What do you get when you combine a financial advisor, a local public relations and marketing expert and a service industry veteran with more than a decade of experience managing Savannah nightclubs?
If you’re the husband and wife team of Jason and Kara Ford and business partner Brad Sellers, you get OAK 36 Bar + Kitchen, midtown’s newest restaurant located in the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center.
Kara Ford said when the opportunity came up to lease the space in early March the three put their expertise together and jumped at the chance. Sellers had also been involved in the previous restaurant that occupied the spot, Pitchers Sports Bar & Grill.
“After a lot of back and forth, literally March 1 we decided to buy the business assets and then our idea was to create a new brand that appealed to a broader group and Brad would join us as our partner,” said Kara Ford, who has been in public relations and marketing for more than a decade.
Then about two weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We were super stressed out about the situation, but we went ahead and blacked out the windows and put pen to paper and started on our concept and hired Holmes + Salters Interiors to help us put together the vision for the interior and then we got to work on construction,” she said.
Since the pandemic was ongoing and people weren’t dining out, the project turned out to be bigger than originally planned and a larger investment, but in the end, it ended up being exactly what they wanted, Ford said.
The also brought Flourish Collaborative on board for their branding and Palm Rose Sign Co. hand painted a large Oak 36 mural to tie the space together. The interior of the space was demoed, rebuilt the bar and put in a faux brick wall.
Ford said the team wanted to create a spot where everyone felt welcome.
“We wanted an edgy vibe that was almost gender neutral. We wanted women to feel like this was a cool, sexy little place, but we wanted this guys not to feel like it was overly feminine, because we want the guys to come and watch games, so that was the balance we were trying to strike,” she said.
Menu & events
The team also hired Dusty Grove to oversee the menu creation for Oak 36 and effectively serve as their food visionary. Grove has previously led the kitchen at Pacci Italian Kitchen, Edgar’s Proof & Provision and currently serves as Campus Executive Chef for the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Savannah and Atlanta campuses.
On the menu you’ll find waffle fry borracho nachos, open-faced hot brown sandwich, a wide selection of flatbreads and salads, peanut butter burger and classics like chicken and waffles and steaks. Oak also offers a wide variety of craft cocktails, wine and draft beers.
“From the first draft I knew it was going to be amazing, because he put together some incredible ideas and I wanted to eat every single one of them,” Ford said.”
Evan Malone serves as Oak’s day-to-day head chef and worked with Grove to fine-tune the final menu and presentation of the dishes.
Beyond the food and drinks Oak is also one of the few places in mid-town to offer trivia, live music and karaoke. They also have nine televisions for sporting events.
“We’ll eventually do some late night stuff, if you want to go have a drink at midnight in midtown there’s not a lot of options, so we’re going to try to stay open late if it makes sense,” Kara Ford said.
Kara Ford said the team recognizes the stigma attached to the space that Oak now occupies. Before Pitchers the suite housed Leoci’s Mercato Italiano before that it was Sugo Rossa Italian Kitchen.
The spot has only been open since Aug. 16, but Kara Ford said they’ve already gotten a lot of good feedback.
“Honestly, what people have been most excited about is the location and that I think shows there is a need and I hope we can fill it,” she said.
While there are a lot of factors behind the scenes that can cause an establishment to close it’s doors, the team at Oak 36 has agreed that aside from providing good drinks, food and service that they want to stay consistent on affordable pricing and creating opportunities to socialize during the day and late-night.
“We understand and appreciate the fact that we are not downtown and are instead located in a midtown shopping center. This means that offerings need to be approachable and an easy choice/investment for our customers to make across a range of experiences,” Kara Ford said.
They hope the social opportunities will also help set them apart.
“We decided early on that we are committed to creating fun (socially safe) opportunities to gather at Oak including trivia night, karaoke, live music, ladies night, game days, and whatever else we can come up with to give the locals a midtown option to socialize,” she said.
Above all the team hopes they created an affordable and approachable place for everyone in midtown and beyond.
“Jason, Brad and myself just wanted to come up with a concept that was approachable, and when I say approachable, it has to be affordable for that location, broad in its offerings and ultimately a place we would be proud of and want to go,” Kara Ford said.
“And I hope we’ve accomplished that.”