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Staff photo by Tim Barber Erik Niel, executive chef and owner of Main Street Meats, talks about the new expansion of his business into a 40-seat restaurant on the existing East Main Street site. The progress is seen here on June 19, 2015.

When Erik and Amanda Niel opened their upscale Easy Bistro and Bar a decade ago in downtown Chattanooga, they used a lot of black paint inside to make the cavernous space seem smaller.

Now, the Niels are using lots of white tile to make the interior seem larger in their second restaurant, a 40-seater that's under construction now in Main Street Meats, a specialty butcher shop and charcuterie — or vendor of cold, cooked meats — in the heart of Chattanooga's booming Southside neighborhood.

"It is a very small restaurant, especially by Chattanooga standards," Erik Niel said.

But the Niels, who assumed control of Main Street Meats in October 2014, feel they'll draw in customers who will appreciate a menu that will change daily based around what Erik said is locally-sourced, grass-fed, antibiotic-free and hormone-free meat. Beef, pork, lamb and trout will be on the menu, as well as sausages and charcuterie made in house.

"It'll be a lot of small, tight menus featuring what we have in the retail side," Niel said. "We're going breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast, not initially, but lunch and dinner for sure."

"The bar's going to feature a lot of bourbon and craft beer," he said. The Niels have to reapply to the Chattanooga Beer Board for a beer permit and also need to get a liquor license from the state.

The Niels expect the restaurant will do well, based on the success they've had selling hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and other lunch items — including bacon chocolate chip cookies — at the butcher counter.

"We only had about 12 to 14 seats — it didn't take us long to realize we could fill more of them up," Erik Niel said.

The restaurant is slated to open in mid-July. The 2,400-square-foot-space at 217 East Main St. then will hold a butcher shop, retail area, restaurant kitchen, bar and seating area.

The Niels figure the different facets of the business will support one another. For example, diners can shop at the butcher counter.

"You can eat dinner and buy stuff to cook the next day," Erik Niel said.

The Niels lease the Main Street Meats space from John Sweet, the owner of the nearby Niedlov's Breadworks bakery. It's one of a growing number of eateries to pop up recently on East Main Street.

But Erik Niel and others involved in Main Street Meat see the nearby restaurants as complementary — not competition.

"I've been in the restaurant business a long time," Niel said. "I really believe in the more, the merrier."

Brent Harding, house manager for Main Street Meats, is happy that Slick's Burgers recently moved to East Main Street from its St. Elmo location.

"I'm so stoked that Slick's is next door. It's bringing more people to the neighborhood," Harding said. "The whole Main Street area is really starting to take off. So we're happy to be a part of it."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

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