CHAMPAIGN — The space recently vacated by Jim Gould Restaurant could become the home of another restaurant, Big Grove Tavern, this spring, a spokeswoman for One Main Development said.
"I would describe it as extremely accessible, with a more palatable price point for more people," said Cynthia Faullin, One Main's vice president of development.
"I don't think you'll be seeing entrees in the high $20s on the menu," she added.
The restaurant would be owned by a group of investors, most of whom are local, she said. Michael Johnson, who once worked at Jim Gould, would be general manager for Big Grove Tavern, and Jessica Gorin the chef, Faullin said.
Gorin most recently worked as chef for the ThirstyBear Restaurant and Brewery in San Francisco, Faullin said. Gorin's husband, Jonathan Greenberg, recently accepted a job as assistant professor in the geography department at the University of Illinois.
Faullin said plans call for Big Grove Tavern to open in the middle of March.
However, Dave Jones, chief financial officer of One Main Development, said Wednesday a lease has not been finalized.
In the meantime, management is seeking servers, hosts, bartenders, line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers, and Faullin estimated the restaurant would have a staff of 50 to 60.
With plans to serve both lunch and dinner, Big Grove Tavern aims to offer "a nice mix of everything across the board" with a concentration on fresh produce and meats, Faullin said.
Menu items wouldn't be "overly complex," Faullin said, and would include "comfort foods that are not heavy."
Big Grove Tavern would take the entire space occupied by Jim Gould, with some renovations to the interior likely, Faullin said.
Some half-walls would be taken down, and there are plans to extend the length of the bar and create more seating in that area, she said. The private dining rooms to the east would be retained.
Johnson, who was front-of-the-house manager for Jim Gould when it opened and who most recently worked at Silvercreek restaurant in Urbana, said he hopes to provide more details on Big Grove Tavern later.
"What we want to do and turn it into is very rough as of now," he said Wednesday while working in the vacant space.
Gorin said she worked three years for ThirstyBear, which she described as an organic brewery and Spanish restaurant that was certified as "green."
Gorin said organic, sustainable foods are "close to my heart," given her bachelor's degree was in ecology and evolution and her doctoral work was in population biology.
The chef said she worked with "a lot of local farms" in California and she hopes to work with farmers and purveyors here in getting ingredients for the local venture.
The name Big Grove would be "a nod" to the historic Big Grove area on Urbana's northeast side, Faullin said. Some of Urbana's earliest settlers lived on the southern edge of that stand of trees.
Jim Gould Restaurant opened in 2005 as a first-floor anchor for the One Main Plaza building at Neil and Main streets in downtown Champaign. The fine-dining restaurant, which could accommodate 280 patrons, closed in December.