Spirit Animal co-owner Anna Michal, manager Cassie LaRue, and co-owner James Robison

The old house at 2000 Forbes Street in Riverside’s Five Points district is undergoing a transformation. If all goes according to plan, in spring 2019, this 1923 Craftsman home turned shop will be reborn as Spirit Animal, an ambitious venue combining beer and wine bar, package store, and dessert eatery.

Spirit Animal’s owners are a trio of siblings with a long business history in the neighborhood: James Robison, Jack Robison, and Anna Michal. James and Jack opened neighborhood staple Grassroots Natural Market on Park Street in 2006, just after James graduated from the University of North Florida. Anna has worked at Grassroots as well, but Spirit Animal marks her first venture as a business owner. “It’s exciting. A little nerve wracking, but I’m excited to partner with them,” said Anna.

Grassroots Natural Market. The addition of Spirit Animal next door will allow the existing juice bar to be relocated into this patio space, enabling walkup service for juices and smoothies in an outdoor dining space.

The idea for Spirit Animal grew out of a business trip to Austin, Texas, where a storm fittingly trapped the Robisons on Rainey Street, a popular strip where historic Craftsman residences have been given second lives as bars. This got them thinking about the Forbes Street property - located just around the block from Grassroots - and the prospect of opening a bar together. The concept and name came from there. “We were thinking about what kind of bar would we three like? What kind of bar would be our spirit animal?” said James. When the building became available, they didn’t hesitate.

The plan is ambitious. The owners plan to move Grassroots’ entire beer and wine selection over to Spirit Animal, which will also feature a bar with 30 craft beer taps and wine for in-house consumption. Growler fills will accompany bottles and cans for those who prefer their libations at home. The taps will allow for a wider selection than is currently available at Grassroots. “That’s one of the nice things,” said Jack. “Breweries may not bottle or can certain things, but sometimes you can get a really cool, funky beer on draft. It’s more of a specialty thing.” In contrast to Five Points’ many dinner destinations, the menu will focus on appetizers and deserts - in particular pie. “A menu driven largely by appetizers and pies, emphasizing local seasonal ingredients, will be a highlight of the whimsical Spirit Animal experience, and should pair nicely with a rotating selection of craft beers and wines,” said Anna.

Spirit Animal

Running Spirit Animal will be Cassie LaRue, a local sommelier and restaurant manager with years of experience in the industry. She entered the wine business as manager of the Grotto in San Marco, and more recently worked in the wine industry in Monterey, California. “We’re so excited,” she said. “I really think this will be something new for the community. Something a little different, but still fitting the historic nature of this neighborhood.”

These historic Craftsman houses that are zoned for commercial uses along Forbes Street are part of a context-sensitive commercial center that includes Hovan Gourmet, Grassroots Natural Market, a parking lot and soon Spirit Animal.

To develop their plans and navigate the various zoning hurdles, the team hired Jack Shad of Windmill Consulting. Shad made the case that the half-block containing Spirit Animal, another nearby Craftsman house zoned for retail, and the building containing Grassroots and Hovan Gourmet should be considered a single commercial center. Like other retail centers, these three buildings share a parking lot, but unlike a suburban strip mall, the buildings directly abut the street, with the parking lot hidden between. This configuration makes the center more pedestrian friendly, and a better fit for the walkable, urban setting of the neighborhood than other retail centers.

Spirit Animal’s planned new outdoor patio.

Final plans call for up to 88 seats, much of it outdoors. “It’s nice to have outdoor seating in Florida,” said Jack Robison. The outdoor section will include a new raised deck covered by an inset gable, and a lower patio closer to Forbes Street. Otherwise, the building will look much as it does today. “We’re trying to keep the character of the house,” said James. “It’ll have a lot of features that look similar to the existing house.” James hopes the activity will bring life to a corner that, in contrast to the lively scene just a block over on Park Street, is still mostly dead at night. Behind the Park Street buildings, said James, “this strip is a lot of service entrances and back doors and walk-in coolers. It’s kind of a dark strip.” Bringing action to Margaret Street may help remove a barrier to walkability between Five Points and the residential neighborhood around it.

This building on Murray Hill’s Edgewood Avenue is being renovated to serve as a commercial kitchen for both Grassroots Natural Market and Spirit Animal. This represent James and Jack’s first commercial investment in Murray Hill.

The launch of Spirit Animal will give Grassroots some much needed breathing room. The market has grown consistently since it opened, expanding into another storefront in its building. More recently, the Robisons bought the 1049 Park Street building, where the Rec Room arcade bar opened in October 2018. They also took over a building on Edgewood Avenue in Murray Hill as an off-site kitchen for their ventures - dishes for Spirit Animal as well as catering and grab-and-go food for Grassroots. “We don’t have the space in Grassroots to do it correctly,” said James.

Moving the beer and wine selection out of Grassroots will also enable a remodeling of that space. Current plans include more room for produce, and also a relocation of the store’s juice bar into a second storefront. This space is currently used only for storage, but its location on the building’s front patio makes it a prime location for building streetfront vibrancy. “It just kind of grew organically - pun intended,” said James.

James, Jack and Anna hope to open Spirit Animal in spring 2019.

Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at wdelaney@moderncities.com

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