Having successfully launched pizza franchise Via 313 in Austin, brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt are trying their hand at something new: opening a bar in the old Longbranch Inn space, which closed in September after more than 80 years on East 11th Street.
In April or May of next year, the Hunts — along with Craig Primozich of Javelina and another as-yet-unnamed business partner — will debut Nickel City as a neighborhood bar with a heavy whiskey selection and an accompanying food trailer called Delray Cafe at 1133 E. 11th St.
Like Via 313, the food selection at Delray Cafe will be Detroit-style. Delray Cafe, Brandon Hunt said, was named after an old eatery in the brothers’ hometown that is no longer there.
The Hunts have been wanting to open a bar in town and jumped at the chance to take over the Longbranch Inn. They want to make clear, however, that they don’t want to completely destroy the spirit of the longtime institution. Their intent, instead, is to “spruce up” what’s already there, including the antique bar top that originally belonged to the 130-year-old Driskill Hotel but was relocated to the Longbranch Inn.
“I think when people hear that a place they have fond memories of is gone, they get bummed out, especially with the way things are going in Austin,” Brandon Hunt said. “So what’s important to us is that we want to respect the Longbranch and the history there and do it right, but we want to bring it up to date as well. I’m pretty sure that bar hasn’t been touched since it was built.”
One of the new additions to the bar will be draft beer, he said. It’ll also have “great cocktails without the pretentiousness and higher price points,” he said. “Nickel City is going to be the kind of place where you get a handshake when you walk in and a handshake when you walk out, with an old school bar feel to it.”
Nickel City was named after Buffalo, New York, where the unnamed partner — not yet ready to announce involvement in the venture — is from. The food truck, on the other hand, pays homage to food that the Hunts grew up with, such as Detroit-style Coney dogs, cheese fries and sliders. But no pizza: Via 313’s four locations will continue to be the only sites for the Hunts’ thick square pies.
Delray Cafe gives them a chance to branch out, Hunt said.
“Definitely Coney dogs and sliders are the focus, but by calling it a cafe, we aren’t limiting it to what we’ll offer,” he said. “We’ll have a fish fry on Fridays, that kind of thing. We still want to represent Detroit with our food.”
The Hunt brothers first opened a Via 313 trailer in late 2011, and the pizzas proved so popular that they now have another food trailer and two brick-and-mortar locations. But the itch to own a bar was never quite satisfied. That’s why they had been searching awhile for an old watering hole, like the Longbranch, to make new again.
“My background is managing bars in Detroit, and it’s every guy’s dream, right, to own a bar, a place they can call their own?” Hunt said.