Robert Guercio and partner Carey “Cue” McCue (the self-described Ambassador of Quan and artist behind the Green Room’s neo-pop artwork) spitball bratwurst puns, humoring their future as owners of the oncoming pop-up restaurant The Wurst Biergarten and the sustainable market park that surrounds it.
Beginning with a soft open featuring “The Wurst Costume Contest Ever” over Halloween weekend, Guercio and McCue (along with business partners Keith Stokes, Isadore Gravouia and Lilian Gravouia) will gradually roll out an ambitious community enterprise that will turn a vacant lot once slated to house a high-rise condo into a bustling sustainable commerce park with an authentic but family-friendly German beer garden and an ad hoc pop-up business incubator.
At the heart of all this is the beer garden, the palate onto which Guercio and McCue paint ideas in a flurry of color and optimism — our interview is dizzying with off-the-record concepts for the as-yet undeveloped lot. That’s a lot to throw on an empty space with expectations of full-time operations by mid -November, but that’s the pop-up business game — get in and get up quick.
“It’s going to be the happiest place Downtown,” Guercio says.
The vehicle in all of this is a salvaged shipping container that will serve as the beer garden’s indoor facility. As a blank and portable structure, the metal box practically eliminates the need for construction at the front end of the project. It’s a trend that’s caught on internationally and is slowly dotting American cities. In Europe, it’s not uncommon to see shipping containers stacked to the sky with modifications like glass facades, windows cut out of the sides, interior stair cases and stark industrial color swatches.
The Wurst’s conex container will be decked out with reclaimed wood and shuttered by French windows. At 40 feet by 8 feet, the footprint will be small and the operation ready to relocate should the property ever sell. That makes it a low-risk, high-reward endeavor for a venture with a wide business and community umbrella.
“A pop up means we’re up and running fast, and if the community endorses it we’ll stay here permanently. I’m confident it will work because beer gardens draw from a wide geographic area,” Guercio says.
McCue will manage and operate the "front of container," directing and cultivating The Wurst’s German authenticity. McCue moved to Lafayette in 2003 following an 11-year stint in Europe operating bars, night clubs and casinos in Germany and Italy. His experiences in Germany conjured up the dream of a Lafayette-located beer garden complete with German draughts from one of the oldest breweries in the world, unctuous brats, crispy pomme frites (like French fries but more European) and strudel cakes served in a verdant courtyard blooming with hop plants. Despite McCue’s commitment to producing a "real diehl" biergarten, he notes that menu will expand over time to accommodate some local flavor.
Beyond the pretzels and the polka (plans for lederhosen oompah music are not confirmed but nonetheless feared by your correspondent), Guercio and his partners aim to make the operation a linchpin of the Downtown nonprofit, art and artisans scene. They will provide the space at little to no cost to nonprofit partners looking for a medium-sized venue for fundraisers and special events, and offer catering out of a full-service kitchen to be developed in the near future.
On site, the space will provide stalls and plots for local vendors and other “mini pop-ups” to test-market new business concepts in an environment of shared vision for community development. To that end, Guercio and McCue are actively seeking ideas from entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of cheap nifty market space. Maybe my dream of a Downtown pizza by the slice stand can come true.
Fundamentally, Guercio wants to deliver a multi-faceted creative space that will help introduce new concepts, services and works of art to the Downtown scene. Given its location near the parking garage, it’s easy to see what an asset the garden could be to the fall ArtWalk scene or during Festival International. Come summer each year, however, the beer garden portion will shutter, with the outdoor market remaining open year-round. Guercio plans to beautify the vicinity by informally adopting the adjacent Parc Lafayette for additional gardening and upkeep.
Of course, the immediate challenge to a venture that slings brew is Downtown’s moratorium on new bar licenses. The Wurst will operate on restaurant and catering licenses. That means Guercio et al will have to keep the sale of brats and catered foods north of 50 percent of their gross sales. Guercio doesn’t seem concerned with the prospect of tussling with the local ATC folks. He's confident that the aggregated ventures on site and The Wurst’s family-oriented atmosphere will keep them out of the city’s regulatory boiler with a healthy level of food sales. That’s a lot of mustard.
Should even half of Guercio and McCue’s plans come to fruition The Wurst could be a genuine boon to Downtown’s social, service and arts scene. Guercio’s long operated Downtown businesses like The Green Room and the once heralded 307 Jazz & Blues Club that have been central to the social scene.
But while the public focal point will likely be the beer garden itself, Guercio sees the project as a revelation of his passion for sustainable business development.
“I felt the best way to spread the word and create demand for sustainability was to start a business exemplifying the very type of qualities I plan to provide in the future,” Guercio says.
I’m surprised he didn’t say it was the “wurst” way.