Photo courtesy Will's Pub/Facebook
If you wanted to do a cartoonish spit take with your morning coffee today, the Orlando Sentinel's news
that longtime Orlando venue Will's Pub has been sold would more than suffice as a trigger.
Now, let's be absolutely clear from the outset, this doesn't mean that Will's Pub owner and figurehead Will Walker is shutting down or leaving his eponymous bar. What this means is that there is a new owner of the Mills Avenue property upon which Will's sits.
Walker's lease on the building extends through close to the next 10 years, though, and so for the immediate — if not foreseeable — future, Will's Pub is open for business.
"It's weird, people look at that in weird ways," says Will Walker during a conversation with Orlando Weekly
on Wednesday afternoon, "since we've been upfront about how we weren't exactly healthy this past year, I could see people being like, 'Oh, well that's it.'"
And yet, it's definitely not "it" for the Mills Avenue institution. "Our position is — we're not going anywhere, don't sweat that," says Walker.
The previous owner of the property, Robert Cascio, put it up for sale and the land was snapped up forthwith, as any and all Mills 50 real estate is a hot commodity these days.
"I found out that the sale was finalized when the Sentinel
called me," says Walker with a perfect note of dry humor.
The new property owner, Kevin Reynolds, appears to be a believer in the work Walker and company are doing at Will's — indeed, this new landlord even took in his first concert there. Reynolds paid $870,000 for the Will's site and lauded Walker as doing "a phenomenal job being an operator of the space," to the Sentinel.
"He's been to shows at Will's. He’s a younger guy … and he doesn't seem to be a developer, more of a property investor," says Walker of Reynolds. "So, out of all the possible scenarios, this was one of the better ones."
When Orlando Weekly
spoke to Walker, he seemed in relatively good spirits given the extremely turbulent year — almost to the day — that he and has establishment and staff have weathered during what should have been a boffo 25th anniversary year. Instead, it was a year of financial emergencies and pivots and adaptations to the continued challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We've had so many pivots this past year that it's really hard to keep track of what the hell we're doing. ‘Now we're a restaurant, surprise!’" says Walker. "I'm actually curious to see what we look like on the other side of all this. What sticks … there's a lot in up the air."
What Will's looks like right now is very much like the neighborhood watering-hole of old — though with new health and safety guidelines in place — but with a pared-down calendar of events (many outdoors) and the addition of a new kitchen, run in tandem with Swine & Sons.
"It's going really well," says Walker of the kitchen operation. "We’re up to five days a week, we're hanging the menu here and there. We just added wings. It's good, partnering up with Swine & Sons is turning out well thus far, and I think into the future is a really solid thing."
In the face of an uncertain future, Walker has a disarmingly simple strategy in mind going forward.
"I'm kind of refocusing on not growing," he says, "and getting back to some basics."
Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters, and consider supporting this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you Central Florida news, and every little bit helps.