"Our staff is lovely. We're so proud of everybody. They're mostly sympathetic to us," says Jared Riggs, who opened Brightmarten, at 730 South University Boulevard, with Rioja and Euclid Hall alumni Wade Nelson, Jake Grant and Josh Prater in 2018. But now the restaurant is preparing to shut its doors following brunch service on Sunday, January 16. There's no news yet on what, if anything, will replace Brightmarten.
Although the Bonnie Brae neighborhood is anchored by longtime go-tos like the Bonnie Brae Tavern, Bonnie Brae Ice Cream and the Saucy Noodle, it's gone through plenty of changes recently, including two incarnations of the Campus Lounge. Brightmarten was another, but Riggs says the eatery was doing well its first two years in the space that was home to 730 South for eighteen years. "We started turning a corner," he notes. "We were getting to know our people and had regulars, which is the lifeblood of a neighborhood restaurant."
But by the fall of 2020, "we just couldn't see ourselves staying open," Riggs adds. While the restaurant did receive a PPP loan, the owners used it to pay staff right away. When capacity restrictions returned to 50 percent in late October 2020, the decision was made to shut Brightmarten down for winter. "It felt sad, like a cafeteria" at that capacity, he says. "There's nothing fun about a sad, quiet place."
Winter was an especially tough time to keep the restaurant closed; unlike in other neighborhoods, October through May is typically the busiest season in Bonnie Brae, Riggs notes. "We had to live off our lean season," he continues, which was not sustainable for a business already facing tough financial challenges.
"After we reopened in May , we were never able to staff all the way up. Everything is getting more expensive, sales aren't rebounding," Riggs continues. "We were just bleeding money." Combined with the fact that COVID cases among employees have been frequent, the decision to shut the doors permanently was imminent.
"The last two years have been hard, but the last two months felt like a pressure cooker," Riggs admits. Costs on everything from food to to-go packaging have been rising so quickly, Brightmarten has had to implement three price changes in just four months. And even as the restaurant goes into its final days, several staff members have called in sick; the restaurant may have to cut its final lunch services as a result.
"We have a wonderful staff, just not enough of them," Riggs says.
Brightmarten is planning to be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. 3 p.m. Sunday for its final service — but check social media
for the most updated hours.