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12 People You Need to Know in 2018: Tom Muetzel

The “Indiana Jones” Restaurateur

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It’s true. The much-missed tapas bar, Ophelia’s, is named for the conflicted and insane character of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Tom Muetzel knows it might seem odd to name a place designed for comfort and conversation after a tragic figure, but he brings an unconventional approach to restaurant ownership.
He co-owns Ophelia’s, Finnegan’s Wake and Sequiota Bike Shop LLC, and he helped launch Civil Kitchen & Tap. He says he’s unafraid to hire inexperienced people, and he serves as his own bank.

That’s just how Muetzel does business.

In 2006, Muetzel opened Ophelia’s in Wilhoit Plaza and reopened in 2010 on East Walnut Street before closing in 2015. When Muetzel was approached with the opportunity to relaunch Ophelia’s on Commercial Street, he and his wife and co-owner, Lori, liked the idea of opening in a historic building and being part of the area’s ongoing redevelopment.

They selected a structure that dates to the late 1860s, and the Muetzels planned on using the basement and first floor for Ophelia’s. Because the basement ceiling was too low, renovations called for digging down several feet to create more headroom.

But old buildings tend to hide secrets, and this one was no different. While excavating the basement floor, a hidden cellar below the basement was discovered.

During the digging process, Muetzel said items from the building’s long history were discovered.

“At first there was all this initial excitement because we had found this architectural piece that no one knew was there,” he told the Springfield Business Journal in September. “And you’re on this kind of Indiana Jones dig all of the sudden.”

The problem: The space was full of water, and it continues to seep in.

As a crew works to stabilize the building, water tests are being conducted to determine the water’s source and figure out how to permanently and reliably remove it from the space that was used for storage into the 1920s.

As a result, Ophelia’s third incarnation is on hold, Muetzel says. Every project has unforeseen costs, he says, but the complications stemming from Ophelia’s discovery translates into an uncertain future for the restaurant.

“It has turned into something that has become more complicated than we could have imagined,” he says. “Sometimes the best business decisions are about knowing when to walk away.” Finnegan’s Wake opened in 2007, and Sequiota Bike Shop opened in 2015 with co-owner Anne Baker. When choosing the name and image for Ophelia’s, he drew inspiration from his mother, an English-literature major who loved Shakespeare. She is the woman in Ophelia’s logo.


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