Alma Mater, a new collegiate-theme restaurant featuring a beer garden, has opened in the former 7165 Lounge space on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy.
This is the first sit-down restaurant for proprietor Jake Sudderth, who also owns the used bookstore Read and Eat, along with Bee Burger and Mt. Airy Noodle House. All are located in the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue.
Sudderth, an urban-studies historian, says the venture is an investment in Mt. Airy, and builds on the vision of David and Betty Ann Fellner to make the block a vibrant community hub. The couple own the property and are 10 percent partners in the restaurant.
“I see it as another opportunity to repurpose space that needed a little bit of a boost or investment,” he said. It’s Sudderth’s fourth business in 13 months, and he anticipates hiring 30 to 40 people.
Choosing a collegiate theme
Sudderth says the theme arose from the saturation of colleges and universities in the region. He saw an opportunity to create a place where alumni and others could gather, particularly for such events as viewing homecoming and collegiate sports, or even a college chess tournament.
It was also a nod to Mt. Airy being called a college town without a university. Added to that was the prevalence of locals who work in education, he said.
A major overhaul of the building
Two additional floors of the building were opened up for public use and an outdoor beer garden was created. Renovations, costing well above six figures, were mostly cosmetic.
“We didn’t have to change the guts of anything,” he said.
The original maple flooring was refinished, and the formerly dark interior was repainted in a pleasing cream color. Other upgrades included new furnishings, lighting, beer lines and kitchen equipment.
One of the most noticeable improvements was the transformation of an underused outdoor area into a beer garden. A deck covers the garden, with a boardwalk leading from it to a large parking lot a few doors down. The yard’s dilapidated fence was replaced.
Sudderth launched a Kickstarter campaign to pay for furniture for the garden, but says it’s an ancillary source of funding.
A sit-down restaurant, sports bar and more
On the main level is fully staffed, sit-down restaurant whose menu is standard American comfort food and high-end pub fare. Opened daily at 7 a.m., it has table seating for 120 customers, plus the main bar.
An existing stage and sound booth are available for light entertainment, such a three-piece jazz band during dinner hours.
Local promoter Lamar Redcross, who handled bookings for the former 7165 Lounge, will continue to bring events to the location, said Sudderth. However, Alma Mater is a restaurant and bar first and foremost, not an entertainment lounge, he noted.
Upstairs, a small 600-square-foot space serves as a quiet coffee bar and private dining or conference room area. It houses a large communal table plus a few smaller tables.
A dedicated sports bar and events space with 12 to 14 tables and several televisions is on the lower level. Making use of this previously unused space keeps the noise from disturbing restaurant customers, Sudderth said.
He also intends to install a 96-inch bar downstairs, though the lower level will not be fully ready until October.
Beer from local microbreweries
Outside, customers can quaff pitchers of sudsy brews in the shaded beer garden furnished with Amish-style benches and community tables. It’s family-friendly with small wooden picnic tables and bench seating just for children.
On tap are 16 beers, plus another 30 or so bottled brews with the focus on local microbreweries.