A new gastropub is open on the Tuscaloosa Strip, where a group of entrepreneurs sees an unmet demand for pizza by the slice for students and football fans.

The restaurant, called the Standard, is in something of a "soft open" period as its owners work to hire dozens of workers to cover long business hours seven days a week.

Co-owner Billy Cornish said he has a long history of running restaurants, bars and nightclubs in and around Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, close to New York and New Jersey, but had semi-retired from the hospitality industry when he visited Tuscaloosa for a home football game with his daughter, a UA student.

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Cornish said when he saw this building's prime location on University Boulevard in the heart of the Strip, his entrepreneurial spirit began stirring again.

"I found this great retail spot and noticed there wasn't any sliced pizza around," Cornish said. "So I did my research, called my business partner up and said 'Hey listen, you've got to come down here and look at this because there's the opportunity to open a business down here and focus especially on pizza, wings and fries and while we're at it, we're on the Strip, so let's run a bar out of it, too.'"

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

His business partner, Greg Melhem, sold his two brothers Johnny and Maynard Melhem on the concept and the four restaurateurs got busy setting up shop in Tuscaloosa.

That was early last year, but the Standard is located at 1217 University Boulevard, between Rounders Bar and Twelve25, and was last used as the jcg apparel store. Opening a new restaurant there required a total build-out renovation, which has taken 11 months to see through.

Now, with the doors open and core staff hired, there are few hoops left to jump through for the gastropub to get truly underway. The Tuscaloosa City Council voted to grant them an on-premise liquor license Tuesday night, and as soon as the Alabama Beverage Control board gives them the final greenlight, the new business will have official permission to serve alcohol.

Cornish told the Thread he's hired more than three dozen employees already, but the Standard will aim to be open from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. basically every day of the week.

Even after the bar stops serving alcohol each night, he said they plan to keep the kitchen open a while longer and serve slices to-go through a walk-up window that opens up to the sidewalk.

Cornish said that will require three or four shifts daily for front- and back-of-house staff and the restaurant is likely to eventually employ around 100 people.

Until staffing is more secure and the liquor license is finalized, the Standard is open now at 4 p.m. and closing whenever ingredients or available staff run out for the night, which Cornish said has been happening around midnight this week.

On offer are New York-style pizzas by the slice or whole pie along with chicken wings and hand-cut boardwalk fries, a New Jersey staple served typically with malt vinegar.

If those northeastern mainstays aren't tempting enough, Cornish said there has also been huge demand from out-of-state students for the Standard's perogies, which would be tough to find anywhere else in Tuscaloosa.

"We're slowly realizing how many students here are from the North and we're selling so many perogies it's ridiculous," he joked.

The Standard will also offer unique pizzas including a chicken wing pie and a chicken parmesan pie, appetizers like fried pickles and loaded fries, nachos, chicken tenders and more.

They're open now on the Strip every afternoon and looking to expand hours before the end of the month if possible. Cornish asked the community to come and try the Standard for themselves, but to be empathetic during these first few weeks.

"Please be patient with us," he said. "We're going to be open full-steam as soon as I can staff and get the liquor license finalized and we can't wait to see people there."

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