1930s Auto Shop Now Covington's Newest Dining Attraction
Paul Weckman and Emily Wolf have had their hands full even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their popular restaurant businesses.
The couple's four properties are in various stages of their lives, with their original Otto's serving as a longtime destination in Mainstrasse Village, just a block away from their newer Frida, known for its tacos and Mezcal cocktails. On the other side of the neighborhood, an old bar that was once raided by federal agents investigating a drug operation, was transformed by the pair into Larry's, a hip new lounge that pays homage to its seedier past.
Larry's had just opened when the pandemic shut down everything.
The Standard, Wolf and Weckman's latest project, was still in the renovation phase, a long process of turning a 1930s auto shop into their newest dining destination.
The building had been empty for five years following the closure of Dick's Standard Service, which former owner Butch Ostendorff shuttered in 2015 after 84 years of his family's operating it at Fifth and Main streets.
Ostendorff, who is now in his mid-eighties, attended a special preview of the newly reimagined space on Monday and was at a loss for words, but said that he was happy to see what had been done to it.
Gone are the dirt and grime associated with car repair, but the essence of a garage remains - lots of concrete, metal, and homage to its storied past. It also features lots of vibrant colors, a pool table, attractive outdoor seating, and an outside bar housed in a storage container - perfect for service in the age of social distancing.
"I think the big takeaway is going to be the design," said Wolf. "It's an experience with the space and understanding that just because something looks a certain way, it can achieve this new approach, and that's pretty exciting for people, especially people who live in a neighborhood of historic building."
Nestled nearly underneath a nearby train bridge, the Standard features what Wolf called "a moving art show", as graffiti-dotted cars zip past on the rail.
The Standard opened for business officially on Wednesday with a menu yanked from an ideal American summer: there's a burger, watermelon salad, and steak served on flatbread, along with onion rings, fries, and slaw. The cocktail options also whisper of the season (garden stand lemonade, mango cart margarita) and the neighborhood (the Main Street mule, the Standard mojito).
Weckman and Wolf, after months of uncertainty felt by all of us, are eager to serve at the Standard, despite the challenges of making sure their other locations survived and restarted.
"We expected to be opening this by itself after having plenty of time to do it the right way, knowing what we learned from the other restaurant openings, and then to have this curveball thrown at us where we had to open three restaurants in three weeks before this one was the biggest challenge," Weckman said. "Then, the new protocols and steps of service, and stress of keeping our customers and staff safe, have been the other major challenge."
"There is no playbook for this," he said. "The biggest and brightest leaders in this industry largely have no clue how to handle this. We are all navigating as best we can."
Despite it all, another local building was saved by their entrepreneurial and community-focused minds.
"We're a sucker for crumbling corner locations," Wolf said. "This one called out to us. It's been integral to the neighborhood since the 1930s, so to continue that Covington storytelling, it's been quite an honor. It's probably been the funnest building I've ever designed."
Weckman called it an outdoor living room that they are anxious to share with everyone - and if everyone becomes close to "too many" during the social distancing period, the garage doors open, creating even more of an outdoor feel - inside.
"We're going to have a lot of fun here," Weckman said.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photos by Connor Wall, associate editor