Spike Gjerde and Corey Polyoka, the restaurateurs behind Foodshed, plan to sell Grand Cru wine bar and wine shop in Belvedere Square to a former employee.
Baltimore’s liquor board will hold a hearing tomorrow to consider an application to transfer Grand Cru’s seven-day liquor license to a group headed by Jayce Flickinger, who worked there for four and a half years. The sale is expected to be final by mid-November if the transfer is approved.
This is the second change in ownership for the wine bar and restaurant at 5911 York Road since its founder, Nelson Carey, died suddenly in 2014 and Gjerde and Polyoka’s Foodshed company took it over.
Flickinger, 31, said he wants to keep the name and return it to the type of neighborhood gathering spot it was when Carey owned it while taking advantage of the physical upgrades made by Gjerde and Polyoka.
“Grand Cru has been around for almost 15 years,” he said. “Next year is year 15. When Spike and Corey took over, they did everything that needed to be done in terms of upgrades.”
His vision, he said, “is to blend the two together and try to be that neighborhood spot again… I just want the surrounding neighborhoods to have another place to come and have a drink and conversation, a place to call their own.”
Flickinger said he was at Grand Cru from 2008 to 2012, and then went on to work for several Foodshed restaurants, including Parts and Labor and Shoofly.
He heard earlier this year that Grand Cru was for sale and expressed his interest. He said he and his wife of three years met while they were both working at Belvedere Square Market and have close ties to it.
“We love this place,” he said. “She worked at Atwater’s and I worked here…We live right up the street. It was a no-brainer.”
Since it opened in 2003, Grand Cru has been a popular meeting spot in North Baltimore for an eclectic mix of patrons, including lawyers, doctors, developers, educators, politicians, clergy, teachers, artists and the occasional Pulitzer Prize winner.
Its success was largely attributed to Carey, whose sudden death from a heart attack at 50 elicited a wave of tributes. Flickinger mostly managed the bar but said no one had a title under Carey. “Everyone did a little bit of everything.”
Gjerde and Polyoka are well known for their farm-to-table approach to dining, bringing in locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
When they took over Grand Cru, with John “JC” Unitas III at the bar, they changed the menu and stopped serving some items. Lemons and limes, used for drinks, were removed because they weren’t grown locally. Their approach appealed to some but turned off others. One former regular said he boycotted the Cru and started patronizing Ryan’s Daughter across the street.
Flickinger said he plans to relax the menu restrictions and reduce the emphasis on farm-to-table fare. He said he has the highest regard for Gjerde and Polyoka and learned a lot from them as an employee, but doesn’t want to be in a position of not serving what customers want.
“Grand Cru was a wine bar, but it was a neighborhood wine bar, and what made it that way is that you could come in and get whatever you wanted,” he said.
Now, “if you want a blue cheese-stuffed olive with your Bombay Sapphire martini, we have that. If you want a $10 bottle of white wine to go with dinner that you bought at Ceriello’s, we have that. If you want to geek out with a biodynamic natural wine, we can do that. “
Flickinger said he’s worked as a bartender and bar manager and is especially knowledgeable about beers. His last job was with a beer distributor. He’s spent the last three weeks working at Grand Cru as a manager, waiting for the liquor board hearing.
He said he wants to expand the beer selection to include more craft and Belgian beers, and bring back a large chalk menu board that was replaced with a mirror.
“We’re going back to the old menu,” he said. “Small things that pair well with drinks and conversation. Cheese boards. Charcuterie plates. Olive assortments. If you remember the old Grand Cru menu, we’re starting with that.”
At the same time, he said, he knows he can’t turn the clock back entirely.
“It will never be what it was because it used to be Nelson Carey, and Nelson isn’t here anymore.”
According to documents on file with the liquor board, Flickinger and other investors are buying the business, including the liquor license, for $550,000. The license holder will be Market Bar LLC, which includes him and George Marsh III, a city resident who won’t be part of day-to-day operations.
The current license holder is BSq Wine Co., LLC, headed by Jacqueline Beal, Polyoka’s wife. Belvedere Holdings is the landlord. Flickinger has negotiated a seven-year lease with a five-year option to renew. Foodshed will stay on for two weeks as a consultant.
Other local businesses in Foodshed’s portfolio include Woodberry Kitchen, Bird in Hand, Artifact Coffee, and Sandlot Baltimore. They’re also bringing a restaurant, A Rake’s Progress, to Washington, D. C.
Longtime Grand Cru patrons say they like what they’re hearing about Flickinger and his plans.
“Old customers who have come back are so happy,” said Lucy Sarris, a real estate agent. “Word has gotten around. This is like the Cheers of Belvedere Square and greater Homeland.”
“They’re going to take it back to the neighborhood bar that it used to be, where everybody knows everybody,” said Fran Stoner, a psychologist who lives in Homeland. “Jayce made this place so comfortable when he worked here,” she said. “He has a philosophy of making everybody comfortable. I think he really has a chance of making this come back.”
UPDATE: Baltimore’s liquor board approved the Grand Cru liquor license transfer request on Nov. 2 by a vote of 2 to 0, with one abstention.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the address of Grand Cru at Belvedere Square is 5911 York Road, rather than 5711 York Road.