Grape & Grain is under new management, and the new owners say their vision will build upon the accomplishments of previous owner Bill Frank.
The sale of the business and building closed Friday, Dec. 6, with Urban Leegacy LLC taking over the reins of the popular drinking and entertainment establishment at 18031 Dixie Highway. The establishment will be renamed Culture.
The company is a partnership between two Chicago-based businesses, Urban Ideas LLC and Leegacy LLC, and is led by partners Michael Towns, Joan Sullivan, Sherree Lee and Robert Lee.
The partners said they plan a quick transition that will include very little disruption for current Grape & Grain patrons.
The business is closed this week for remodeling. Sullivan said the initial changes will be mainly cosmetic, with new paint and carpeting in the bar area.
Past that, there will be relatively few changes to the current Grape & Grain fare in the short term, with live music continuing Thursday through Saturday nights and the same drink options. Even the name, Grape & Grain, will continue to be displayed on the front of the building, possibly for several months.
There will even be continuity behind the bar, with familiar Grape & Grain staff remaining with the new company.
The plan is to reopen Dec. 19 with hours of 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Happy hour will be 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
The biggest change will be the addition of food. Grape & Grain will become a restaurant as well as an entertainment venue.
Sherree Lee said during an interview with the Chronicle on Saturday that they hope to have the kitchen installation done in early spring. In the meantime, food will be prepared in a commercial kitchen and catered in.
“We call it a taste of Culture,” Sullivan said, a preview of what’s to come soon. She described the offerings as “American comfort food.”
The taste will become the full meal when the kitchen is finished. That’s when the grand opening will occur and the full menu can be offered, she said.
“When it’s finally Culture (displayed) on the building, it will be the full Culture experience,” Lee said.
Executive Chef Robert Lee will oversee the restaurant operation. The preliminary menu submitted to the village as part of the Culture business plan included a range of breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner items, from steak and eggs to shrimp and grits. There will be meats, pasta dishes, seafood and vegetarian options.
When the four partners presented their ideas to the Homewood Board of Trustees on Sept. 24, they provided a buffet sampling of the food they plan to offer.
Lee said at the time that he comes from a family of cooks and has had a passion for cooking all his life. He said he will be paying close attention to patron preferences.
“You can’t cook the same for everybody. You have to find out what people like,” he said.
Sullivan said that’s the core concept for the business: to provide an experience for patrons with food and entertainment to draw people together in a welcoming atmosphere.
Grape & Grain has hosted live music since Ron Kalaf opened the establishment in Homewood in 2012, but Bill Frank and his family took it to a new level when they bought it late in 2017. The Frank family added comedy shows for about a year, and then started a series of monthly supper club events that featured catered food and big band music.
Frank, drawing on his decades of experience promoting music for Homewood Days and other local events, also took the music to a new level, bringing together local talent and Chicago bands, providing a mix of rock, blues, R&B, soul, jazz and country music.
He said he was especially pleased with the songwriters open mic, “originals night,” he called it, that Grape & Grain hosted on the first Thursdays of the month.
Frank said the comedy worked for a while, but the supper clubs were a bigger success.
The Culture team expects to offer both and will add more variety, including game nights, karaoke and other entertainment opportunities.
The diverse musical foundation was one thing that drew the Culture partners to the business. The partners have been involved in the Chicago music scene for some time. Towns said he and Sullivan had worked together in various roles for about three decades.
Their business, Urban Ideas, includes several record labels and has offices in the Music Garage, a music studio in downtown Chicago.
“We love all genres of music,” Sherree Lee said. “We’re keeping that diversity, making sure the bands and the types of music that are loved by Grape & Grain fans are still here, but we’ll be adding different genres and entertainment, too.”
Diversity and the community’s energy were also draws for the Culture partners, according to Towns.
“We thought Homewood would be an ideal community because of the demographics, the passion for arts and entertainment and the fact that this community is so dynamic in terms of the events and activities it already has on its calendar,” he said when introducing the concept to the village board.
Culture will aim to appeal to the diversity in the community with inclusive food and entertainment offerings that will satisfy a range of ages and preferences, Sullivan said.
“It’s a gathering place,” Towns said. “We believe that is how you build and sustain communities, by bringing people together to share not only great food but great life stories.”
For his part, Frank said he was ready to give up Grape & Grain mainly because he is juggling multiple businesses — Travel Brokers, TB Eggert Insurance and property management among them — and he believes the establishment will flourish even more with owners who can focus more attention on it.
“We brought it to life again. We gave a live music venue to Homewood,” he said. “People liked it and appreciate it. They hope to see it continue.”
He said he likes the direction the Culture team is headed.
“The new owners are nice people, and they have great intentions to keep that live music going,” he said.