OSU vs. Michigan, Browns vs. Steelers, this versus that ...

OSU vs. Michigan. Browns vs. Steelers.

"The concept of versus is all over the place," said restaurateur Mike Neff, who, with his fiancée Judy Juniper, opened VS Sports Bar and Grill in Johnstown March 15.

The Utica couple wanted to do something for the local community, Neff said, and after some research decided that West Coshocton Street provided the perfect location for a new restaurant because of traffic volume.

Deciding on the type of restaurant was easy.

"We wanted to have a place we thought we'd enjoy," he said. They wanted a place with great food and a vibrant, fun atmosphere where people could watch sports, just spend time with friends, or both.

Neff said the Johnstown community is home to many youth programs and sports organizations that may have had to travel to New Albany if they wanted somewhere to go after a game or if they needed a place to meet socially. Now, he said, they have a new place.

Judging by a busy opening weekend that included March Madness basketball tournaments, the word is spreading quickly.

"We went a little over budget with the place, but we're starting to make it back already," Neff said.

Neff is no stranger to the restaurant business. When he was growing up, his parents ran Nephew's restaurant in Columbus. Although Nephew's shut down in the mid 1980s, Neff worked with his parents enough to know he enjoyed the business.

"It's not the experience; it's hard work and being willing to give people what they want," he said. Neff said that while VS sells beer and "bar food and big burgers," it is a family-friendly restaurant environment and he hopes people don't just view it as a bar.

VS is not a franchise, Neff said.

"We came up with the whole concept. It's just us," he said.

Neff said it would have bothered him if a franchise sports bar moved into the Johnstown area when he'd far rather see something unique.

"Me and my fiancée just built the place and made it look good," he said, adding that he was both "general contractor and subcontractor" for the project.

"It was complicated to build," Neff said. "It took 98 days to build the whole thing out."

That effort inspired the "BBUFU" that appears on the menu. It stands for "built by us for you."

And it's not finished yet. Neff said he and Juniper plan to build an outdoor patio for the restaurant soon.

But the real key to a successful restaurant is excellent food, and Neff believes VS has that covered. He said when it comes to VS, there's the matter of Neff vs. Juniper as cooks. They both love to cook, and they compete to see who can impress their friends with the tastiest dish.

Neff said he and Juniper often travel to places like Memphis to discover new recipes and cooking styles and incorporate them into their culinary creations.

Now that the major construction is complete, Neff said he is enjoying operating the restaurant and working alongside his fiancée.

"Now it's a whole lot easier," he said. "Now it's just (us) every day. It's a real good time for us."