The Story Behind the "Community" Renovation
On December 4th, 2019 the Cornelia Downtown Development Authority (DDA) received a letter from Jay & Melissa Reeder, expressing a desire to purchase the Community Bank & Trust building the DDA had listed for sale in downtown Cornelia. That letter ultimately led to one of the most exhausting, and at the same time one of the most incredibly rewarding adventures of our lives. Nobody knew Covid was about to hit … and bring crazy price fluctuations, staffing challenges, and a world turned upside down.
The city had purchased the historic bank building after the FDIC seized the bank in 2010 (read: Time Magazine Article on Bank Foreclosure). Built in 1900 as Cornelia Bank, and after prospering for over 100 years at this location, the building had been mostly vacant for almost a decade. Due to water damage, most of the interior had been demolished years before our first visit.
Looking at the picture above, you can imagine that the very first time we walked through the building, the messages on the walls spoke to us (just kidding). Our goal was to amplify the beauty and history of the building. It wasn’t long before we could imagine the prohibition-era style of restoration that it has become today.
Friends thought we were crazy, but Jay had a vision and could see it completed, even before we started.
The vision started with a board of photos he assembled to explain the desired look and feel of the final venue. There were 34 photos with notes on each photo regarding the elements to incorporate and where they should go. These were given to the architect, and later to the interior designer (Amy Price @ Starling Studio) who would work with our team to bring this vision to life.
A few of the photos below were pulled from that design board. Almost a year after first touring the building and assembling the design board of photos, in Oct. 2020, Amy Price @ Starling Studio was recruited to head up interior design for us. Ironically, we later learned that she had worked on design for a venue pictured in one of the photos.
During Covid (2020) there were meetings every week to develop the architectural plans even as we started to demo what was left inside the building. Throughout construction, plans were changed as we continued to consider every detail to make sure nothing was overlooked. Walls were built and later moved or removed. Doorways, appliances, lights & electrical were installed, removed, and re-installed as the project unfolded. For example, after acquiring a 100+ year old bar for the upstairs bar, you can see Jays handwriting (lower left) on the building plans below where we had to rearrange the appliances (and electrical/plumbing) to accommodate the new backbar. This was during Covid, and very much a “design/build as you go” project.
Having removed the plaster, we exposed and restored 120 years of history in the murals, bricks, and wood rafters. While preserving and restoring the history of this building, we’ve acquired and restored 100 year old bars & wood doors that would be right at home in this space. The bank vaults have been converted to wine storage, with passages cut in the back of the vaults so that guests walk through the wine vaults to enter upper and lower dining rooms.
This building has bricks by the front door with the names of everyone who once worked here. If we replaced those names with all the people who contributed toward the renovation, there may not be enough bricks around the building. They would include local artisan contractors who hand-welded the metalwork on-site which gives it the look of something that has always been there, and brand new at the same time. Local craftsmen who drove across the country to transport historic 100+ year old bars that were stripped down and refinished on-site. Neighbors who jumped into action to help unload and move the giant hood system into the kitchen that arrived unannounced. And many, many more…
2nd pic below includes Earl (jeans & blue shirt), our illustrious Maître D, who at the time was helping us as GM at Fenders.
This is what life looked like in Community for almost 2 years before we opened. The first picture below shows a wall that was built … and later removed because we didn’t want to cover the bricks around the view from that window. The second picture shows how we had the framing crew modify that metal ceiling above the booths so that when you walk out from the vault you weren’t greeted by a square of ceiling jutting out in your face but instead there’s an invisible transition away from the left wall out to the edge of the framed booth ceiling. Third pic is the soundproof insulation that was installed in walls around kitchen/restrooms/board room to enhance guest experience.
Last pic is Brentt Cody of Blake Rainwater & Assoc and he’s our hero. During Covid he was the man that made things happen, and he cared about the project as much as we did.
Today it almost seems like this place has always been here. The years spent building it are like a dream and we only have these photos to remember those days and the amazing people that helped make this dream come true.
While building a world class space that feels like home, we built a world class team that feels like family. Their shared resume and pedigree spans some of the finest venues from Atlanta to North Georgia, like a dream team of restaurant professionals. They all have a singular focus to provide spectacular food, unmatched service, and unforgettable experiences. This is more than a restaurant, it’s an experience unlike any other in North Georgia.
Join us as we continue to use this space for the purpose it was built … to build community … and together let’s make unforgettable memories for years to come.