Matt's Big Hassle

Three years ago, Mayor-elect Phil Gordon promised to make it easier for small businesses to renovate old buildings. But the problems faced by one indie restaurateur show that, if anything, it's harder than ever

Pool points out small details. An old wall hutch next to the bar was cleverly converted into an opening to the cooler. A new frame around a widened ADA-standard doorway was custom-made to match the original, ornamental notches and all. Pool wants to hang a chalkboard with a rotating wine list in each of the five rooms, and outside, he'll eventually have a beer garden. That's a separate permit, though — something he doesn't even want to think about right now.

He walks out the back door and down the concrete ramp to the parking lot, where the building two doors down, at the corner of Third Street and McKinley, is plainly visible over a wall. Two nights earlier, a fire turned the unoccupied place into a sad, sunken shell. Pool suspects it was caused by transients, who'd been building fires out back for months.

"The flames looked like they were 40 feet high," says Pool. "I was freaking out."

Matt Pool
Tony Blei
Matt Pool
In order to stay in business, Fate's chef-owner Johnny Chu had to partner with his landlord to cover the six-figure cost of renovations.
Laura Segall
In order to stay in business, Fate's chef-owner Johnny Chu had to partner with his landlord to cover the six-figure cost of renovations.

Pool shakes his head in disbelief, then turns to see a man walking down the driveway. It's one of his alcohol distributors stopping by with a new wine list and a "beer library," a thick, detailed booklet of brands and brews. Pool can't wait to sit down with it.

"Once we're open and we have people out front drinking beer," he says, "it'll feel like we've been here forever."

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