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Michael Felts, right, explains his plans for White River Brewing Co. in an interview with SBJ Editorial Vice President Eric Olson.
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
Michael Felts, right, explains his plans for White River Brewing Co. in an interview with SBJ Editorial Vice President Eric Olson.

White River owner plans satellite location on south side

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White River Brewing Co. is looking at the south side for a satellite location, its owner said this morning.

Michael Felts, who spoke live for Springfield Business Journal's 12 People You Need to Know interview series, said the new White River location would be campground themed and include a restaurant.

The concept originally was targeted for buildings Felts purchased across the street from White River on Commercial Street, but the plans shifted.

"We figured we'd expand our exposure and move it to the south side of town instead," he said.

Felts said he's considering two sites for the White River expansion plans. One site he disclosed as the southwest corner of Lone Pine Avenue and Battlefield Road, which is considered to be the gateway to the Galloway Village neighborhood.

Felts said he's in negotiations for the site, and the current owners are motivated by his plans to bring a dining and entertainment concept to the site that housed Half-A-Hill dance hall in the 1940s and '50s. Greene County assessor records show the site currently is owned by the Carson family.

The White River satellite location is designed "like you're going to the campground for the afternoon," Felts said. Food would be served in aluminum foil packages, customers would have the ability to grill burgers, coolers of beer would be served and live music would be provided, he said.

Felts purchased White River in March. It became available in 2019 after the death of founder John “Buz” Hosfield.

During the interview this morning, Felts also discussed plans for a live music venue under his Bourbon & Beale restaurant brand. He said he’s in talks to house the venture at The Ridge at Ward Branch on South Campbell Avenue, near where he recently moved his Hot Cluckers concept.

Felts, who also owns Taco Habitat, spoke during the interview about the restaurant industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He concurred with workforce findings in the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 midyear report, which found three in four operators say recruitment and retention is their top challenge.

An example is Hot Cluckers, which took over the former Famous Dave’s space on South Campbell Avenue. He said the plan originally was for the restaurant to be the second – his first opened on East Sunshine Street in 2018 – but staffing issues changed the plans. The south-side Hot Cluckers is now the sole restaurant for the concept, he said, noting the Sunshine Street space will be used as a test kitchen for his various ventures.

The pandemic, he said, also has changed restaurant customers’ habits, possibly for good. He said, now, around 50% of his restaurant revenue comes from carry-out, drive-thru and delivery orders.

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