ICONIC BUILDING, NEW IDEA: Lucabe to open coffee shop in former Irwin Union Bank building

Lucabe Coffee Co. has announced plans to open a new location in an iconic building on the near east side of Columbus that was originally designed as an Irwin Union Bank branch.

Alissa Hodge, co-owner of Lucabe, and her husband Tyler Hodge are planning to open a coffee shop with a drive-thru, possibly as early as this summer, in the former Irwin Union Bank branch at 25th Street and National Road in Eastbrook Plaza after acquiring the building on March 18.

The unique grey-brick building, which was designed by the late architect Harry Weese and completed in 1961, has been vacant for about a year after First Financial Bank closed its branch there and moved to newly-built office about a mile away.

First Financial Bank had been operating a bank branch in the building since acquiring it from Irwin Union Bank and Trust in 2009.

“It was one of the first buildings I recognized once we moved to town about 10 years ago,” Alissa Hodge said Monday. “I remember before we even owned a coffee shop … driving past this building and thinking, ‘Man, that would be a cool coffee shop one day.’”

“We’re really excited about it,” she added.

Alissa Hodge said she and her husband are hoping to capture the vibe of original bank as much as possible and are referencing historical photographs of the structure when it first opened.

Landmark Columbus, formed in 2015 as a caretaker of the city’s cultural and architectural heritage, has been connecting the Hodges to artists and architects, Alissa Hodge said.

The Hodges also have reached out to J. Irwin Miller’s relatives to see if they would like to participate in art installations at the coffee shop to pay homage to the history of the building.

Workers have already auctioned off some of First Financial Bank’s office equipment, cleared out the bank vault and are currently restoring the floor, Alissa Hodge said.

Additionally, Alissa Hodge said there will patio seating along Haw Creek and a drive-thru styled similar to Chick-fil-A, where employees go outside during peak hours and meet customers at their cars to speed up wait times.

“Our goal is to be inspired and hold true to as much Irwin flavor as possible, so we’re aiming to restore the original slate floors,” Alissa Hodge said. “We’re keeping the vault and keeping the door on it. We’re turning it into the kids play space. That eyesight that the Irwin Union Bank had from the second you walked in you could see all the way to the vault. Our goal is to open it right back up to how it was originally so that you can see all the way to the vault and it all kinds of becomes this one open space.”

Lucabe had been looking to expand before the pandemic and plans to hire about “20 to 30 additional people” to work at the new location, she said.

The expansion comes amid a difficult year for small businesses across the U.S. after the pandemic upended the economy and altered how people shop.

Lucabe, founded in 2017, currently employs 15 people at its downtown location at 310 Fourth St., and was able to make it through the past year without laying off or furloughing any staff.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said it has been “impressive” to see a local small business expand in a challenging economic environment.

“One of my first jobs was working as a bank teller at this branch, so I think customers will respond well to being able to drive up and order coffee; plus it will have a nice view of the Haw Creek and our People Trail,” Lienhoop said.

For Richard McCoy, founding executive director of Landmark Columbus, the Lucabe project is an example of how an architecturally significant building can be transformed into another community asset, instead of sitting vacant and decaying.

“I think as a community and as a city administration, I think you see a lot of people working to try to help this effort along,” McCoy said. “I think it takes a community effort. It’s more than a kind of legal or governmental thing, it’s really a community effort to say these buildings matter and that we want to try as a community to find great ways to reuse them, and that’s what’s so cool about this.”

“You are seeing that in this project,” McCoy said of the transformation of the building to a new use.

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To learn more about Columbus’ architecturally significant heritage, visit landmarkcolumbusfoundation.org/