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Davenport restaurant that was set to open day of flood wall breach, The Half Nelson, finally open for business

Davenport restaurant that was set to open day of flood wall breach, The Half Nelson, finally open for business

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Moments before the temporary flood wall breached in downtown Davenport, Matt Osborn was putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant, which was set to open that evening. 

"What was that day like? Honestly, it feels like a dream," said Osborn, who finally opened his restaurant, The Half Nelson, at 321 E. 2nd St., this past week.

On April 30, Osborn was standing with a contractor outside, behind the restaurant, going over last minute details, when they watched the water start to fill the alley behind them. Osborn said he immediately ran outside, yelling and warning people in the area to get to higher ground. 

"A few moments later we were totally surrounded by water," he said. 

As floodwater encroached farther on the downtown, business owners and customers were rescued by boat. More than 30 businesses closed due to the historic flooding.

Osborn later returned to his restaurant by boat and worked to move everything to higher ground, including brand new custom-made furniture and light fixtures.

Osborn had been conceptualizing his new restaurant for around two years, he said, working with his parents and local restaurant owners, Mike and Carla Osborn. They own Miss Mamie's Catfish House in Moline and Mo Brady's Steakhouse in Davenport. 

During that time, Osborn had been scouting out locations when he met Nick Bowers, owner and creative director of blocHaus in Chicago. Bowers is an Eldridge native and St. Ambrose University grad, and according to Osborn, helped inspire the vision for The Half Nelson. 

"Everything we do begins and ends with a story," Bowers said. "There isn't a piece of artwork or color that goes into any of our spaces that doesn't tie into the concept." 

Once Osborn decided on the right space for his restaurant — the historic former home of N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Co., built in 1922 — plans took off, he said. 

"We wanted to pay homage to the period of significance for the building, as well as that time and history in Davenport from the 1920s to '50s," Osborn said. "So we took a lot of inspiration from different eras. There are things that are very turn-of-the-century style, and then furniture that's much more early modernism. So it's really eclectic and speaks to the first half of the century." 

Bowers said they acquired artwork of patent drawings originally made at the N.0. Nelson building, to decorate the space. He expects the bar to draw customers in, with an asymmetrical design inspired by the Arsenal Bridge.

A sharp, dark blue pinstripe is painted around the restaurant's perimeter. Gray and brown booths, that could have been found on a set of the television show "Mad Men," are offset by 1920s-era geometrical patterns on the floor.

One of the most noticeable features of the space, though, is the lighting, Bowers said, which was all custom made to fit the room. 

As the restaurant came together, Osborn said he had accomplished his goal of creating a completely unique restaurant in the Quad-Cities — and a restaurant vastly different than what customers have come to expect from his parents' businesses.

But as his years-long effort reached the finish line, he stood in flood water, scrambling to move furniture to higher ground and save the light fixtures. Luckily, he said, the restaurant does not sit at ground level, so as flood waters continue to rise, Osborn had time to save almost everything.

With a team that began working 24-hours a day in shifts, Osborn said they tore out baseboards and the new trim on the walls, trying to avoid residual effects from the standing water. 

"It doesn't really feel real anymore. It kind of feels like a dream," he said. "I feel very strongly that without our contractor, things would have been much worse. People spent so much time building the restaurant, and then all of this extra time making sure it wasn't destroyed. We'd be in such a different position right now if it weren't for all of the work by our friends, customers and volunteers who helped us fight the flood." 

Now two months since the barrier breach, Osborn said his team has completely restored the restaurant. 

"The inside now looks like it did," he said. "It almost feels like it didn't happen. But then I step out onto 2nd Street and I'm reminded it did happen because there are neighbors on all sides of us that aren't open yet or that will stay closed." 

Finally, Osborn's vision has become a reality. This past week, he started serving The Half Nelson's full menu to his first customers. 

He said The Half Nelson offers a contemporary, "multicultural" menu, drawing inspiration from Vietnamese, Japanese and Latin cuisine. Customers, he said, can also expect some classically prepared steak and other dishes.

"The feeling of the restaurant is so much different than anything people have come to expect in the Quad-Cities," he said. "I'm so relieved we're back to work and open now."

The Half Nelson will be open at 11 a.m. each day except Monday, when it will be closed. 

For more information, visit The Half Nelson's Facebook page


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