city.

An overall weighted average was based on the following – sales: 50 points (annual restaurant sales per capita); competition: 25 points (number of restaurants per capita); workforce: 10 points (number of restaurant industry workers per capita); and income: 15 points (median income).

For the complete list, visit https://www.bid-on-equipment.com/blog/post/best-cities-to-start-a-restaurant

You Can Go Back to the Stone Age – for Korean Barbecue

Barbecue is synonymous with the South.

And a restaurant coming to Huntsville offers its barbecue from the South, as in South Korea.

The Stone Age Korean Steakhouse is slated to open late this fall in the Times Plaza development on South Memorial Parkway.

“Korean barbecue is a growing trend in many major cities that will fit well in the Huntsville market,” said Min Liu, main operator of Stone Age Korean Steakhouse. “Stone Age will serve a wide array of meats, ban-chan (pickled veggies), sauces and sides that guests can mix up with each visit. Everyone can prepare the food the way they like with the marinades and sauces they prefer.”

And, if you haven’t experienced this concept, Liu says not to worry.

“There will be plenty of people to assist patrons during their first visit and give them a proper introduction to Korean barbecue.”

Liu brought Oshi Poke Bowl & Sushi to The Avenue in downtown Huntsville and, last November, Liu and his team opened a similar eatery – Q Korean Steakhouse – in north Atlanta.

When asked why they chose Times Plaza for the new eatery, Liu said it had everything to do with introducing a unique concept to a growing area.

“I believe that Times Plaza will be a convenient option for our guests because they can take a quick exit on the parkway and drive directly to the plaza,” he said. “That area is introducing many attractive developments and its popularity and culinary diversity are growing rapidly.

“For us, Times Plaza offers an ideal scenario and we are so excited to bring another brand-new concept to this city.”

The restaurant’s interior features vibrant colors, red leather booths, LED lighting and Korean pop music videos playing on the televisions throughout the space. Liu said that Stone Age will be an “experience for all senses.”

On the menu are several types of beef, pork, chicken, and seafood including chadol-baegi (beef brisket), samgyupsah (pork belly), ribeye and filet mignon. There are many sauces available, like Yum Yum and Salted Sesame Oil, a large variety of ban-chan, fresh fruit and seasonal fare. There is also plenty of steamed rice, kimchi and ramen to go around.

In addition to its cuisine, Stone Age will have a full bar serving spirits, beer and wine.

“When we ask the people of Huntsville what they want to bring to the city, they usually suggest eclectic concepts that are popular in large markets,” said Anusha Davis, leasing agent at Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate. “Traditional Korean barbecue is something that offers a new spin on crowd favorites like steak, chicken and pork. There’s also the interactive element of preparing your food the way you like and customizing each dish.”

With the atmosphere inside the 5,000-square-foot restaurant and all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner options, Liu said that Stone Age will be an “experience for all senses.”

Good Economy Attracts Bad Daddy

Huntsville’s growth continues to draw companies from out-of-state, hoping to latch onto the good fortune here.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar is opening its first Alabama eatery in the Rocket City. The restaurant will be in Times Plaza, the work-retail-dining development on South Memorial Parkway.

“We chose Times Plaza as our first Alabama location because of the growth the city is experiencing and the location’s visibility from the adjacent (Memorial Parkway),” said Bad Daddy’s CEO Boyd Hoback. “The area includes major upscale retailers and offers synergy among businesses.

“Its heavy traffic will allow us to cater to lunchtime business crowds, family dinners, and be a great place to grab a drink after work.”

Bad Daddy’s is a scratch kitchen serving premium angus burgers and quintessential American fare. The 4,107-square-foot restaurant is slated to open in the fall.

“Simply put, Bad Daddy’s elevates the standard beer and burger to a whole new level,” said Amy Nedwell, director of marketing for Bad Daddy’s. “We are a high-intensity scratch kitchen serving chef-driven menu options made to customer specifications. Best of all, we have something for everyone because we go beyond beef.

“Our appetizers, salads and veggie burgers have won us much praise, and we make sure Bad Daddy’s has something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds.”

In an effort to be an inclusive destination, the eatery serves an expansive menu that includes much more than its award-winning, premium burgers and fries. Guests can also enjoy bison, tuna, turkey, chicken, and a vegetarian black bean burger.

“By far, our most popular menu item is the Create-Your-Own burger or salad option,” said Nedwell. “We have more than 60 options that patrons can pick and choose to create the perfect burger or salad, in addition to our signature selections on the menu. Actually, the team has calculated well over a million options with the different ingredients we have.”

Local beers will be available on tap at the Times Plaza location, as well as a signature cocktail menu. There’s even a selection of adult milkshakes and a Happy Hour menu that’s available daily. Kids are also welcome to treat themselves thanks to a children’s menu featuring sliders, hot dogs, grilled cheese, tenders and more.

“Bad Daddy’s is an iconic brand that already has a dedicated following in several states,” said Anusha Davis, Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate leasing agent. “They have been searching for a way to enter the Alabama market, and we are thrilled they chose Huntsville as their introduction.

“We have a community that readily embraces new concepts and our city’s growth is attracting more well-known brands to join developments like Times Plaza.”

Visit baddaddysburgerbar.com

Super Chix to Open Its First Alabama Store in Times Plaza

Why did the Super Chix cross the road?

Well, that may not be the right question but the Dallas-based chicken and frozen custard restaurant is coming to Huntsville.

Super Chix is slated to open this summer in Times Plaza, the retail-office-dining development on South Parkway, adjacent to Arby’s, Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate announced.

“Super Chix is a premium, fast-casual dining experience that is devoted to quality offerings and great customer service,” said Nick Ouimet, the restaurant’s founder and CEO. “This will be our first location outside of the Dallas market and we are very excited to partner with local restaurateurs Kumar Patel and Rajesh Patel to bring the concept to Huntsville.

“The Times Plaza location will serve our delicious never-frozen tenders and fillets, hand-breaded or grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, fresh hand-cut fries and daily-churned frozen custard to a whole new market that appreciates high-quality fare in a fun and lively environment.”

All menu items are made-to-order and feature gourmet toppings free from MSG and GMOs. The fresh, never-frozen chicken is marinated in-store, grilled or hand-breaded and cooked in peanut oil free from additives. Even the toppings come from whole vegetables that are delivered daily and sliced by hand.

“This isn’t fast-food chicken—there are only six ingredients in our breading on our lightly breaded, high-quality tenders and fillets, and we believe simple is best,” Ouimet said. “We have no drive-thrus and our interiors have a cool, modern vibe that’s perfect for a casual lunch or dinner.”

In addition to its first-rate chicken, Super Chix also specializes in frozen custard, which is served as hand-dipped in cones or cups, or in milkshakes and fusions (concretes). Chocolate and vanilla are churned each morning and are always on the menu, but Super Chix also offers a special flavor of the day.

“Times Plaza is the perfect location for the new-to-market Super Chix thanks to its easy accessibility and prominent visibility from the parkway,” said Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate leasing agent Anusha Davis. “Nearby professionals will have another great option for a fast-casual lunch with both healthy and indulgent options and dinner crowds will discover a new excellent eatery they can enjoy with family and friends.”