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Another piece of downtown Redmond history is seeing new life as a different kind of gathering place.

Grace and Hammer pizzeria and bar is shooting for a July opening in the building at 641 W Cascade Ave. that once housed First Presbyterian Church. The restaurant is the brainchild of Chad and Cinnamon Nemec, who are moving from Austin, Texas, to open the restaurant in the church that towers over the area between SW Seventh and Sixth streets.

While the Nemecs are new to Oregon, they are not new to pizza. They previously owned Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza in Austin.

They ended up coming to Central Oregon because they were one of the top sellers of Bend-based Deschutes Brewery’s products in their area, Chad Nemec said.

“They kind of took us for a trip around Central Oregon, and I fell in love,” he said.

While they knew they wanted to open a restaurant in the area, they weren’t sure where, Chad, 49, said.

“We couldn’t find anything we could afford or do in Bend,” he said. “My wife actually found this place. It was love at first sight.”

The church was completed in 1912, just two years after the city was founded. It was last used as the Presbyterian church in 1979.

“The building is in phenomenal shape for its age,” Chad Nemec said.

After the church left, it was occupied by a dance studio for several years, said Trish Pinkerton, Redmond’s assistant to the city recorder’s office. The building later served as event space, but has been vacant for at least two years.

The Nemecs bought the building in May 2018. Chad said construction started around November. They previously hoped to open in May, but were delayed because of the 40 inches of snow that fell in February.

They are working with the city’s historic commission on keeping the exterior of the building as similar as possible to how it looked as a church, while making the inside a food destination for the region, Chad said. They even hope to use the tower’s church bell.

“We’re working with the city to see if they’ll let us announce service on Friday nights,” said Chad, wearing a traditional Texas cowboy hat.

Chad, who spent 16 years in home building, calls himself a sucker for old historic buildings, with their previous restaurant located in an old chicken coop, he said.

The biggest change to the exterior of the building will likely be an addition on its east end. It will allow for patio seating, as well as Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible restrooms.

“It’s really designed so it’s not really noticeable when you drive by,” Chad said of the addition.

The previous restaurant played host to weddings, banquets and other events, but the owners plan to hold off on bringing private events to Grace and Hammer, initially.

The church is the latest downtown building that had fallen on hard times to be renovated. The most noticeable, so far, is the former Redmond Union High School, which reopened as City Hall in 2017. Other long-closed buildings to be reborn include the Odem Theater, which is now a two-screen movie theater with wait service, and the historic New Redmond Hotel, which is in the process of being brought back as a more modern hotel with a rooftop bar.

Keeping it consistent

To ensure that the food is the same quality as what their Texas customers were used to, the Nemecs are bringing along chefs Pio Valensin, 32, and Adam Valentine, 27, who will also work as managers.

“They were kind of the brains behind the food being served and made it what it was,” Chad said.

They plan to serve their former restaurant’s signature three-day, cold-fermented, wood-fired pizza.

“It’s fairly unique, since most people do a warm proofing for their dough,” Valentine said.

They plan to use primarily local ingredients, but they hope to fly their cheese in from Italy, like they did at the Austin restaurant. Valensin said it will be different from most pizza in Central Oregon.

“Our aim is to have the highest quality ingredients we can find,” he said. “There’s just a lot of excitement about the woodfire style, the Neapolitan style.”

While the cavernous church looks like it has room for lots of people, the chefs can handle them. Valentine said they have made more than 1,000 pies in nine hours.

The name of the restaurant is about balance, Chad Nemec said. “Grace” involves a gentle and observant way of being, the need to help others and being involved in the community. “Hammer” represents what is necessary to achieve what one believes is right, he said.

They expect Grace and Hammer to become a destination for Central Oregon and beyond. A bar near where the altar was once located will feature wood paneling from the church. They don’t plan on having televisions competing with the classic stained-glass that takes up much of the building’s walls.

“I think it is going to be more of a romantic setting,” Chad said. “People want more than just good food, they want to have an experience.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186,