Building to become condos, barbecue restaurant

Published 10:01 am Thursday, August 4, 2016

H.H. Biedenharn once walked out the front door of his 1870s home and down the hill to his candy company on Washington Street, where they first bottled Coca-Cola in the 1890s, each day.

Today, the owner of his house, and two other buildings on the property, said he has found several Coca-Cola bottles buried under years of dirt and grime while renovating the property — bottles straight from the bottler’s family.

Dale Jennings has begun renovation work on the Biedenharn home, the building to the left of it and the building behind, all located at the corner of  Grove and Walnut streets, after purchasing the properties in hopes of turning them into condos and a barbecue restaurant.

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“There’s kind of some lost history here, and it’s really pretty cool. I want people to come off of the riverboats as a cohesive (unit). Any one of (the properties) would have created an eyesore so you had to control it to get rid of the eyesore.”

Jennings said he took his queue from the National Park Service on what to do after purchasing his historic structure.

“The park service prescribes four treatments for a historical building: preservation, restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said. “What I’m doing is rehabilitation. You want to bring out the character and features of the original architecture, but you also want to repurpose it for commercial use.”

Biedenharn’s former home, which is in the center of two other buildings and shares walls on each side with them, will be turned into a two bedroom condo that Jennings said he plans to keep for himself.

The 1890s building to the left of Biedenharn’s home will become The Mississippi Barbecue Co., which will feature a restaurant, bar, event area and commercial kitchen. The building to the right of his former home is owned by another rehabber, Jennings said, but the three will share a color scheme and look seamless. The other building on the property, which is behind the adjacent three, will become two multi-bedroom condos.

The buildings were in rough shape, Jennings said, when he purchased them. One had cracked down the middle and the one furthest left, which now has a brick facade unlike Biedenharn’s plaster-facade building, was almost unsalvageable.

“You would not measure the life expectancy of this building in years but months. It was ready to come down,” Jennings said.

He said he and his team of about 10, though most are working on another project now, have battled decay, excavating a courtyard, thousands of fleas and permitting and balancing issues during the renovations. Leveling the floor in the back building required using jacks to lift the house 10 inches in order to place laminate beams in the basement to stabilize the building, though some leveling still needs to be done in places, he added.

Jennings, who used to work in the nuclear industry, said the project combines two of his passions.

“I always wanted to start a restaurant,” he said. “That was going to be my little retirement. I never thought about it on this huge great scale like this, but my other passion —really my first passion — is restoring.”

This project combines the two in a way that allows him to place a bar in the middle of a former home but use wooden beams from cleared walls as flooring or casing for the new windows, he said.

“All the floors, doors and windows are from wood we saved from the house, and all the metals are also being recycled,” he said.

This is his fun job, he said.

“I just want it to be fun. It’s my retirement,” Jennings said. “I don’t actually want to work it. I just want the city to have it. I have people lined up to work it. I just don’t want this building to go to waste. I love this building.”

Jennings said the barbeque joint, in addition to good food, will feature a courtyard where workers can walk right up to a barn-style kitchen door to order lunch and possibly have live music next to the meat smokers. He estimated next May as the target date for the renovations to be complete in the restaurant.

“May (as the target date) is to have the restaurant in service for the summer months, July 4 and the (Miss Mississippi) pageant,” he said. “It’ll give us a month or so to work out our kinks.”