Appearances can be deceiving at the Brick District Playhouse. Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of events at Fulton’s historic theatre and the closing of its tenant’s restaurant, the Playhouse Bistro, the building has been anything but quiet. “Since we were fortunate enough to complete our most recent fundraising efforts, we had funds available to keep working,” said Playhouse Construction Coordinator Phil Glenn. “We took advantage of this time to continue construction projects in the mezzanine and the balcony.”
Board President Tom Riley added, “We used most of the spring and summer to restore the balcony.” Although bathrooms and concession area are still planned, the mezzanine is complete, and the balcony is nearly ready to open. “We have effectively doubled our capacity, which will allow us to host both private and ticketed events since we can accommodate a crowd even with respect to COVID and social distancing.”
The more obvious change in the Playhouse is a completely new look to the restaurant area in the front. The board has invested in new equipment including a vent hood that will allow a broader menu to be offered.
COVID caused Shawna Bruns Soptick to close the Playhouse Bistro and she decided she would not reopen due to the demands on her time as the sole owner. “We could not be more grateful for everything Shawna did to help this effort,” said Riley. “We did not have the resources to be fundraising and restoring the theatre while also trying to manage a restaurant. Now that the initial renovation is finished, we can turn our attention to operations, and that means running the restaurant, renting the facility, and hosting events all as one integrated operation.”
With the support of The Callaway Bank, the Board created the Playhouse Café and formed a steering committee led by Chair, Jamie Riley. Jamie’s prior design experience and presentation talents have been great for staging the café interior. She leads the committee meetings and actively tracks progress towards its goal of opening this Fall. Originally from Fulton, committee member, Mandi LaRue, brings a wealth of knowledge to the team from her home in Las Vegas where she is employed by MGM Resorts International. She has been instrumental in providing guidance for all stages of the reopening including marketing materials and strategy as well as tracking operational requirements. Stephen Merriott, a fellow WWU alum, is overseeing the implementation of online ordering and curbside pickup, security, computers and basically with all things technical. Also, originally from Fulton, Tana Real Williams shares her broad knowledge of Human Resources management, with her love for good food and helping to organize events. Tana just recently returned to Fulton after living in Houston, TX the past 30 years where she worked in HR and as a Catering Events Coordinator part-time.
The Board hired Allan Hubbard, a culinary school graduate, with over two decades of experience working at restaurants from the east coast (New York) to the west coast (California) in positions ranging from Executive Chef, Caterer, to Events-planner. Garry Vaught, who is volunteering as a consultant for the Playhouse Café and is the owner of Beks, stated “It was the perfect fit. Allan is ready to get back to managing and to start a restaurant at the Playhouse. It’s a win-win.” Hubbard has most recently been working at Beks this past year.
Hubbard jumped right in with the planning and building a menu. “With the upgrades to the kitchen, we can now serve breakfast and lunch, and cater events with a full range of options. We will offer fresh baked goods and plan to use locally-sourced produce and meats.” Hubbard added, “There are many farmers and ranchers in the area that offer great products and we want to support them. I am excited that we can feature this type of homemade, fresh food.” In addition to specialty coffee and tea drinks, they will offer freshly roasted beans and a variety of their own blends of tea.
The Playhouse Café will be open for breakfast and lunch Monday thru Friday with a variety of fresh breads and pastries, sandwiches, seasonal soups, and fresh salads. On Saturdays, the Café will host brunch featuring eggs benedict, stuffed French toast, and house made corn beef hash. “Our focus will be on as much homemade and fresh food as possible from a couple of muffins each morning, to sandwiches; and homemade cookies in the afternoon,” Hubbard said.
All proceeds from the Café will go to support the charitable, nonprofit Playhouse, which offers a Children’s Theater through a partnership with TRYPS (Theater Reaching Young People and Schools) under the direction of Artistic Director Jill Womack. “Although the sixth production of the Children’s Theatre is temporarily on hold due to COVID,” states Board Vice President, Debbie LaRue, “we are offering a variety of fun and educational online classes through TRYPS.
“One of our goals at the Brick District Playhouse is to provide entertainment to our community thru the performing arts,” said Board member and Callaway County Tourism Executive Director Renee Graham. “A community theater is currently being organized which will also draw visitors from outside the county to the Brick District and to Fulton in general.”
The Brick District Playhouse Board is continuing their commitment to the community and to their many donors. They have moved from fundraising and renovations to truly supporting the local economy in the Brick District. “The integrated operations and the Café’s ability to serve great food and a variety of premium coffees and teas throughout the week, while offering rentals and events, is the best way to grow,” said Tom Riley. “Eventually, the pandemic will pass, and we will begin hosting plays, concerts, and other events, many of which will be free to the public. Now that we have moved past the initial fundraising, the Café is key to our next phase.”