The Station Bar & Venue co-owners working to rehabilitate Sports on Tap's image

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Mandy Braccini (left) and Skye Wagner are the new co-owners and managers of The Station Bar & Venue, formerly Sports on Tap. The reimaged tavern reopened April 30 at 4030 Main St. in Old Hilliard.

The former Sports on Tap has more than just a new name.

The tavern at 4030 Main St. in Old Hilliard has reopened with a new concept as The Station Bar & Venue, with its two new co-owners working to reimage it in terms of aesthetics, staff and even clientele.

“A 22-year reputation can be hard to outrun, but we have worked hard to make it completely different,” said Skye Wagner, 28, a London resident who with 33-year-old Mandy Braccini of Hilliard oversees the daily operations of The Station Bar & Venue while sharing financial responsibility with Steve Messinger, who owned Sports on Tap.

The women are veteran employees of Sports on Tap who became partners in ownership in April, according to Braccini.

Braccini began working at Sports on Tap eight years ago; Wagner worked there three years.

"We had been working toward financial interest for several years," Braccini said, but the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and other hurdles delayed it.

A profit-sharing agreement was reached in April, she said.

They helped reopen the tavern April 30 as The Station Bar & Venue after run-ins with Franklin County Public Health and the city of Hilliard in the first few months of the year.

The tavern closed as Sports on Tap shortly after an April 6 inspection by Franklin County Public Health, Braccini said.

It actually passed the April 6 inspection, but "there was so much misinformation (about) how the board of health shut us down,” Braccini said.

A report from Franklin County Public Health indicated violations in March that included a hand-washing sink without water at the proper temperature; the person in charge was unable to demonstrate proper knowledge of food safety; refrigerated food was not properly date-marked; food was not being held at the proper temperature; employees were observed touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands; date-marked foods were not properly discarded when required; and food was not properly protected from contamination by separation, packaging and segregation.

But those violations were found to be corrected April 6.

“We had an administrative hearing on March 18 and a follow-up inspection on April 6," Amanda Breedlove, a communications specialist with Franklin County Public Health, said April 12. "Sports on Tap was in compliance with what we ordered at the hearing. We did not shut them down. We realize that there may be posts on Facebook stating that we had shut them down for 90 days, but they are in compliance as far as we are concerned."

Social-media was telling a different story, however, Braccini said.

“They still come at us,” said Wagner, adding that much of the flak is from former customers who have been asked not to return to the establishment, which has been the location for many Hilliard Division of Police calls over the years, but especially so in the latter half of 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

According to police records, 71 calls for service to Sports on Tap were recorded in 2020, with all but 14 occurring June 1 or later.

It was enough for Hilliard City Council in February to ask for an administrative hearing before the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control to contest the renewal of its liquor license.

According to the city and the Ohio Department of Commerce, the liquor license issued for MCHC Management Inc. expires July 1.

Braccini said June 2 that the establishment has paid for a liquor license renewal.

However, David Ball, director or communications for Hilliard, and Michael Gravely, public-information officer for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said June 2 a hearing to renew the license had not yet been scheduled.

Meanwhile, in most instances, the few who have been asked not to return have gotten the hint, but the owners have on some occasions been required to take civil action and obtain no-trespassing orders to keep troublemakers away, Braccini said.

The same standard now applies to the staff there, too.

“We have set a higher standard for staffing,” Braccini said.

The effort began about two years ago, Wagner said, and although the process still was being assessed and tweaked, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and, like other bars and restaurants in the state, closed the tavern to in-person customers for several weeks in the late spring of 2020.

While the former Sports on Tap was closed last spring, about $65,000 in renovations were performed, including pulling up carpet and replacing it with hardwood floors, installing a drop ceiling, revamping the serving area and other improvements, Braccini said.

A pool table was removed and not replaced, Braccini said.

The new co-owners also have overseen changes to the operators of the kitchen inside the tavern.

In March 2020, Sports on Tap leased its kitchen to Buns & Brews and Good Kitchen 614.

Buns & Brews prepared food at the tavern, and Good Kitchen 614 performed catering, Braccini said.

Buns & Brews ceased service there when Sports on Tap closed after the April 6 inspection, Braccini said.

Though Braccini said the bar side of the business received minor violations, many of the recent and more serious infractions stemmed from the kitchen.

The new kitchen operator will be Ash & Em, which opened June 3, Braccini said.

A maker of hamburgers, fried pickles and garlic rosemary fries, the restaurant has a storefront at 541 S. High St. in Columbus, according to its Facebook page.

Owner Chris Shirey, 35, of New Albany said he opened the first Ash & Em, named after his two children, three years ago at a former bar called Three Sheets in Columbus' Brewery District.

When it closed, he said, he opened a pop-up kitchen at Classics Sports Bar, 541 S. High St., which remains in operation.

His second pop-up kitchen is at The Station Bar & Venue, where Shirey was serving his signature smash burgers and coneys June 3.

On the beverage side, although Bud Light still is available, The Station Bar & Venue is focused on Ohio-made beers, including Powell-based Nocterra Brewing Co., and it has partnered with Coffee Connections of Hilliard, 4004 Main St., to share its products.

The new co-owners also are seeking to rejoin the city's Designated Outdoor Refreshment for the 2021 season.

The city carved Sports on Tap out of its DORA for the 2021 season, which began June 1.

Braccini said the owners asked May 28 to be added back into the DORA.

“We wanted to give a little time to prove we are different and don’t have the same issues as before,” she said.

The city is taking more time before deciding whether to allow The Station Bar & Venue into the DORA, according to Ball.

"It's too early for us to say we will change our position for 2021," Ball said. "The owners have expressed that they are developing a different 'business model' for the establishment. We feel it is appropriate for the city to take a reasonable amount of time to determine whether those stated changes are reflected in actual operations.

"We are optimistic that will be the case, and we will revisit DORA inclusion in the future if that proves to be the case."

In addition, The Station Bar & Venue also has security on hand, at times, to address any problems with patrons rather than have police respond, Braccini said.

Future plans also call for the use of a remodeled, second-floor barroom, open only on weekends for live music, to be rented for private events, Braccini said.

Joe Pavone of New Albany, who was at the Station Bar & Venue with a co-worker after a recent job in Hilliard on June 1, said the beer selection is better since local brewers were added to the inventory.

“I like the new layout, too,” Pavone said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo