Mike Mills sat at a booth at ChopBLOCK Food & Spirits, filling out last-minute paperwork and texting schedules to employees of the new restaurant coming to 110 Main St. SW in Gainesville.
ChopBLOCK, which has been under construction for about nine months, is set to open May 1, and Mills said it came together just as he had envisioned.
“This is about what I designed,” said Mills, general manager at the restaurant. “Everything is dark on purpose, so the TVs and things would pop out, the memorabilia would stand out. There's a whole reason for the colors and lighting and things like that. We just wanted a cool place to come to and that was it, really.”
Robert Knapp, a longtime friend of Mills and Kevin Shaffer, a former Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle, approached Mills about bringing a sports bar to the square. Mills, a self-described “sports nut,” jumped at the idea and the three made it come to life. As investors in the business, both Knapp and Shaffer own the restaurant.
“We’re hoping really to be an event destination to Gainesville,” Mills said. “We wanted to generate something exciting sports-wise on the square and we just felt like this was missing.”
Now that the sports bar is finally complete after months of renovation, it can begin filling that gap and start serving some of its stadium-inspired food.
“I’ve always had this idea of doing a sports bar and tying it into stadium food,” Mills said. “I grew up a Navy brat, so we moved every two years. I grew up on stadium food and it was kind of fun.”
Mills grew up a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He remembers the fish tacos he’d get at baseball games. They’re not on the menu yet, but will be soon.
“We have something from New Orleans to Chicago, New York to the Bay Area and San Francisco to Tampa Bay,” Mills said.
One of the most popular dishes at ChopBLOCK’s soft opening Saturday, April 27, was the Arizona pizza box nachos.
It’s exactly what it sounds like.
A 12-inch pizza box comes filled with chips and is topped with chopped steak and chicken, queso, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, chiles, olives, jalapenos, diced tomatoes and scallions.
But one of Mills’ new favorite foods that the restaurant serves are fried ribs.
“Fried ribs are unbelievable,” Mills said. “It’s a two-day process. You cook them one day, chill them … then you slice them, lightly flour them and then deep fry them and put a little sauce on them and they are unbelievable.”
He said they’re trying to stay as true to the original recipes as possible, but some places don’t give up their recipes. They’ve had to do as much taste-testing and research as they could to get it right.
ChopBLOCK will be serving a dish called Hot Mess, which are basic nachos, except the chips are replaced with tater tots. Guests will also get to try burgers seared with hot sauce or topped with shaved pastrami brisket. ChopBLOCK will also serve hot dogs.
The Main Street space has been completely transformed from the retail store it was before. There are high-top tables on either side of the doors. Walking further into the restaurant, booths line one side of the wall and the bar takes over the opposite side. At the back of the restaurant is more seating, which is a little more open with tables and chairs.
TVs and sports memorabilia cover the walls.
The bottom floor of the restaurant seats 88 people. The upstairs will open in the coming months and will have a large event room and a 30-seat conference room.
The stairs that were installed leading to that space caused some problems, which is the reason the restaurant’s opening date kept getting pushed back.
“When we went to go put the stairs up front, the ceiling was going to collapse,” Mills said. “So we had to redo the whole support system.”
Every bit of ChopBLOCK was designed and brought together meticulously. The seats of each booth were made from boat-quality material. The remotes for each TV are organized and labeled in a closet behind the bar. The bathrooms are top-notch, with large, almost silent fans running at all times. The lighting is set just right, so the TVs are easily seen and memorabilia on the walls stand out.
It looks as if nine months of construction has paid off.
“We wanted everything to be first class,” Mills said. “We didn’t want to be like the neighborhood pub. We wanted to be a destination where people want to come.”
ChopBLOCK Food & Spirits
Where: 110 Main St. SW, Gainesville
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
More info: www.facebook.com/chopblockgainesville