NORMAN — Norman native Brady Sexton knows urban renewal starts with the arts. Sexton, an art supporter on the board of Dreamer Concepts Studio, has watched downtown Norman come alive. Now, he is opening an innovative concept restaurant in the historic Magnolia building.
Scratch restaurant at 132 W. Main St. will join a growing number of hip eateries and bars in the burgeoning arts and entertainment district that is downtown Norman. Sexton brings years of restaurant management experience to play in opening his dream eatery. He also is relying on a little help from his friends.
The Magnolia is the former site of Native Roots Market. When Matt Runkel and Sara Kaplan, owners of Native Roots, said they were leaving Norman, Sexton jumped at the opportunity to lease the recently renovated building.
Enter Ira Koplowitz, bar consultant and lifelong friend.
“I was born in the house my parents still live in,” Koplowitz said. “My mom had a midwife and Brady (Sexton) was actually in the house the day I was born.”
The Norman High grads (Sexton ‘97, Koplowitz ‘99) grew up together. Koplowitz now lives in Milwaukee and runs Bittercube Bitters.
“We’ve helped to open restaurants and bars in Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis,” he said. “This is our first Oklahoma restaurant which is exciting, since I grew up here.”
In addition to Koplowitz, Sexton has brought in long-time friend Nathan Nuss, a 2000 NHS graduate.
Nuss had been living in Ecuador where fresh fruit and other produce were plentiful. The produce in South America broadened his creativity and helped round out his repertoire as a chef. Sexton was excited to hear Nuss was back in the states and knew who he wanted as the chef for Scratch.
“When I found out Nathan was in town, it was a no-brainer,” Sexton said. “I had worked with him. You can tell when you’re cooking with someone, if they’re going to hate you or not. I know he’d never hate me.”
Scratch will bring urban flair to its historic setting with custom cocktails and a made-from-scratch menu — yep, that’s where they got the name.
“The goal is to do craft cocktails in Norman,” said Koplowitz. “We’ll squeeze all the juices in house and make the syrups here.”
The fresh, original cocktails and bitters will be unique to Oklahoma and will enhance the regional draw of downtown Norman.
“The cocktail culture has been evolving over the last 10 years,” Koplowitz said. “We’re excited to share our vision of it here at Scratch.”
Sexton experienced his first craft cocktail in Chicago — ground zero for the cocktail movement.
“It’s not just a cocktail, it’s the way the bartenders interact with you, the way they make the cocktail,” Sexton said.
Scratch will bring that culture to Norman.
Nuss is responsible for bringing a similar innovative approach to the restaurant’s food.
“Everything is going to be made from scratch,” Nuss said. “Nothing is going to be frozen except the French fries.”
The menu will have a combination of American, Italian and French cuisine.
Nuss said the Italians use simple techniques and the freshest, highest quality ingredients to create magnificent dishes. The French are more technical and lengthy but the food also is wonderful.
“American is a chance to create whatever I want,” he said.
“He does amazing things with tomatoes,” Sexton said.
Koplowitz described the menu as “unique but approachable.”
Scratch will feature specials as ingredients become available seasonally.
“That will be where you really see the best we have to offer,” Sexton said.
Featuring off-menu items will allow Scratch to present evolving choices in addition to menu standards. Not a burger place, Scratch will, of course, have a burger made with meat ground in-house.
Nuss promises an anything but ordinary sweet potato gnocchi that is vegan and gluten free
Scratch will offer gourmet sandwiches, but the heart and soul of the menu are its entrees, Sexton said. Salmon, lamb or steak will be combined with sides a customer chooses.
“I don’t want to tell people you have to have this salmon with this side,” Nuss said.
Each of the entrees on the menu can stand alone and the sides are generous and can be shared.
“Everything that Nate (Nuss) does is very flavorful,” Sexton said.
Nuss will start the preparation with the food in its rawest form. The same will be true of the cocktails. Fruit juice will be fresh squeezed and syrups made in-house with turbinado sugar.
The Sooner Cobbler cocktail combines fresh blackberries, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, vodka and Jamaican No. 2 bitters — grapefruit and hibiscus.
The Sparrow Bee cocktail is “aged rum with fresh lemon as well,” Koplowitz said. “It also has a honey syrup we make here and fresh mint.”
“We don’t compromise,” Nuss said. “What’s great about Oklahoma is it’s an agrarian state.”
The restaurant will seek local produce in season.
Scratch opens May 29.