Standing in the middle of the old CD&J Cafe on the corner of Main and South 13th streets, John "JC" Mersmann has a vision of what he would like to see the place become in the near future.
"I have this dream of being in the back making pastries for the morning ... having the coffee done and here waiting," Mersmann said motioning toward a countertop. "The door's open, the music's going to be on, they're going to come in here and make themselves a cup of coffee, leave their buck and a half and go. When the wait staff shows up to start doing their stuff, it's even more of a party."
The new restaurant will be called The Dizzy Hen and the former Gathering Together Farms chef said it will open as a coffee shop-style spot with breakfast and lunch. The timeline on exactly when the business will be ready is still up in the air.
"I think we will carry on the tradition," Mersmann said in a reference to the CD&J, which closed its doors in the fall of 2016. "We're going to do our best to keep it that community gathering place. I think we'll be open early enough that we'll catch people going where they need to go."
Mersmann said the idea for The Dizzy Hen originated over this past summer when Dave Alba purchased the building.
"We're not really stating a timeline just because of the nature of the work," Alba said. "There's a lot of rot damage that needs to be repaired and it's hard to tell the extent of that work. I expect once we get through that rot repair, we will have a better sense of the timing."
The building's life dates back to the late 19th century, constructed after an original structure at the site burned down roughly around 1897. Before restaurants came into the building, it had various other uses during those early decades, such as a post office and retail stores.
Mersmann loves the historic feel to the building.
"I wouldn't doubt if these boards were from the turn of the last century, isn't that wild?" Mersmann said. "We're keeping what we can of the old and putting in where we need to. We're going to keep the wood touches ... it's going to reflect the history of the community in terms of lots of wood, lots of natural feeling."
Alba, who has a background in community development, purchased the building with an interest in improving Philomath.
"A way to improve communities is to improve the buildings and types of businesses and being interested in contributing toward a vibrant downtown culture," Alba said. "I believe the more successful businesses we have, the more vibrant it will be."
Alba said he was inspired by the work of Alan Ayers, an architect who specializes in restoring historic structures, including right here in Philomath.
"His work with the Soft Star Shoes building is an obvious example of investing in something run down and bringing it back to a modern use while celebrating its heritage at the same time," Alba said.
Beyond the rot repair, the rest of the work is primarily cosmetic, Mersmann said. Among the work will be a sprucing up the outside, including a facade that will change a little bit.
"Every time I bring in a contractor, they look at me and go, 'oh my goodness, this is a lot.' The building ... not only is it old, but it's been neglected," Alba said. "After we repair the damaged wood, we plan to make the building weather secure so that it doesn't happen again."
Mersmann's work as a Gathering Together Farms chef for the past decade instilled in him a good feel for what potential customers want.
"It's an easy thing because if you make really nice food, really tasty food, that's hard to argue with," Mersmann said. "You'd have to mess it up with having an ugly restaurant or having a mean staff."
Mersmann possesses a fascinating past in the profession by getting his start in the 1990s in Germany. From 2000-07 before coming to Philomath, he worked in notable restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.
"I've seen a lot of things, done a lot of things from sausage-making to artisan bread-making to fresh pasta to salami," he said. "The sky's the limit with this place. We'll get a basic start going, but who knows?"
A chef at Gathering Together Farms, Ricky Carlson, will join Mersmann in the kitchen.
Mersmann envisions a smaller fresh-to-order menu with typical breakfast items "but we're going to cook it different than most places."
"That's one of the things we do is we take a higher-quality product in a less-expensive form and then use our labor to make it what it needs to be," he said. "It costs us the same, but costs us more time. We can't have 50 different items from the menu because we're not pulling stuff from the freezer. Hamburger patties are not formed and sent to us, we'll buy beef chuck and turn it into hamburgers ourselves."
Alba believes the new restaurant will be a success.
"I'm working with JC because I'm confident in his abilities to create not only a successful business, but one that is valuable to the community," Alba said. "He's proven himself with his work in the past and he has the ability to not only create good food, but create a culture in the restaurant with the way he trains the staff and how he treats the customers."