A new downtown restaurant led by a chef with local roots is cooking in the basement of Rochester’s under renovation Armory/Castle Community project.
Standing in the gutted remains of what was previously the Rochester Senior Center’s dining room, chef Zach Ohly sees the foundation of his future restaurant.
"It’s an amazing opportunity," he said while describing his vision. "This is a true passion project."
Ohly and his wife, Danika Ohly, are creating an upscale casual, 160-seat restaurant, bar and lounge to be called Cameo.
Zach Ohly explains that the name refers to the various cuisines and international flavors that will make cameo appearances on the menu of his new restaurant.
"We don’t think of ourselves as a single concept. Lots of different flavors of different cultures will make an appearance," he said.
Ohly, who grew up in Rochester, has cooked in restaurants in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Denver and San Francisco. He returned to Rochester and served as the executive chef at Pescara for two years. Ohly is currently the catering chef at Mayo Clinic.
Cameo’s "playful and thoughtful" entrees should range between $18 to $25 for dinner. The plan is to open for just dinner to launch the restaurant and then add lunch, breakfast and brunch later.
In addition to the Ohlys, this new project will include a very familiar local name — Ansley Jones. Jones was the owner and creator of The Doggery cocktail bar, which recently closed.
Jones will be in charge of the bar service and a lounge space.
"Essentially, it will be the reincarnation of The Doggery," said Ohly of Cameo’s future lounge area.
Cameo will also serve as the exclusive caterer for the third-floor event space, which is expected to host weddings, parties, concerts and more. It can handle events with up to 450 people.
The Ohlys will lease the more than 5,000-square-foot space in the basement of the Castle complex at the corner of North Broadway and Second Street Northwest.
When the Rochester Senior Center vacated the former Armory in 2016 for the new 125 Live center adjacent to the Rochester Recreation Center, the Armory became available. After being chosen from a selection of bidders, the Castle Community group bought the building from the city for $675,000 last fall and has a massive renovation project planned.
Scott Hoss, one of the Castle Community owners, said they hope to start construction in earnest in the next couple weeks.
"The goal is to have it done and everything ready to open in November, hopefully before Thanksgiving," he said.
That November opening will also include the Fair Trade Books shop on the second floor plus an arts collaborative with studios, a gallery and an art store. The third floor event space is also expected to open for use at that time.