Brian Gilfillan and Kristi Ebbott met at a friend’s house for dinners and soon found themselves cooking in the kitchen.
The couple developed a relationship that featured a food background and earlier this month opened up a new restaurant in downtown Ripon: The Public House Eatery & Spirits.
The pub, located at 119 Watson St., featured a slow opening, with a friends and family dinner Thursday, Oct. 1 and a smaller menu the first week it was open.
Gilfillan and Ebbott then kept addding to the menu, which included a pub burger, and opened up full speed last week.
“Opening up gradually over a couple of weeks has really helped us make sure that we have the right items on our base menu that people are going to be coming back for and make sure that we have good quality stuff,” Ebbott said, adding they wanted to have the delivery of the “menu nailed down pretty well so that we can deliver good quality because this is the first time either one of us has opened a restaurant and we want to make sure we were doing that right.”
The Public House is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 9 p.m. (kitchen hours vary on the day).
Gilfillan and Ebbott took part in a Q&A with the Ripon Commonwealth Press last week Friday to introduce themselves and their new business.
Q. Why did you decide to open a restuarant in downtown Ripon?
Gilfillan: “We just felt that Ripon has been rejuvenating so much, and so many great shops are coming in. And it just feels that Ripon needed that extra spot to go to where you can come in while you shop ... we’re going to open on Saturdays, Sundays ... just want to give them a little different feeling, variety; pub food, but elevated a little bit as you see on our menu.”
Ebott: “It’s been a passion of ours for a long time; it’s kind of been a dream. And we love the community. Obviously, we live here, we’re invested in it. And we certainly have patronized all the local establishments, so we just thought that we could do this, that Ripon could absorb another place that would be a little different in that there aren’t too many places to go out here, but we certainly have a good variety and the other restaurants are doing well and we see that people really enjoy having options in town.”
Q. What went into the name of the Public House Eatery & Spirits?
Gilfillan: “Public House is an old English term, where each neighborhood in old cities used to have their own public house. So a public house is a meeting place for the neighborhood, for the area, to come down and meet, talk with your friends, talk with your family, talk about issues of the area.”
Ebbott: “Historically, it was a place where you could grab a meal and get a mug of beer usually ... It was like 1700s when the term came around, we did a little research just to get a background of it. We liked the feel of that; we’d like the British pub kind of feel and we’d like the concept of incorporating that neighborhood bar feeling right in the name itself; welcoming the public in.”
Q. What has the feedback been like since opening up?
Gilfillan: “Great; very positive. We’ve had multiple people come back multiple times. A lot of people comment how nice and warm it is. They love our food; Kristi did an amazing job with the menu. A lot of the stuff on there is homemade and scratch-made and people do notice that; they’ve let us know that. People love the feel and it’s been a great feedback.”
Ebbott: “I’m really pleased that the times I’ve been around I see people that aren’t just our friends; they aren’t just people that we know. We see new faces in here and that’s been a really good sign. I like that new people are coming in that maybe don’t know us very well and our trying things out here.”
Gilfillan: “And we’ve had amazing support from all the other businesses and all the other restaurants. They’ve been amazing, everybody, everybody, every single one of them so it’s been really nice.”
Q. Tell me a little bit about your menu?
Ebbott: “We do some basic standards, but with a little different twist. So, for instance, we’re the only place in town with Guinness on tap and we’re kind of like a pub feel, so we really emphasize the Guinness and so I’ve incorporated that into some of our recipes, like we have a Guinness aioli. Of course, a lot of people have cheeseburgers, but our signature burger has Guinness aioli and some caramelized onions, so that’s just an example of where we just try to put a little different twist on things.”
Q. What has been popular so far?
Ebbott: “Our wings are really popular and we have really great staff, thankfully. Our line cook [Jacob Bowers] really developed a wing recipe and he’s responsible for those being so popular ... And our meatballs sold out the first week we offered them, so that was a good seller. The pub burger also has been really popular and the reuben sandwich has been great. But actually, surprisingly to me for a pub, the Beet & Goat sandwich sold really, really well the first week I introduced that, so people have been coming around for that. I think it’s a nice vegetarian option, too.”
Q. Was there a lot of work in transitioning this place from Baker’s Bar to the Public House? Just what went into getting this ready to open?
Gilfillan: “Our friends were unbelievable; many gallons of paint, cleaning, just getting it back down to the bones and then the biggest thing was we put up that wall to cover the kitchen again because the kitchen was exposed. Our main focus on the Public House was to make it back to the tavern because it’s been a tavern ever since 1872, so we wanted to bring back that feeling, we wanted to bring back the coziness, we wanted to bring back just being able to come in and sit for a couple of hours, have a couple pints, have a good dinner, watch a great game. We built this bench so people can sit up and watch more games and be more active. People are really enjoying this bench.
Ebbott: “Yeah, we had friends build the bench, do a lot of the like the wainscoting on the wall. It really was like a labor of love; all of our friends got together and they all have different talents and so we really relied on our good friendships.”
Q. How challenging was it to open a pub during a pandemic?
Gilfillan: “Yeah, that was daunting. We reallly wanted this spot. We’ve had our eye on this spot for many, many years. I mean, look at that bar, it’s gorgeous; it’s got the full kitchen. So when it did come up during the pandemic, we just said we have to go for it. And we talked to the landlord [John Diedrich] and he really helped us and worked with us to let us renovate while on uncertain terms ... And he stepped up, too. He’s been amazing. He’s really been a help. And so it’s nerve-wracking, but we had to do it; we have to take our shot.”
Ebbott: “We knew it wasn’t an ideal time to open any new business really, but for us, life timing-wise, I mean, it was kind of like it was now or never. Who knows if someone else would have come into the space and stayed too long for us to really start ... In a few years, it may have been too late for us to start a new business in terms of our lives so we thought we might as well give it a shot. Obviously, we have new obstacles with the pandemic but, I guess, I felt like we know what this looks like so far and we know what people have done to adapt in the restaurant industry and so we can learn from those lessons and what other people have done and start out with those lessons in mind and hopefully sell a lot of carry-out meals and make it comfortable for people inside, too.”
Gilfillan: “If you want to do curbside, we’ll do curbside, if you want to takeout, we absolutely understand. We want everyone to just feel comfortable as much as they can.”
Q. What do you hope to accomplish with this pub? What do you hope this place can be?
Gilfillan: “A meeting place where everyone says ‘Meet you at the pub.’ Just everyone come down and Saturday afternoon let’s walk around, look at the shops, have a Guinness and a burger and talk and have other friends meet up.”
Ebbott: “I hopes it becomes a favorite in the rotation of the community members, where you have a couple of restaurants that you go to on a regular basis, and I hope that we’re one of them.”