I’m coming at you with the food news bases loaded this week!
A celebrated local chef and his investment partner have teamed up to purchase a franchise of The Pitch Sports Bar & Grill. The second location of that popular Dunbar restaurant is expected to open before the end of the year in Kanawha City.
Former Bridge Road Bistro chef John Wright and local Baskin-Robbins co-owner Jim McDaniel bought and gutted the old Su-Tei building that most recently housed Kobe Asian Fusion, and are completely remodeling it to have much of the same look-and-feel as the original restaurant at Shawnee Athletic Complex.
The second location will be called The Pitch of KC and will offer many of the same menu and craft beer options, too, with a few new twists.
What remains the same?
“We’ll be mimicking the food and décor as closely as possible,” Wright said, adding that he’ll be working closely with The Pitch’s owners and chef-owner Paul Smith to open its first franchise location.
From a design perspective, the same company that built out the Dunbar restaurant is designing the new Kanawha City location, which will feature a lot of the same wood and stone work, plus similar flooring and local sports memorabilia decorating the walls.
Like the original spot in Dunbar, this second location will also partner with Stumptown Ales in Canaan Valley to offer a large lineup of those Davis-brewed beers here.
“You know how Su-Tei had two separate bar areas, one for drinks and one for sushi,” Wright explained. “We’ll keep two bars as well, with one of them featuring all of the Stumptown taps and the other having the rest.”
And although they won’t have the same drink-chilling “frost rail” that the original location is known for, Smith said each Pitch franchise moving forward (ooh, the foreshadowing!) will have its own different “schtick” to stand out.
For Kanawha City, that will be unique “bottoms up” draft beer taps that fill glasses from the bottom up. (Seriously, the beer pumps through the bottom of special glasses to fill them up, stopping on their own once the glass is full.)
In addition to being something cool to watch, there’s also much less beer waste over time because you’re not constantly pouring foam off the top to fill up a glass.
One big difference in the two restaurants, however, is that the Kanawha City location will be open for both lunch and dinner seven days a week.
“With so many businesses in that area, plus the DMV, DEP and the hospital down the road, we think we can pull in a really decent lunch crowd,” McDaniel said. “It’s one of the busiest roads in the city and you’ve got the interstate right there, plus we pretty much have unlimited parking with the big shopping center mall lot right next to us.”
To draw in those midday crowds, Wright will complement the original Pitch menu with a selection of new mini-pizzas, salads and wraps designed for quicker lunches and convenient to-go options.
And that dank smell that dogged the previous two restaurants in this building?
“It’s totally gone,” McDaniel said. “When we gutted the place, we found what was causing that smell and took care of it. We also put in a new AC, took out that old koi pond and moved the grease traps from inside to outside of the building. You’re really going to notice a big difference the minute you walk in.”
They’ll also be adding a large outdoor dining area on the MacCorkle Avenue side of the building, but McDaniel said “it will be surrounded by about a 6-foot privacy sense so you’re not staring at the Lowe’s parking lot while you’re enjoying your food.”
Both he, Wright and Smith feel the Kanawha City location will — to borrow another sports metaphor — be a slam dunk as the home of a new, higher-end sports bar.
“We actually bought the building before we knew exactly what we were going to do with it,” McDaniel said. “It’s just a perfect location and Kanawha City really needs something like this — a local restaurant that also serves so many local craft beers. There are enough chains there already.”
Once they had the space, he and Wright looked into several local and national franchise options before approaching The Pitch.
“The timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” Smith said. “Early during COVID my partners and I were already having conversations about how thoughtfully we had created a restaurant and menu that really supported local farmers and producers, while also creating a nice, fun, quality experience for guests. We knew we wanted to see it grow and had already put a franchise packet together.”
Sure enough, he said, Wright and McDaniel approached them soon after, asking if they would ever consider selling a franchise to the right owners.
“As a matter of fact …” Paul recalled saying, with a laugh. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Seriously, we are absolutely elated to welcome John and Jim into The Pitch family,” Smith said. “They both have a strong reputation, so it was flattering that they wanted to be a part of what we are doing. We think this is a great first step to expand The Pitch brand and hope it’s one of many to come.”
For now, though, everyone is focusing on making this second location as successful as the first one.
“We’re in really good hands with John and Jim,” Paul said.
Before leading the kitchen at Bridge Road Bistro in Charleston during the years after original owner Robert Wong’s death, Wright was a classically trained chef who worked with heavy-hitting chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller in kitchens all over. McDaniel is a successful local businessman who is also a co-owner of the Baskin-Robbins franchise in Kanawha City.
Wright will run the kitchen and front of house, with McDaniel handling the books and business side of things.
They’re both excited to open the new restaurant, but Wright — who recently “retired” from being a full-time chef — is especially grateful for the opportunity.
“I never got tired of the business, never got tired of cooking, but I was tired of being on the line every day,” he said. “I just turned 55 and the restaurant business is hard on you. I’m already down 75 pounds just living and eating on a more normal schedule these days.”
He really did plan to retire, though, swear.
“I did, but this is such a great next step. It’s made me excited to get back in the business and I can’t wait to open our doors.”