New owners install Collage in an old gallery space.

Art Project 

New owners install Collage in an old gallery space.

There's not much in the way of memories -- or tableware -- left at 904 Westport Road to remind visitors that this midtown storefront was once the Stolen Grill Restaurant. Several of the remaining tables have been pushed together to serve as desks for the current tenants: future restaurateurs Paul Boesche, 36, and Jim Crandall, 25.

Boesche (who attended a European culinary school and has cooked in his uncle's New York restaurant but doesn't call himself a chef) and Crandall are hoping to open their first local restaurant, Collage, by the end of the year. They're joined by two other partners: nightclub owner Danny Louie and Crandall's wife, Kathleen.

The Stolen Grill's old silver-and-turquoise paint job is on its way out, as are the plastic flowers in the bathroom and the built-in wine rack that got a blast of full sunshine during the day. "That wasn't too good for the wines," Boesche says, laughing.

The space had a brief life in the 1980s as a combination art gallery and tea room called The Artists Palate, run by the late Charlene Schmelzer. Kathleen Crandall, a visual artist, hasn't been very involved in the construction work going on in the space because she's expecting a baby soon, but she is making a collage at home to hang in the restaurant.

The name has been somewhat controversial, Boesche says, because it implies a style of fusion cuisine that's fallen out of favor. "But we named the restaurant without having a menu or even a chef," he says. "It better describes the collection of us, the owners, and all of our own eccentricities and weirdness. It's not about the style of food."

Boesche and his newly hired executive chef, Klaus von Ritter, will create the menu for the 42-seat restaurant together. It will be a collage, all right; Boesche has definite culinary concepts in mind. ("Classic dishes, but we'll have to have a pot pie.") Partner Jim Crandall worked as "server, bartender, dishwasher, assistant manager and floor scrubber" at another small local restaurant, Sienna Bistro, and he has ideas of his own about making the tiny restaurant successful. Last week, though, he couldn't think about food. He had his hands full with a dozen other tasks, including washing the dirty dishes left behind by the previous owners. "They took everything that was clean," Crandall says.

The new place will be upscale enough to offer tablecloths, cloth napkins, a tasteful wine list and eclectic music. Crandall, a self-proclaimed "big vinyl junkie," has more than 2,000 albums (ranging from Johnny Cash to Alvin and the Chipmunks) stashed in his downtown loft, and if he ever gets a free minute, he'll start putting some of those songs on CDs to play in the restaurant. "But despite the inaccurate rumors that we're turning this place into a techno club," he says, "it will only be background music, not the focus."

"There have been a lot of rumors about what we're doing here," Boesche adds, "including that we're a front for the mob. Trust me, if that were true, we'd be open already."

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