News

New restaurant brings Southern cuisine to Des Moines

By:  Susan Stapleton

Marketing pro Chris Diebel is ready to jump into the hospitality industry in a whole new way. The managing director of LPCA Public Strategies plans to take his three-day pop-up restaurant from 2013 and turn it into a full-fledged restaurant.

His Southern concept Bubba — Southern Comforts opens in the former Raccoon River Brewing Co. space inside the Clemens Building at 200 10th St. in late spring.

The 5,300-square-foot restaurant takes over the same two-floor footprint Raccoon River once occupied from 1997 until it closed in March.

Diners won’t recognize the former space once it’s finished. The 120-seat restaurant plans to feature a huge lounge area with 40 seats split among upholstered furniture such as wing-back tufted arm chairs and high-top stools on the first floor, the centerpiece for conversation. The clubby feel of the room will remind guests of a smoking lounge with its selection of bourbons and ryes behind the bar.

Diebel will have his own table in the front corner window near the entrance where he can hold court with a painting of his great grandmother in her debutante gown overlooking the room.

A private dining room in the former brewing room rounds out the space downstairs.

Diebel says he’s moving the old staircase that leads to the mezzanine and anchoring the space with two massive five-foot by four-foot chandeliers in front of the windows. Partial walls buffer the upholstered banquettes from each other. A painting of his great grandfather, a rancher from Texas, oversees the upstairs. Throughout look for a bow-tie motif to class the place up.

On the side, between the Clemens Building and the Hotel Fort Des Moines that houses Django, Diebel plans to have a patio (please call it a porch).

Diebel, who was once employee No. 2 for Orchestrate Hospitality and moved up to director of marketing during his tenure there, teams up with his best friend Kolby Jones on the project. Retired retail exec Lana Jones Gould joins the duo to “develop a private investment group for the restaurant.” Orchestrate manages it.

Fans will remember that Diebel held a three-night pop-up dinner at Hoyt Sherman Place with the Bubba — Southern Comforts name in 2013. There, he embraced his Southern roots to serve up shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles, staples of Southern cuisine. While that initial dinner, prepared with chef Scott Stroud of Orchestrate, was truly a test drive for the concept, Orchestrate decided to wait on unleashing the restaurant on the public since Malo was just about to open around the corner and Zombie Burger rose from the dead in the East Village.

Now Diebel can expand on his Southern roots with dishes such as fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs, a meatloaf sandwich, muffalattas, Cajun po boys, gumbo, chicken fried steak and a Texas T-bone, all celebrating dishes from Dallas, Nashville, New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah. Those staples of Southern dessert such as peach cobbler and pecan pie tempt at the end of a meal.

Diebel says he brines his chicken in buttermilk, hot sauce, garlic, rosemary and salt, then adds some hot sauce to the egg wash to give it an extra kick. George Formaro — the chef behind Centro, Django, South Union Bread Café, Gateway Market and more — says he came up with the perfect biscuit recipe. Future trips through restaurants in the South as well as the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky will generate more dishes and cocktails and the cocktail menu.

Hammers start swinging in the space later this month, and by February, Diebel hopes to have a chef on board to serve lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends.

As for the name, Diebel grew up in southeast Texas, where his family dubbed him Bubba, a Southern term of endearment for the firstborn son, since day one.

Raccoon River was once part of Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Co., headed up by current Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and helped spark renewed interest in the Western Gateway part of downtown Des Moines. Orchestrate took over management of the brewery in 2001.

Above Bubba, Blackbird Investments plans a $12.5 million renovation of the six-story building that will include 44 apartments.