Before the food-truck craze hit central Ohio, there was Skyward Grille.
Already fixtures at the Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus State Community College and the Memorial Tournament, the owners of Skyward Grille & Catering plan to open a dine-in restaurant this year on Riverside Drive.
Owners Mike and Jennifer Ratliff said their food cart and catering operation started in 1987, making it the oldest and longest-running mobile-grill cart company in the region.
Now, the couple has purchased a building at 2185 Riverside Drive -- formerly Tri-Village Repair -- in Upper Arlington to serve as a home base for the food cart and catering business and to establish Skyward's first storefront restaurant.
"We've had a long-term goal to buy space where we can move our current operation and expand it to where we have a storefront," Jennifer Ratliff said. "We expect to have a 40-seat restaurant with outdoor seating as well."
Ratliff said the restaurant, which will neighbor El Vaquero and Bob Evans, will feature a "modern, fast-casual" concept similar to popular dining venues such as Chipotle and Piada.
Customers will be able to select from grilled, made-to-order sandwiches, salads and desserts, which will be prepared in front of them and served hot or cold, she said.
In addition to the restaurant, Ratliff said, the Upper Arlington business will house Skyward's management offices and serve as headquarters for its catering and food-cart operations, the latter of which will continue to transport six to seven food carts to OSU Medical Center and Columbus State on a daily basis.
Final menu development and store hours still are being worked out, but Ratliff said she expects the restaurant will operate at least six days a week.
Skyward still needs approval from the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning on issues related to site access, stormwater plans and signs. It could receive approval as soon as Jan. 22.
"I think it's exciting to have this corner developed," board member T.A. Ward said during the board's work session Jan. 7.
Ratliff said he company hopes to have its food cart and catering components in place in Upper Arlington this spring, and the restaurant is expected to be operational by summer.
Among the three facets of the business, she said, the company will employ about 15 people out of the 5,200-square-foot facility. Of that, about 1,000 square feet is being reserved for a third-party tenant.
Ratliff said the couple is seeking to attract a locally owned tenant -- be it a coffee shop, retail, dry cleaner or nail salon -- that would complement Skyward's business.
"We will be marketing for that soon," she said.
Upper Arlington Community and Economic Development Manager Bob Lamb said he was pleased to see Skyward's interest in Upper Arlington, particularly at the Riverside Drive location.
"The site they are currently looking at is vacant and therefore they will be returning a currently underutilized location to productive service," Lamb said. "The economic vitality of the city is always strengthened when new investment is directed into the city's commercial properties.
"They are purchasing a vacant commercial location and making an investment in the property," he added. "Their investment in the site will improve the visual appeal of the building and bring a new business/restaurant to the city. The redevelopment of this site also continues the trend of new investment taking place within the Riverside corridor."