Six years ago, when business partners Ben Bailey and Chris Collin opened Local Republic in a converted gas station on West Crogan Street in downtown Lawrenceville, they envisioned an alternative to the fast-food and big-box chains that dotted the suburban landscape around them.
With chef Scott Smith, they developed a concept that featured imaginative pub grub with craft beer, including several popular burgers, such as The Sink, which the menu notes, “starts with a sunny side egg and then whatever the kitchen wants to throw on.”
Earlier this year, Bailey and Collin moved Local Republic around the square to a new location on North Perry Street, where they renovated a two-story, 5,000-square-foot historic building that’s nearly four times the size of the original.
Along with more space and seating, the build-out by Atlanta architecture and design firm ai3 includes multiple dining areas, two bars, including a cocktail bar on the second floor, a balcony overlooking the street, and a new kitchen with lots of new equipment for Smith.
What all that means in practical terms is an expanding food and drink menu, with new items debuting this week, and the capacity to host private parties and events such as beer dinners.
One afternoon last week, Bailey and Smith sat down at Local Republic to talk about all the changes.
“We literally started this because we knew enough people who were driving to Decatur or downtown to eat this kind of food,” Bailey said. “And that really became our plan for doing something here. The original concept was more about having an elevated bar experience with craft beer and low production wine.
“Fast-forward five years later, finding out who we were and what we wanted to be, really honing our niche as a from-scratch kitchen, and embracing local farms, we started to plan to increase our size and capacity but still be an intimate dining place. And, of course, we wanted to do craft cocktails, which no one is doing out here.”
To get to that goal, it required gutting the North Perry building, while attempting to salvage as much of its vintage brick and wood materials as possible, Bailey said.
“We gutted it out all the way from the floor to the ceiling, but maintained the walls,” he said. “We dug out a new basement from what was a small crawl space in the back and put a kitchen in there. But we maintained the overall structure, and our farm table and shelves and fixtures are made from reclaimed wood from the space.”
For his part as the chef since the early days of Local Republic, Smith said his menu has been slowly evolving and has changed even more since the move.
“When we came over here, Ben definitely had a better pitch to our customers, and we’ve been bringing in specials, pushing the envelope a little more, and getting people to eat some different stuff,” Smith said. “I think our popularity has allowed us to have more fine dining items on the menu, while keeping a more casual setting.”
Among those new menu items, Smith is featuring a poached Bartlett pear with prosciutto, blue cheese, pea tendrils and burnt honey syrup.
“It’s a spring dish with Asher Blue cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville and pea tendrils from Southern Harvest Farms in Monroe,” Smith said. “It’s nice and light, and kind of a hybrid between an appetizer and a salad.”
There’s also seared scallops plated with a colorful array of carrot puree, green tomato chutney, and sunflower sprouts.
“That’s another dish where I’m trying to use more local and seasonal ingredients, so it has the carrot puree and sunflower sprouts,” Smith said.
But along with the debut of those fancier things, Smith admitted there’s still a time and place for the likes of The Sink burger.
“We have an extraordinary amount of fun with that,” he said. “The stuff that ends up on there is absolutely insane, sometimes. If we have a steak that goes a half temperature over, instead of sending it out, we’ll cut it in half, and somebody might get a Sink burger with a piece of prime New York strip on it.”
139 N. Perry St., Lawrenceville. 678-205-4782, thelocalrepublic.com.
More images from a First Look at Local Republic in Lawrenceville