(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
"We think the former owners would appreciate people enjoying the house. We kept the original architecture," owner Kevin Priester said, referring to himself and partners.
Priester long held the view that the Huhn-Harrison house would be a great place for a coffee shop. He appreciates the area because of its many historical buildings and its proximity to the university's fine arts campus. Priester said they looked at other buildings near River Campus, but encountered problems the farther they ventured. When the house became available, Priester said, it required a lot of work.
"It was a challenge taking a 110- year-old-house and making it a commercial-grade building and to keep the architecture and the feel of the house," said Priester.
According to Priester the house suffered termite damage. He said they took apart the house and put it back together as close to the original as possible. They replaced poles on the porch, redid the kitchen, sanded and refinished floors, brought plumbing and wiring up to date and more. Priester described the process as "a labor of love," and it led him to appreciate the original craftsmanship of the home. He said they received a lot of help from family and contractors.
They purchased the house in October 2011 and opened for business Dec. 14.
"We wanted to ease into things," said Priester. "Opening a business in the food industry has its own unique set of challenges."
Priester said he received help from Rozz Ridings and Matt Wilson, who oversee day-to-day operation at the bistro. He said they like to use as many environmentally friendly items as possible.
Part of the vision for the bistro is serving the River Campus students. According to Priester, he eventually would like to display student artwork and serve as an acoustic venue for students to hone their skills and find an audience they can identify with. Priester plans to have operating hours around River Campus events.
Priester sees the house and West Bank Bistro as being part of the identity of Cape Girardeau.
"I think there's a need for Walmart, and Starbucks has its place, but places like Port Cape and Cup'n'Cork are what make Cape what it is, and add to the uniqueness of Cape," Priester. said. "We have to keep our own identity, and I want to be part of that identity."
The Queen Anne style house was built in 1905 by hotel owner Randolph Huhn and was last occupied by B.W. Harrison. When Harrison died in 2004, the home was willed to the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation. Harrison donated nearly $1 million to Southeast for the purchase of the Old St. Vincent Seminary building that is now part of the River Campus.
"The Huhns and Harrisons were a big part of the community, and we don't want that to be lost," said Priester. "I've met a lot of people who knew them and have never heard a bad thing about them."
"We want to develop as many relationships as we can," Priester said. "We want to meaningfully connect with the university and community."
For more information, go online to www.facebook.com/pages/West-Bank-Bistro/....