It was an hour before the bar/restaurant's 4 p.m. opening, and several staff members were already prepping food in the 78-square-foot kitchen, and several more of the eatery's 18 employees had begun arriving to set up the bar and take chairs off the tables.
After a quick tour of the two-story space in Red Bank that was once home to Big Frog Brewing, the three settled into one of four large leather couches in the downstairs area. Clever opened June 2, and Schwenke said it already feels like a part of the neighborhood, with several regulars, including parents who walk from their homes pushing baby strollers or couples who walk or ride bikes a couple of times a week.
"We knew people in the neighborhood wanted a place to hang out, because they told us before we opened, but we have been surprised at how quickly it has happened," he said.
Taylor said his biggest surprise since opening has been the number of new names of patrons that he's seen, in addition to the number of people he didn't already know who signed up for the venue's Kickstarter campaign. The owners plan to do another round of sign-ups for its members-only group sometime soon.
Members get things like a special mug or glass, T-shirts and stickers, though the details for the next round are not finalized.
Among the regulars are members of the Red Bank police force and city officials, Bowers said. Taylor said the place is especially busy from 5-7:30 each night with people from the neighborhood.
* What: Clever Alehouse, 2212 Dayton Blvd.
* Phone: 423-654-3509
* Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday
"The upstairs area is filled with strollers," he said.
The three friends met while students at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, more than a decade ago, and they also have worked together, with Schwenke overseeing the Daily Ration restaurant Bowers owns in North Chattanooga. Taylor holding the same position at the Bowers-owned Bitter Alibi on Houston Street downtown.
Bowers said having eight years' worth of experience from those places helped make opening Clever much easier.
"We've learned from all the mistakes we made, but really it's more about knowing about the things that don't change, like who our vendors are, point-of-sales, security, those kinds of things," Bowers said.
Regulars to Bitter Alibi or Daily Ration will notice that the Clever menu is similar to those but unique in its own way.
There is an adult mac-'n' cheese dish, and another with kimchi, and dishes all have names with pop-culture references like the Pop, Lock & Chop it Salad or the Chori & Topanga with chorizo or vegan sausage, hatch chili queso, citrus slaw, house salsa verde and cilantro pressed on a flatbread.
Schwenke said customers are often surprised that such a small kitchen can not only turn out food relatively quickly, but by the quality of the dishes.
"They walk by our 78-square-foot kitchen, and you can see it on their faces," he said with a laugh.
Each of the specialty cocktails are named after a "Saturday Night Live" regular, including the Bill Hader Highball made with Chattanooga Whiskey or the Tina Fey made with St. Germain, bitters, rose and lemon.
Bowers said they took down one wall and opened another to create some space upstairs. Clever seats 73 people inside and another 26 outside on the back patio area. He also noted the large parking area next to the building, which sits directly on Dayton Boulevard.
The grand opening celebration, which will be an all-day affair with live music and food and drink specials, will be the first of what the trio said they hope will be several special events they plan to host. As they and the staff get more acclimated to the wants and needs of their customers, they hope to begin offering in-house trivia contests, and they plan to begin partnering with other Red Bank businesses and nonprofit organizations on community-related events.