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The co-owner of The Rockford will open a new concept in two downtown locations next year.
When you go to The Rockford—whether it’s your first time or your hundredth—you’re treated like an old friend. The only difference from just hanging out at a friend’s house is that The Rockford has to charge you before you leave, jokes co-owner Tony Coulter.
Coulter says The Rockford’s welcoming environment is his way of relating back to Raleigh’s “old-school hospitality,” a trait he first came to appreciate in 1994 when he moved to the city and The Rockford first opened. Coulter recalls spending a great deal of time at the Glenwood South restaurant, standing around the legendary copper bar, smoking cigarettes and laughing with everyone in the room, people from all backgrounds—a businessman dressed in a fine suit, a bartender just getting off work, a group of friends casually enjoying drinks and good company.
“Coming to The Rockford played a major role in defining what Raleigh meant to me and how happy it made me feel,” Coulter recalls. “Everyone felt welcomed and we all felt part of something special…and that is Raleigh. As the current owners, we are stewards charged with the responsibility of preserving that legacy so that it carries on for future generations.”
Coulter, his husband Bill, Woody Johnson and Brad Miller bought The Rockford in January of this year and have taken care to maintain the sincere hospitality and customer service that Coulter has always appreciated. It’s these same values that Coulter plans to instill in two new concepts he’ll open up early next year. One, currently dubbed Gravity—though Coulter is still championing the name Gibby’s—is opening in the former Apero space in City Market. The other is a street level space in The Devon Four25 Apartments building on Boylan Avenue. Within each of the spaces, Coulter says he hopes to embody and adapt to the surrounding neighborhood.
For the City Market location, that means knocking down the wall between the adjoining abandoned retail space in order to create a 2,000 square-foot museum-like concept that will display local art in a gallery-esque environment. Hardwood floors, sophisticated Old-World charm, upgrades to the bar stools and fresh paint will embody City Market’s signature style while delivering a renewed, contemporary feel.
Coulter sees Gravity City Market as being especially lunch-driven, given the downtown employees and families who frequent the area for work and play. The lunch menu will consist of gourmet panini sandwiches by culinary director Kevin Ruiz, who is also the executive chef at The Rockford. In the evening, a revolving selection of charcuterie and cheese will be available, along with more than 300 wines from around the world at a range of price points.
Additionally, the space will feature a local artist onsite every day who will be live painting, sculpting or drawing while guests enjoy their meals. “It’ll be entertaining if you’re enjoying dinner and having a glass of wine while watching [someone’s work] come to life,” Coulter says. “We’re caught in this COVID rut and, once we get out of that, we want to be a place where people can go and have fun.”
Coulter’s Gravity Devon location will offer the same food and drink menu as City Market, but will be more modern and contemporary in its design to fit in with the style of the apartment complex and the demographic that occupies it. Coulter is working with Andy Lawrence, a local architect with experience in design in Raleigh’s restaurant and hospitality scene, to create his vision for the space. It will also include fun charcuterie board tables, where, instead of serving meats and cheeses on a board, staff will pull paper across the entire table and serve charcuterie directly on top, with skewers for parties of people to share.
Although opening not one but two restaurants during a pandemic seems like a daunting task, Coulter says it’s actually been advantageous for him, given the changing market. He says that the coronavirus pandemic has created opportunities within the hospitality industry that have allowed for better leasing terms and buying power that will help grow his businesses and allow him to continue investing in the community. “We want to contribute to the continued growth of our fine City of Oaks,” Coulter says.
And, of course, the same warm and friendly neighborhood watering hole-type feel that characterizes The Rockford will permeate both of Coulter’s Gravity locations, welcoming all new patrons with open arms. “We want everybody [who dines with us] to feel comfortable. Everybody fits in and everybody goes together,” says Coulter. “It’s about that sincerity—that’s the only word that best describes it.”
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