Restauranteur K. C. Gulbro of Geneva has had, well, an eventful year, to say the least. The owner and chef of Geneva’s beloved FoxFire restaurant, Gulbro garnered considerable local and state media attention over the late summer and fall due to his lawsuit challenging Governor J.B. Pritzker’s COVID mitigation restrictions as they related to restaurants.
But now that’s largely behind him. What’s immediately ahead of him is his surprising new entrepreneurial adventure, Copper Fox.
Copper Fox, opening in early April, will be a combination “craft bar and event space” residing in the former Wildfire venue on Third Street in Geneva. The venture will include an upscale bar open to the public and two event spaces available for group outings, corporate events, weddings and similar gatherings. We caught up with Gulbro for a brief discussion of what the new venue – venues – hold in store.
So tell us about the new venue.
K. C. Gulbro:
So the two event spaces are geared towards anything from family gatherings and pharmaceutical dinners, to weddings and class reunions, family – big-time events. Future cooking classes, mystery dinners, a whole lot of fun stuff. Kind of giving our chefs and myself a little culinary playground to play with.
With the bar area itself, the bar at Wildwood was so popular – everybody seemed to love that – we decided to keep that as a bar, open to the public. We’re going with a craft kitchen and bar concept, where we’re doing some really nice mixology. You get your old fashioned, we’ve got some amazing wine on the wine list. We’re going to be doing some wines by the glass you don’t usually get, that are usually bottle only, such as Prisoner, Unshackled, a couple others that are usually $40 to $60 a bottle are going to be available for $15 to $25 dollars a glass.
For the kitchen, we got some international inspiration. It’s me and my sous chef, Nate Gallas. We came together with the menu that’s going to feature some international flair and some American comfort food. So it’s kind of like “supper club gets a passport.” We’re going to feature Beef Wellington on the weekends. We’re going to be doing some ramen. We’ve got a lot of different appetizers we’re going to bring in that have some international street food flair. It’s going to be kind of a cool concept.
We’re also featuring a lot of shareable dishes, trying to entice some of the local foot traffic that is walking around, going to Galena Wine Cellars, Geneva Winery across the street, to kind of get them to come in and share some small plates, some shareable appetizers, dips and charcuteries, and daily specials. We’re also in the works of possibly doing some food with both wineries, for their patios as well.
Right. So, in terms of the craft bar, is there going to be music do you think, or no?
K. C. Gulbro:
Right now we’re in the works of doing music out on the patio. We’re talking with the other members of Dobson Place to try to make Dobson Place an event in itself, where people will come down and enjoy sitting in the courtyard, seeing the other shops and stuff like that, while hearing some live music. So I think Galena Wine Cellars are going to be doing live music on Sundays, so we’re going to try to do live music out on our patio Friday and Saturday, if we can, if that works out, it’ll be outside only, while possibly in the fall going to one piece acts inside such as Dennis O’Brien or Mary Hunt or a couple of those solo acts that really bring in a good crowd. But that would be just Fridays only in the winter and fall.
With that small of a room, we’re going to play it by ear, but inside would probably be just Fridays.
In terms of the event space, what capacity?
K. C. Gulbro:
We have two rooms. We have The Grand Room, which in normal circumstances we can sit up to 200 in there. With the dance floor or social distancing, we will probably try to keep it under 150, just so we can space the tables out a little bit. With the other room, we’re calling that The Boardroom, that can actually fit up to 90 people in there pretty comfortably, but with social distancing we’ll probably try to keep it under 80 just to keep it comfortable for everybody. But both spaces been totally revamped. We put in state of the art audio/visual in The Boardroom. We have audio right now in The Grand Room. And then we’re actually going to be getting some rollaway telescoping TVs that we can bring in or bring out in case people want to use that for a larger presentation.
Right. So, I must admit, when I heard about it I was kind of surprised about the utilization of that space, in the sense that there are quite a few events spaces around. What sort of prompted that thinking and what’s the competitive advantage there?
