Renowned Dubuque chef to open 2nd eatery

A successful Dubuque restaurateur will launch a second eatery with a simpler focus next year.

Kevin Scharpf, the owner of Brazen Open Kitchen + Bar, said he plans to open another business at 801 Rhomberg Ave. in the late spring or early summer of 2021. The eatery will operate under the moniker Birds. — stylized with a period at the end — and specialize in serving fried chicken.

The concept was inspired by the lessons learned in a challenging year.

“As we dealt with COVID(-19) and saw how it impacted our business, it really shined a light on the kind of food people are trending toward and the different avenues for serving customers,” Scharpf said.

Brazen, 955 Washington St., is among the multitude of local restaurants that observed major changes as they navigated the complexities of a pandemic-influenced economy. Scharpf noticed that many customers were zeroing in on the restaurant’s fried chicken and oftentimes opted for carryout orders rather than dining in the restaurant.

These lessons inspired the vision for Birds., which will offer a handful of seats for dine-in customers but primarily focus on delivery and carryout.

Fried chicken will be the eatery’s staple throughout the day, with unique sandwiches served for lunch and special flavors and seasonings adding flair to dinner options. The business will serve a limited selection of other items, including salads.

While its opening is still months away, the project recently cleared a notable hurdle. Last week, City Council members approved a necessary rezoning for the property at 801 Rhomberg Ave. to host a carryout restaurant.

Scharpf said the facility provides an ideal setting to carry out the vision for the eatery.

“Normally, when you look at fried-chicken shacks in the South, they have this really great character to them,” he said. “This building really represented that for me. It’s the perfect size for what we are doing, and it’s just a great old building that we are excited to bring back.”

According to city documents, the structure at 801 Rhomberg once served as a gas station and most recently was used as a medical office.

Scharpf said renovations to the structure should begin early next year. He anticipates hiring eight to 12 workers to staff the restaurant.

Dubuque Economic Development Director Jill Connors believes the restaurant will help restore a sense of balance to the neighborhood in which it resides.

She noted that the area has historically been home to a healthy combination of businesses and homes. Over time, the neighborhood saw a decline in business activity and skewed far more toward residential uses.

The opening of the restaurant will provide further hope that the commercial activity there is picking up once again.

“We’re starting to get back to that mixed-use neighborhood,” she said.

Connors is also excited to see a well-known entrepreneur setting up shop on Rhomberg.

“When you have a renowned chef opening up a restaurant, it will be a real asset to the neighborhood,” she said.

Scharpf is a native of Galena, Ill., but he has been a fixture in Dubuque’s restaurant scene since 2015, when he opened Brazen in the Millwork District.

He gained national attention in 2018 when he appeared on the Bravo television reality show “Top Chef.”

Scharpf said he is excited that his next step forward will be one that ties into Dubuque’s past and infuses a little extra life into a historic neighborhood.

“As a Galenian, I am still learning about Dubuque and its different pockets,” he said. “The more I learned about this part of town, the more excited I got to become part of the North End and Rhomberg itself.”