eMbers VENUE began in 2013 as a warehouse turned into an event space. After 5 years of wedding receptions, reunions, baby/bridal showers, concerts, corporate events, and other private gatherings, we expanded the space and created the STATION - a wood fired, brick oven bistro eatery and craft bar that features local flavors and tastes. The STATION is open to the public Tuesday through Thursday 11am to 10pm and Friday/Saturday 11am to 11pm.
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An ember represents a beginning or an end to a fire. In our small city of Rensselaer, the fires always ended in destruction. Gravel and paved lots now show what used to be large downtown buildings during better downtown times.
Here is the setting of the STATION at eMbers where a large furniture store (Wright's) used to stand. A devastating fire destroyed the entire building and almost took eMbers down with it. When we purchased the eMbers building, charred walls greeted us in the upstairs and burnt lathe was on the ceiling and interior walls. Later, this site became the service station that we now use as the STATION at eMbers.
Instead of focusing on fire as a negative consequence of our downtown's history, we chose the name eMbers to represent a new beginning for an evolution in attitude, appearance, and pride for many of our friends in their hometown.
We moved to Rensselaer to accommodate Janelle's job at Purdue (she worked in the special events department and ultimately became Senior Director of Special Events) and the move allowed me to continue my work as an events photographer in the Chicagoland area. Rensselaer was the midpoint for us and soon we realized the city didn't necessarily have a space for special events that we were used to in more urban areas.
In the fall of 2011, our realtor friend gave us a heads up on a building that was going to be on the market soon and it all the making of what we often talked about wanting. It was just a little "rough" but would be within our price range. Rough was a bit of an understatement...
The eMbers Venue building was purchased in Late 2010. With the help of eBay and Kentland Bank, we were able to purchase this building and figure out exactly what we got ourselves into...
It took 2 years, 4 months, and 23 days for eMbers to host its first event on March 30th, 2013. That 875 days included purchase, design, deconstruction, refurbishment, redesign, build, clean, and stock to open our doors. It was the hardest working times of our lives but it created some of our favorite moments as well. We were two little people taking on a big project. Sparked with passion, creativity, and a lot of help from our friends and family, the original vision of eMbers became the result - a venue that shared the rebuilding of the city's history with modern thinking and design to spark progress forward.
During construction, we focused on a few "what's":
1.What can we save?
2 What can we refurbish?
3. What can we reclaim?
4. What can we repurpose?
These "what's" are very important for us when we create. There's a little history of Rensselaer in the entire place. With Gym floor from a demolished school to little metal pieces from other destroyed buildings, there's history everywhere. Unrelated (no, totally related), it was also right within our budget; that "super tight you think you can do this with that little of money in your account?" kind of budget...
After two and a half years of weddings, baby/bridal showers, reunions, birthday parties, holiday parties, corporate events, concerts, fundraisers, comedy nights, and more; we were presented with the opportunity to purchase the service station and lot next to us.
My biggest advice for anyone reading this that wants to create is to have a strong relationship with a bank (unless you have cash on hand to create and if you do, let's talk about Rensselaer together!). We found a bank in Kentland Bank that understood our vision and believed in us; we got lucky. I often times walk into the bank and feel like I'm getting that "hope you are here to make a deposit and not pitch your next idea" smile. I'm also a little paranoid though too. Once again, we are lucky to have someone that believes in us and it was made possible to start the STATION project.
We purchased the service station and lot from our dear friend Marve Nagel.
Since opening eMbers VENUE, we always felt like there had to be a daily operation that worked the same way we ran the venue. There were hundreds of talks about what we would do with this space if we ever purchased it. The building was even in the original business plan of "down the road if...."
The plan was put into place to transform the service station into a microbrewery bistro eatery with an outdoor space. The original plan was to keep it simple. We didn't keep it simple.
I was talking with Titia Lee with the Tippecanoe Arts Federation in 2014 about creating a plan for a large public mural on our west wall. When those talks turned into realization, we had to figure out what was to be created with the lot before an artist arrived. Thankfully, the planning was completed a few weeks before the brilliant San Francisco artist Cameron Moberg arrived to create the 40 ft by 70 ft beautiful mural on the wall in June 2016.
San Francisco artist and winner of the Oxygen Channel's "Street Art Throwdown" reality TV show, Cameron Moberg arrives to Rensselaer to paint the "Take Flight" mural on the eMbers wall.
The completed mural allowed us to then begin the construction and repurposing of the STATION. Upon purchase of the service station, I would look around and think "This shouldn't be too hard". The station was small, the lot was wide open. This should be a piece of cake. Nope, no, nein, na, nicht, noooo. It wasn't. The outdoor space creation was the most difficult thing I've ever had to grasp in my life. I'm still trying to grasp how I went so far over budget with the outdoor space (don't tell my bank). Below is a slideshow of this construction project (tap left and right on the photos to scroll), And yes, that's me with a 2 inch scraper in my hand two days before Cameron arrived to paint the mural.
So, what's in a name? The premise of calling our facility eMbers was the attempt to create the beginning of that new spark in the community. We've all had those conversations of "I wish we had this, I wish we had that..." .
A few months ago, I began making fires in our new wood fired brick oven in the STATION. I've created more fires in the first few months than I ever have in my entire life. Each fire remains the same. None have ever started with a single ember. The name embers isn't the possessive "eMber's". It is the plural form of "eMbers". A fire is made possible with many embers. This project was never created or continued with one person. It was made possible by many "embers" who allowed us the opportunity to open and grow.
The STATION would not exist if the community didn't believe and share in what we do. Old friends and new friends alike made the expansion possible and if we continue to meet more "embers", our visions will continue to ignite. Realizing goals and visions are a great feeling, creating them is scary. eMbers is designed to show that by following through and fighting past the scary, good things can happen. We've been inspired by others who were able to achieve their dreams and it is our passion to inspire others the same way so they can follow their dreams.
Big communities, little communities; it means nothing when you ignite your senses and follow your passions for better things.
President and Director of Mopping/Sweeping