K. C. Gulbro:
The competitive advantage? Well, we’re tied in with FoxFire. The thought of it was, there have been a lot of people trying to rent out FoxFire in the past, Fridays, Saturdays, different days, and with COVID, wanting total privacy. That’s something that we can’t do at FoxFire because we are a one-room restaurant in a sense. When Wildwood came up, the concept kind of intrigued Shodeen and it really was something that we thought it could be, with these times, reasonable for that space. In Geneva, we’re not going to be like the Herrington, Atwaters. I mean, those are your high-end banquets. I don’t think we can compete with them as far as price goes. With Riverside Receptions, that is kind of a larger event space. We kind of figured with Wildwood’s location, with the size and dynamics at Copper Fox, we can do more of a cozier atmosphere, but still give them a high-end feel and food quality that FoxFire provides in there.
We already have had a lot of bookings for the year and we’re excited about that. A lot of people are really excited about us coming in. I don’t think there’s an event space like it on 3rd Street itself. 3rd Street is such a unique area for the Tri-Cities and for Illinois. I mean, it’s a tourist destination. We’re not on the river, that’s for Riverside and Atwater’s, we are in the heart of downtown. We’re right next to the Metro station. We have ample parking. It will be a place where people from Chicago can take the train to, so we liked the location. We think that it’s going to be a seller for us.
Changing gears real quick, where’d you come up with the name? What’s the significance of copper? I mean, the Fox is obvious, the copper is not.
K. C. Gulbro:
Yeah, well, the Fox, that was Curt, my dad, we were judging names. We were going to go with like The 3rd Street Social. We were going to do something that kind of focused on socialization. Unfortunately, you’ve got Burger Local down the street, their other restaurant is a Burger Social, and then Preservation has the social in their name too. So we’re like, “Hmm, we better stay away from social.” We did Copper Fox because the bar at Copper Fox was told to us to be the largest copper bar outside of Chicago. And so we said, “Well, if it’s the largest copper bar, we’d better feature it as something with copper in it.”
All right. Makes sense. Getting back to the bar, how would you describe the ambiance?
K. C. Gulbro:
The ambiance for Copper Fox, it’s going to be your adult social gathering spot. Inside we have the beautiful copper bars. We actually replaced the clouds that Wildwood had up, they had the white cloud ceilings for the sound. We actually replaced the tiles with copper tiles. We replaced all the ceiling in the bathrooms with copper tiles, so it’s got that look to it of a place where you could go in, it’s relaxing. It’s not going to be your 20-something pub that it’s going to drown you out. You’re just going to relax, have a nice cocktail and some good food, it’s a gathering spot for after work or while shopping.
Probably on Saturdays we’ll be the “dad daycare” or the “man cave” for when the women are shopping at the different wineries. The men will come in and have a nice old-fashioned. But it’s also a place where a lot of women that we show the menu to are very excited about the shareability. And they’re like, “This is our food.” So it’s like, we’re trying to go for that niche, 30 to 50, that like to go out and enjoy themselves and relax and get some good food.
Pricing sort of commensurate with FoxFire?
K. C. Gulbro:
We’ll probably be a little bit lower than FoxFire. We are going to carry some entrees that will be comparative, but our per plate average will probably be in the high $20’s mid $30’s. I mean, we’re going to do Beef Wellington on the weekends, we have a nice schnitzel pork chop that we’re going to be doing, a few steaks and stuff like that that might be a little bit higher. But the main goal is to get the small plates, the entrees, the sandwiches out too.
It’s funny. We’ve had many people walk in, even when we’re working on the place, we had people walk in. People are excited that something’s coming in. We’ve had a lot of Wildwood customers asking what we’re doing, seeing what’s going on. So by not removing the bar, I hope that we can retain them as customers, because a lot of them are the bar regulars that just loved coming into that bar and that bar was so comfortable. We’re excited to have it.
And if, down the road, if we need to, we may well go back to having one of the bigger rooms as part of the restaurant. But we feel like with this niche, I think it’s going to be very cool.
We’re excited for the events. And like I said, down the road, we’re going to be doing some cooking classes and drink classes, bar classes, different dinner events. We’re going to try to develop a supper club, so once a month, we can sell tickets to people to come down, to try to tour different parts of the world, or try different foods in one of the bigger rooms too. So it should be fun.