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Developers, Washington mayor envision brewpub restaurant on the city square as a destination

An upscale restaurant and brewpub planned for Washington's downtown square include a rooftop patio bar with views of the square's fountain.
Tim Shelley
An upscale restaurant and brewpub planned for Washington's downtown square include a rooftop patio bar with views of the square's fountain.

An upscale restaurant and craft brewpub with a local theme plans to open along Washington's downtown square by the end of next year.

The Grist Mill will serve as the centerpiece of the development project on the southeast corner of the square.

“I think anytime you bring something of this caliber to a community, and especially our downtown square, this will bring in more people from the region because it’ll be a destination,” said Washington Mayor Gary Manier.

Targeted for a December 2023 opening, the brewpub will be operated by Tangled Roots Hospitality, an Ottawa-based company with four other similar restaurants (Ottawa, DeKalb, Glenview, and Lockport) and one more under construction (LaSalle).

“One of our big beliefs is: small towns, big ideas,” said Tangled Roots CEO Blake Rohrabaugh. “So, whereas Peoria is a big city, Washington isn't necessarily right next to it but there's a lot of people there, there's a lot of excitement. We think being right there on the corner of that Washington square could just be huge for us and for the town as well.”

A collaboration between property owners the Pohl family and CL Real Estate Development (CLRED), a sister company of Tangled Roots, the brewpub also will feature a rooftop patio bar.

“My dream of a rooftop experience overlooking our historic square is finally coming true,” Kelly Pohl said in a news release. “We are thrilled to be a part of this fantastic project. We know it will be a huge success and lead to continued growth for Washington and the surrounding communities.”

Manier said having the rooftop bar will give The Grist Mill a unique appeal.

“For one, we don't have one now, and it seems like that's an attraction for people that like to have a nice evening out, whether it's a cocktail or a nice meal,” said Manier. “Looking down onto the square with our fountain and the beautiful buildings that we have, I think it'll be a nice, relaxing evening and people will want to come here.”

The mixed-use project will be a combination of new construction and repurposing existing buildings. It will also include event space and loft apartments that will be available for short-term rentals.

“We like going into town and adding a building or renovating a building that respects the fabric or the intention of the fabric around it,” said CLRED president Nathan Watson. “We'll be putting up a two-story building there at the corner where there's only been a one-story building probably for 70 years. Creating a new two-story building there is going to have a very positive effect architecturally and with urban design.”

Watson said the total cost of the project is projected at around $6.5 million, with the City of Washington contributing about $1.1 million in TIF funding. He said the development has been in various stages of planning for several years.

“The Pohls reached out to us even before 2020, so pre-COVID,” said Watson. “We were taking a look at it, just looking at alternatives and considering Washington as a location, but hadn't come to any decisions on that before COVID happened. But of course, COVID just put everything on the back burner. It wasn’t until late 2021 when we really started to dig into the market and understand it better, develop relationships with our local partners and with the city to determine what the need was.

“We started off with a smaller concept. When we first went for the first redevelopment agreement with the city, we only had a Tangled Roots and we didn't have any of the Airbnb lofts. But we were looking for ways to enrich the project, to make it more interesting, to improve the financial sustainability of the project. So we went back and added more square footage.”

Rohrabaugh described Tangled Roots’ food menu as “approachable gourmet,” while the beers will come from both an on-site brewery and the chain’s main brewery in Ottawa. The company grows its own hops and barley for the breweries for what is described as a “farm-to-foam” experience.

“We call it a brewpub, but it's more of a finer dining restaurant,” said Rohrabaugh. “In general, we like really upscale food, but food that everybody can enjoy. So you'll go in there and you'll see burgers and steaks and chicken and those things, and they might have a little chef's twist on them.”

Manier noted the restaurant's name is a nod to the grist mill operated in the 1800s by city founder William H. Holden. He said that choice exemplifies the developers’ commitment to Washington.

“Tangled Roots is looking to try to help small towns have a destination and stay viable,” said Manier. “A group like this could go to Bloomington-Normal or Peoria or anywhere and probably make a lot more money, but they really believe in the history of older towns and we're excited about it.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.