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Downtown jazz club to soon hold soft opening

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The wait is nearly over for jazz lovers in the Queen City. Downtown jazz club The Hepcat is scheduled to have its soft opening a week from today.

A pair of entrepreneurs, Jimmy Rollins and Dylan Fox, are bringing their vision of a 1920s-inspired club with craft cocktails, homestyle food and live music every night to the corner of McDaniel Street and Campbell Avenue. They announced the plans last year and estimated a January opening date.

Rollins said the owners are putting a local twist on the concept by featuring blues, folk and bluegrass alongside jazz.

“We’re an Ozark Mountain jazz club,” he said, noting the idea came from musician Austin Wilson, who Rollins and Fox consulted when creating the concept. “Our first step was to see if it was viable in Springfield. Is there enough music here? Enough musicians? Enough interest?”

Rollins said he’s been overwhelmed with the response from local artists who want to perform at the club.

The Hepcat, at 220 S. Campbell Ave, seats 136 people in its 4,200-square-foot main floor and upper level. Rollins said the business partners signed a lease for $2,700 per month in the building owned by Sam Freeman. The rate will increase each year, per their agreement, he said, and the pair invested $290,000 in startup costs, including renovations.

Fox’s brother, Dustin Fox, is The Hepcat’s head chef.

“He’s been cooking his whole life but never professionally until this,” Rollins said.

Rollins said he and Fox began fleshing out the business plan two years ago over tacos and Miller High Life at The Golden Girl Rum Club, and interior remodeling began in March. Although the two are both under 30 years old, they have a combined 20 years of restaurant and hospitality experience, Rollins said.

But Rollins’ first introduction to jazz began in middle school when he played in a jazz band. He then studied jazz as part of a French history course at the University of Missouri.

“That’s where a lot of jazz really developed, in France in the ‘20s,” he said. “There was less discrimination in France, so you saw a lot of African American influence. It was this free place to experiment. That’s kind of what jazz is all about.”

The name of the club also has its roots in African American culture. Rollins said the phrase “hep cat” was defined in Cab Calloway’s “Hepster’s Dictionary,” a glossary of Harlem jive.

“A hep cat in his dictionary is someone who knows it all, essentially, who has a grasp on everything,” Rollins said. “Back then, if you were a hep cat, you were pretty awesome.”

An official grand opening has not yet been set, but Rollins said he’ll likely announce that next week. The Hepcat is slated to be open 5 p.m.-midnight Tuesday and Wednesday and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. He said they later plan to introduce a Sunday brunch.

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