Just the other day I was speaking to someone about driving some new ‘destination’ businesses to Elmwood Avenue – businesses that would make a big splash, and draw a lot of people for all of the right reasons. One business that I believe will do that is Jack Rabbit, a new restaurant venue opening in the former J.P. Bullfeathers location, owned and operated by Josh Mullin, Jake Monti, Simon Wilson, and Leacel Hillenbrand.
So I hopped on a phone call with Mullin and Monti, to discuss the arrival of Jack Rabbit.
First things first, I wanted to know about the name.
“When I was a kid, I would go to Seabreeze (amusement park) in Rochester,” said Mullin. “There was a rollercoaster called Jack Rabbit. It was pseudo-dangerous, smaller, older… it was the mecca of my summers, the pinnacle of my childhood. My friend Jon Turner passed away a year and a half ago – we always said the we would go back to Seabreeze someday. We also talked about opening a bar together. The name is a nod to him.”
The new Jack Rabbit digs will strategically utilize the 6500 square footage of usable commercial building space. What most people don’t realize is that there are 4 different rooms that wind towards the back, and then up into a split level. “It’s going to be as much of a place for private parties and banquets as it is going to be a bar and restaurant,” said Mullin, with Monti in full agreement. “We even have a dedicated entranceway for private events, along with dedicated bathrooms for those events, a back bar, and an intimate room with a piano. The front part of the restaurant will be where the main stage is, with 16 draught lines dedicated to local breweries. When a band is ripping it up up front, no one in back will even know it. The place is built like a brick shit house.”
The idea of an intimate room with a piano sounded pretty cool to me. Mullin and Monti told me that it’s going to be perfect at 2am, when people want to retire from the front bar, to partake in singalongs in back. In a city where there were once plenty of piano establishments, this is welcome news. I like the idea of having different purposes and vibes throughout the building, including the live music element towards the street.
“The front of Jack Rabbit will have accordion-style windows that will open to the front patio and the street,” Monti told me. “We also have the biggest parking lot on Elmwood, which has 33 spots. It’s got everything we need. When we first saw the interior, we liked the look and feel, and decided to keep all of the old oak. Other than that it’s brand new. Everything that is new is meant to look like it’s always been there. It was important for us to retain the look that we fell in love with.”
When I asked Mullin and Monti to tell me about selecting the building as the home for Jack Rabbit, they told me that they were driving by one day, talking about how “cranking” the location would be if it was open. The two had previously discussed the idea of opening a restaurant venue together while they worked together at Thin Man. They felt that if they could design a multi-use operation from scratch, it would be a dream. It was while they were considering the potential of the building that it sold. Shortly thereafter, they reached out to the new owner and struck a deal. “We never looked at anything else,” they told me. “What building in Buffalo would you rather have?”
Before long, the team was in place, busy reimagining the interior to fit their concept, which would weigh heavily on the private party and the banquet angle. “We’re building a venue as much as we’re building a bar,” said Mullin. “We’re going hard on the Saturday and Sunday brunches too – loud, fun, party brunches. We’re going to serve up fast casual food, with creative takes on the Buffalo favorites, with healthy twists.”
Once open this spring, Jack Rabbit will be able to seat around 125 customers. Post-covid, that number will be around 165. Incredibly, the building capacity is 400 people, and while that’s just an occupancy number, it just goes to show how expansive it is, and how much potential they have to play around with.
What is certain is that Jack Rabbit is guaranteed to bring some life to a street that could really use it at this time, pandemic or no pandemic. The restaurant venue is destined to become another anchor on the street, especially because it’s going to be open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunches (along with private parties and banquets). That’s a lot of days and hours, but if there’s a team that can pull it off, it’s this one.
One thing is for sure – there’s going to be a big buzz when it opens, and I think that buzz will continue to hum along for a very long time. After all, the dream sprouted from someone’s indelible memory of a far away wonderland, now brought back to reality with the help of friends who are busy plotting the course. Sounds to me like Jack Rabbit is a story for the times, based on an assortment of tales and characters that we are all familiar with from our youth.