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story.lead_photo.caption The Playhouse Café will open this fall. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

For months, the front windows of the Brick District Playhouse have stood dark and empty — a quiet spectre of the pandemic's canceled events and closed restaurants.

But inside, things have been far from still. The Brick District Playhouse Board of Directors has been buzzing with plans. People can look forward to visiting the iconic downtown location again this fall.

Barring any setbacks, the board plans to open the new Playhouse Café within the next month.

Fulton residents might remember the Playhouse Bistro, a tenant restaurant that closed in April. This new endeavour is slightly different — the Playhouse Café, which will be operated by the BDP board, will specialize in breakfast and lunch on weekdays and brunch Saturdays.

"We could not be more grateful for everything Shawna (Bruns Soptick, former owner of the Playhouse Bistro) did to help this effort," Board President Tom Riley said in a news release.

The BDP board took over restoration of the theater in 2015.

"We did not have the resources to be fundraising and restoring the theatre while also trying to manage a restaurant," Riley said. "Now that the initial renovation is finished, we can turn our attention to operations, and that means running the restaurant, renting the facility and hosting events all as one integrated operation."

The board created a steering committee that has helped develop the Playhouse Café. Members include chair Jamie Riley, who leads meetings and has helped stage the café interior; Mandi LaRue, who has helped with marketing, strategy and tracking operational requirements; Stephen Merriott, who is overseeing online ordering, curbside pickup and technology; and Tana Real Williams, who is knowledgeable in human resources management, food and events.

The board hired Allan Hubbard to serve as the general manager of the Brick District Playhouse and Playhouse Café. Hubbard has over two decades of experience working at restaurants from New York to California as a chef, caterer and events planner.

For the past year, Hubbard has worked at Beks.

"It was the perfect fit," Beks owner Garry Vaught, who is volunteering as a consultant for the Playhouse Café, said in the release. "Allan is ready to get back to managing and to start a restaurant at the Playhouse. It's a win-win."

The Café will serve fresh breads, pastries, sandwiches, seasonal soups and salads for breakfast and lunch on weekdays. It will offer brunch, with dishes such as eggs Benedict, stuffed French toast and house-made corn beef hash for brunch Saturday. Specialty coffee and tea drinks will also be on the menu, as well as freshly roasted beans and blends of tea.

"With the upgrades to the kitchen, we can now serve breakfast and lunch and cater events with a full range of options," Hubbard said in the release. "We will offer fresh baked goods and plan to use locally-sourced produce and meats. There are many farmers and ranchers in the area that offer great products, and we want to support them. I am excited that we can feature this type of homemade, fresh food."

All proceeds from the Café will support the Brick District Playhouse. The nonprofit offers children's theater programs through a partnership with Theater Reaching Young People and Schools.

This year's production of the Children's Theater has been put temporarily on hold due to the pandemic, but TRYPS is still holding programs online.

"One of our goals at the Brick District Playhouse is to provide entertainment to our community (through) the performing arts," board member Renee Graham said in the release. "A community theater is currently being organized which will also draw visitors from outside the county to the Brick District and to Fulton in general."

During the pandemic, the playhouse continued with construction projects on the theater mezzanine and balcony, doubling the theater's capacity.

"The integrated operations and the Café's ability to serve great food and a variety of premium coffees and teas throughout the week, while offering rentals and events, is the best way to grow," Riley said. "Eventually, the pandemic will pass and we will begin hosting plays, concerts and other events, many of which will be free to the public. Now that we have moved past the initial fundraising, the Café is key to our next phase."

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