Two historical downtown buildings are being refurbished, and they will soon house Blackbird Kitchen & Bar, a seafood restaurant that owner Carina Lampkin said will serve “gourmet food at hipster prices” and is expected to open in December.
The approximately 3,500-square-foot building was formerly two separate buildings, 1013 and 1015 Ninth St., and both date back to the 1930s.
“Blackbird is a compilation of all of my experience so far,” said the 30-year-old Lampkin. “I grew up on the East Coast and spent every summer in Maine. In 2003, I moved to San Francisco and went to culinary school.”
After spending almost a decade cooking at restaurants in San Francisco, Lampkin made the move to Sacramento and partnered with Rachel Kelley, a 27-year-old pastry chef who spent the past four years working at Ella, and Shayne “7evin” Iles, a graphic designer, marketer and DJ who will be the general manager.
While Lampkin isn’t sharing too many details of what the menu will hold, she said the restaurant will feature a variety of fish, including salmon, cod, halibut and mahi-mahi. She said she also loves working with dungeness crab and lobster.
Both Lampkin and Kelley will work in the kitchen, along with other local talent they have recruited.
Oysters – both raw and cooked – will also be on the menu, and non-seafood items such as steak, chicken and pork will be available.
“Our kitchen is basically the same size as our dining room,” Lampkin said. “We have a lot of space to make a lot of different types of food.”
Before Blackbird, the space housed a Thai restaurant.
When it comes to dessert creations, Kelley said she will be using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and her double-chocolate ice cream is one of her favorite dishes.
Prices have not been set, but Lampkin said she wants to provide excellent, affordable food.
“None of us is looking to get rich off of this,” she said. “We know times are hard, and if we break even on our high-cost items like fish, I’ll be happy.”
The owners said they are happy to be in historical buildings.
“The building on the left was Skagg’s Cash Store, the predecessor to Safeway,” 7evin said. “The other one, at 1015 (Ninth St.), was built by the Dean brothers in 1933, the same people who built Memorial Auditorium.”
Setting up in historical buildings at first seemed challenging, as the restaurateurs realized there were restrictions on what they could and could not demolish inside, but in the end, it turned out for the better, Lampkin said.
“When we’re done with the interior, it’s going to be amazing,” she said. “And we’re not three kids coming from the Bay Area with money – we’re doing a lot of the work ourselves. I never expected to be scraping paint, but that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Work on the interior is still under way, and the three partners said they are enjoying designing it but look forward to its completion.
“The great thing about (Lampkin, Kelley and 7evin) is that they have a vision, and yet even with their vision and artistic abilities, they are still willing to listen to the preservation department, and they have truly partnered to make that space pop,” said Valerie Mamone-Werder, business recruitment manager for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.
She added that that section of the city is an important area for economic development, with nearby K Street readying to open to vehicular traffic.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of success from 12th (Street) to 10th Street, and this feels like a natural progression down the street and around the corner, and that’s very exciting,” she said.
For those looking for a preview of the food to come at Blackbird, the restaurant will be participating in a celebration for bringing cars back to K Street scheduled for 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at 12th and K streets.
“We’ll be out there with our fish tacos and a few other things,” Lampkin said.
Looking to do more with the space than simply serve food, Lampkin said a large cocktail selection will be available as well, and art will feature prominently in the space.
“I feel like Sacramento is a true artists’ community,” Lampkin said. “In San Francisco, rent is too expensive to really foster that community, but Sacramento’s arts community is amazing.”
7evin, who works in graphic design and marketing but is also a DJ, said the restaurant will not have any dance space, but DJs will be brought in to perform for the diners.
“It’s not going to just be people with two turntables and a mixer,” he said. “It’s people who are really performers, who are mixing live and really creating art.”
The most noticeable artwork displayed by the restaurant won’t actually be inside. The exterior space will feature a wall painting of 7evin’s graphic rendition of Lampkin’s idea to showcase a flock of blackbirds taking flight from a tree.
Lampkin said that when she woke up after being in a car accident in 2005, she heard the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” and it stuck with her. Sadly, her close friend did not survive the collision, and Lampkin said she has since learned that many cultures believe the dead communicate with the living through blackbirds.
“I didn’t even know that until after I named the restaurant, but it’s really fitting,” she said.
Initially, the restaurant will be able to seat 50 people, and Lampkin said that after six months of being open, she plans to add another 25 seats.
Sean Kohmescher, owner of Temple Coffee, which has a location across the street, said he is happy to see Blackbird opening.
“I’ve met them quite a few times, and they seem like great people,” he said. “I’ve had their food, and the food was amazing. There’s been so many changes going on downtown, mostly in the last few years with places closing, it’s good to see places opening up.”
Blackbird Kitchen & Bar is located at 1015 Ninth St.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.