Orchard Green Restaurant and Lounge to open in Sept.

With workers scaling scaffolding on the outside and contractors tearing apart the interior, the big brick building at 521 S. Gilbert St. is swirling with sawdust and activity these days.

Working amidst all of this chaos, Bryan Herzic says he is following the vision he had when he first walked into the building.

Herzic, a longtime Iowa City chef, plans to open a place of his own in mid-September, the Orchard Green Restaurant and Lounge, with his wife, Michelle.

“I saw the grand ballroom-style look here, and when I saw it, it was made for a restaurant,” said Herzic, who began construction in early June. “I’m trying to keep the integrity of what’s here, the richness of the grand room, and expand on it.”

Once completed, Herzic envisions an upscale yet relaxed dining experience upstairs under the golden glow of the building’s original globe chandeliers, while the downstairs area will house a warm and inviting lounge with an array of unique beers on tap and an extensive wine list.

The restaurant will feature a menu that Herzic, who will be the chef seven nights a week, describes as American cuisine with a Mediterranean accent, with dishes ranging from $16 to $24. Specialties will include seafood and aged steaks, several vegetarian offerings and the occasional fresh Maine lobster.

Herzic worked for more than 10 years at Fresh Foods Concepts, Jim Mondanaro’s company that runs a number of area restaurants, where he was chief operating officer. Over the years, Herzic, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1990, has been the chef at Givanni’s and Joseph’s Steakhouse.

“I’ve been cooking all my life,” Herzic said. “I actually had my first cooking job before I was old enough to drive.”

Designing his own restaurant and lounge, however, is a new experience for someone most at home in the kitchen.

Upstairs, Orchard Green will seat nearly 150 in tables and booths with white linen tablecloths. Herzic is accenting the brick walls with spotlighting and refurbishing the cherry woodwork and naturally stained red oak flooring.

Downstairs, the 16-foot bar top is made from Zodiaq, which uses recycled beer bottles and is more expensive than granite, Herzic said. Twelve beers will be on tap, with Herzic working with John’s Grocery to have a unique selection. The lounge also will feature an extensive wine list available by the glass.

A fireplace anchors the lounge, and next to it will be a performance area for local one- and two-piece musical acts.

“I want it to be comfortable for people to have a good time and relax with a warm fireplace,” Herzic said.

Parking also is a challenge in the area, with a back lot where spots are hard to come by, so Orchard Green will feature a valet service.

Herzic hopes that the restaurant and lounge will be a welcome alternative to the downtown bar food and drink scene.

“I think it’s a great setting for a mature clientele such as myself, people in their 30s and 40s, and that’s something that was needed in this town,” he said. “There’s a lot of other great places to go to, but I think there’s room for one more here.”

Herzic says that it’s clear that this is a gamble to open a first restaurant in tenuous economic times.

“Everyone seems to be protecting their dollars,” he said. “It was a difficult decision to make at this time. To be honest with you, as I’ve been researching equipment and things of that nature, people have been looking at me funny — strange that I’d be opening a restaurant in this type of economy. It’s kind of a gutsy move, I believe.”