Update: Rathskeller to reopen in August

Feb. 3, 2011 12:25 am

Editor’s note: The Rathskeller is still not open, but the restaurant’s Facebook page indicates that it will open in “late 2011.” Please see the page for more information. 

Come August, the Rat will be back.

That’s 63 years after it first opened, four years after it closed and seven months after its original date for a grand reopening.

“It’s been a numbers process,” said Diane Fountain, the owner of the soon-to-be revived Chapel Hill eating establishment, the Ramshead Rathskeller. “This has taken insanely long.”

Fountain, a 1980 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate and a real estate developer who lives in Wilmington, said she was overzealous when she set the Rathskeller to reopen at the start of the year.

She said she underestimated how long it would take to get the lease settled, which has prevented her construction crews from starting demolition.

But after sorting out the paper work with an attorney, hiring a construction consulting company in Raleigh, and drafting a 37-page lease, Fountain said she is 100 percent confident that an August reopening will happen.

“As far as the determination to make sure that it happens, I’m more determined now than I was before,” she said. “I can visualize exactly how it’s going to happen. I can even see all the people in here.”

With updated numbers and logistics in check, Fountain said demolition could gear up within the next ten days.

Part of her initial budget — $847,000 for construction and kitchen equipment — had some gray area, she said. She hired Wakefield Associates in Raleigh to re-evaluate the construction costs, and she said with their more accurate numbers, these estimated costs shrunk to $541,000.

Despite the reduced cost estimates, Fountain said she won’t have to hold back on any of her original plans, like the 65-inch plasma-screen televisions or the conversion of the old prep kitchen into a bar.

But she has decided on at least one change away from her original plans — converting the original bar, known as the ‘Zoom Zoom Room’ or the ‘Rat Trap Lounge,’ into more seating space.

She said she still wants to keep everything under $1 million, which should still allow for some cushion room. She originally thought it would be $1.6 million, but had prepared to go up to $2 million, she said.

The next step? Recruit investors, Fountain said.

On Friday, she e-mailed about 15 potential investors who requested information. She is looking to sell 10 shares at $100,000 each, to raise a total of $1 million from investors.

She said that although the restaurant’s reopening has been delayed, it was crucial to have this time to determine more accurate figures.

“We’ve done it the right way,” she said. “It’s safer for investment partners and we won’t get in there and have any surprises. I’m committing to doing this and doing it the right way.”

Fountain said two different people have already committed to one share each, and she doesn’t anticipate any problem finding investors for the other eight.

The investors will have the opportunity to have booths named after them, and possibly even the new bar space, she said.

“Now I’m able to let the people who want to be involved come on board,” she said. “They will own a piece of the Rat forever.”

Amanda Ruehlen, a senior from Concord, N.C., is an assistant editor for the Reese Felts Digital News Project.