For Adam Frazier and Greg Jackson, the renovation of a one-time grocery store in the heart of downtown Belmont wasn’t just about the building itself, or the restaurant that they created there. It was also about the fabric of the neighborhood.
“This is the center point of Belmont,” says Frazier, who owns The Local restaurant, a stone’s throw away. Jackson, an architect, also owns property nearby, including the building that houses Tavola. Both had feared that when this building—a commercial space with two apartments, roughly a century old—went up for sale, it would be torn down to make way for newer development.
“We have a connection and an investment in Belmont,” says Jackson. Both enjoy preserving old buildings and, though Frazier wasn’t even sure how he would use the property, he bought it and committed to renovating it in 2013.
Despite boarded-up front windows and decades of deferred maintenance, the building already had plenty of charm. A second-story porch over the front entrance, and a first-story wraparound porch, suggested a vibe somewhere between New Orleans and the Old West. As Frazier came to the decision that he would indeed make this an eatery called Junction—with chef Melissa Close-Hart dishing up modern Mexican cuisine—he and Jackson began to envision the details that would make the renovation sing.
On each of the two floors, the building essentially has two large boxy rooms. With exposed brick walls and pressed-tin ceilings, these historic front rooms have a spacious saloon feel. The team wanted to preserve that layout, but the facility would also need functional space: kitchen, bathrooms, storage and a wide stairwell connecting the floors.
Jackson’s solution was a rear addition, part of it cantilevered, to hold the utilitarian spaces. “It stands off from the original building; it’s intended to be contemporary,” says Jackson of the corrugated metal-clad addition. A wall of glass in the stairwell is a modern touch that also makes a trip up or down the steps into a light-filled “wow moment,” as Frazier puts it, offering a view over downtown Belmont.
Throughout the building, the goal was to let the original details shine where possible, while making sure that any new materials would contribute to a rustic aesthetic. Reclaimed wood is everywhere—some of it from right in this building, like the former floor joists that became the face of the downstairs bar. The bartop is reclaimed wormy chestnut, the back bar is roof sheathing from an 1840s cabin, and some tables are made from an ash tree taken down right on the property.
Frazier went all out, having pine floors laid with hand-cut antique nails, and installing Saltillo tile with hand-painted accents behind the bar. “Over time, that tile patinas in a way that gives it real character,” says Frazier. Bar coolers—even the handles—are wrapped in copper. New windows are fitted with special glass panes that imitate the wavy look of aged glass.
The team stripped and repointed all the exterior brick, and while cleaning the interior brick walls, discovered a painted “DRINK PEPSI-COLA” sign probably dating to around 1920. “Once we saw that, we were careful to keep it,” says Jackson, who even located the bar in the other room so that the Pepsi sign could remain as visible as possible. Another sign discovered on the exterior—“H.W. BURFORD FANCY GROCERIES”—got replicated in a second-floor seating area that needed some punch.
Jackson expanded the second-floor porch so that it wraps around like the lower one, designing period-appropriate railings. With the outdoor tables that will perch here, the restaurant can seat 250 people, and Junction saw a busy opening weekend in late January.
The team considered more than just customers, though. Finishing the formerly dirt-floored basement allowed for proper offices and an employee shower. Stairs lead to the parking lot with permeable pavers, meant to prevent stormwater from leaving the property. Retail spaces, tucked into the hillside next door to the restaurant, share the parking and are designed so that someday, Frazier can expand upward.
If and when he does, he intends to do right by the Belmont streetscape. “The restaurant had beautiful bones,” he says. “This was a real opportunity to make an impact.”