The newest and highest-profile component of the Finley Farms development in Ozark is open, while other projects await completion next year.
The Ozark Mill Restaurant – housed in the centerpiece of Finley Farms’ second phase – began serving customers Sept. 3. Officials say the 30,000-square-foot, 1833-era Ozark Mill’s restoration, which started in 2018, is expected to stretch into 2022. When completed, it will also include The Garrison, a turn-of-the-century-inspired speakeasy bar, and The Riverside Room, a 150-occupancy event space.
“It serves as a historic landmark and the heart of Finley Farms,” said development spokesperson Dayle Duggins, of the Ozark Mill. “It’s not only a riverfront restaurant featuring farm-to-table cuisine, but it also includes a general store and event spaces.”
To mark the debut of the Finley Farms restaurant, officials with the development owned by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris held a multiday grand opening this month. The Oct. 7-10 event included a ribbon-cutting with the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, live music, food vendors, property tours and workshops. The event was held two years after the October 2019 debut of The Workshop, a coffee shop and craft-making space at Finley Farms that opened inside a renovated 1930s-era industrial garage.
The Farm, an urban farm with fruits, vegetables and flowers from heirloom seeds, completed the first phase of the development when it opened last year. It’s also a significant contributor to The Ozark Mill Restaurant, said executive chef Kevin Korman. He said the menu incorporates 28 types of organically grown produce sourced from the farm.
“Aside from our regular menu, we have what is called the market menu that changes seasonally,” Korman said. “The market menu is our version of specials, where we try to tell the story of The Farm itself and other local farm partners we’re trying to incorporate in there.”
Korman relocated to Ozark in January 2020 after previously working as executive chef at Whitebird and Whiskey Thief at The Edwin Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Since then, he’s taught classes through Finley Farms, including knife skills, making gnocchi, and chicken butchery and cooking. Korman also has spent time over the past 20 months as a chef consultant for restaurants at Big Cedar Lodge, another Morris property.
Korman said roughly 65 of the 95 Finley Farms employees work at the restaurant, which is open for lunch Saturday and Sunday and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Staff members also are ramping up banquet operations on site, which has The Hawkins Room event space adjacent to the restaurant. He estimated the eatery seats 100 inside and another 60 outside, which provides diners with a view of the Finley River.
“Ideally, we’d like to get to a place where we’ll be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week,” he said. “But it’s all dependent on staff and daily operations, and when we get into more of the banquets. We just don’t want to extend ourselves too thin. We’re growing as quickly as we can within our parameters.”
The menu incorporates a little bit of Ozark Mill’s history, he said, noting it includes seasonal options such as roasted salmon, house-made pastas and artisanal pizzas made with freshly milled flour turned into a sourdough.
“What I tried to do was have a menu that reads very approachable, things that people are familiar with – and we just kind of elevated it a little bit,” Korman said. “It’s a little bit different than you expect it to be.”
One of those different items is a green tomato cake sold as a dessert. Korman said it’s an exclusive to Finley Farms among Morris-owned properties.
“It tastes a lot like a carrot cake. All the green tomatoes grown on the property come to us,” he said. “I’m currently sitting on some 600 pounds of green tomatoes in the walk-in [cooler] right now.
“It just screamed farm-to-table to me.”
Duggins said the restaurant staff is still being filled out, as jobs for a sous chef, servers and dishwashers are among those being sought on the Finley Farms website. Much of the development’s employee count was achieved during a summer hiring event, she said, declining to disclose how many of the 80 positions advertised were hired.
A level below the restaurant, general contractor Nabholz Corp. continues renovation work in the mill’s basement for The Garrison bar and The Riverside Room event space. Duggins declined to say when the two projects will be complete in 2022, although Korman said he’s hopeful for early in the year.
The Chapel, an open-air venue overlooking the river, held its first event – a yoga class – earlier this month. While other yoga classes are listed on the schedule for the venue, Duggins said weddings won’t begin there until March 2022. The same is true for Riverside Bridge, a historic 274-foot structure nearby the Ozark Mill that runs over the Finley River. Duggins said it debuted as an event space in September for the Sunset Soiree, a fundraiser benefiting nonprofit James River Basin Partnership.
“It’s pretty unique. We thought it was a great one-of-a-kind outdoor event venue where people could connect with nature and have dinner or a cocktail hour up there,” she said. “It’s just a great way to repurpose a historic structure.”
Both venues are seasonal and will accommodate events March through Nov. 1, she said.
“We are currently booking those spaces out for private parties, weddings and celebrations of all sorts,” she said, declining to say the number of events currently scheduled.
While the development’s projects continue, the value of the Morris family vision is clearly on display as a jewel for Ozark and beyond, said Show Me Christian County President and CEO Andrea Sitzes. The head of the nonprofit economic development organization said Finley Farms serves as a regional attractor, similar to Amazon setting up facilities in Republic and Springfield.
“It really signifies that Christian County is able and proven for national investment,” she said. “If there are other companies looking at this area and other local developers looking at the market, it shows that it’s worthy of that type of investment.”
While declining to disclose company names, Sitzes said Finley Farms is attracting outside business interest in Ozark.
“We’ve definitely had projects that have asked about or are wanting to locate near that,” she said.
While phase two is scheduled to wrap up next year, Finley Farms isn’t finished developing. Property visitors will eventually have the option to stay in overnight accommodations, visit an on-site brewery or rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for river activities. However, officials remain tight-lipped about details on the phase three plans.
“We’ve not moved on to phase three quite yet,” Duggins said. “It’s still in the planning phase.”
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