Karen Robinson, an English teacher at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, put herself through college by managing restaurants.
Chris Scionti, an engineering teacher at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School in West Haven, once owned a veterinarian practice. He’s also a longtime brewer.
Both teachers love music.
In late April or early May, Robinson and Scionti will open the Rough Draft, a music venue and restaurant, in Hamden’s Treadwell Business Park, in the building formerly known as the Space.
“It’s been daunting,” Robinson says. “Chris and I are trading off. I’ll go there and paint and then we’ll switch off.”
The all-ages Space — and the former Ballroom at the Outer Space, just across the parking lot — were owned and operated by Steve and Jesse Rodgers. Both venues closed in December.
In January, Premier Concerts president Keith Mahler and Premier/Manic Presents senior talent buyer Mark Nussbaum re-opened the former Outer Space building, just across the parking lot from the Space. It now operates as the Space Ballroom.
Robinson worked as a waitress at the Outer Space. She and Scionti mobilized soon after learning the Space would close.
“I have been friends with Steve [Rodgers] since we were kids,” Robinson says. “I know Steve was looking to sell, and I looked at my partner, and he looked at me, and we said, ‘Let’s do this.’ It was an unexpected, snowball, exciting kind of thing.”
As part of the deal, Scionti and Robinson purchased everything in the Space, including the sound equipment, and also bought kitchen equipment from the Outer Space.
The partners are still in the process of getting a liquor license, but Robinson doesn’t anticipate any issues.
The Rough Draft will offer a full menu and host live music (two to four bands per night, Robinson says) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday.
“We were originally going to focus on local bands, but we’ve had a lot of people reach out from all over, so we don’t want to limit ourselves,” says Robinson.
Monday will be trivia night. One Tuesday a month will be slotted for an open mic night. Robinson hopes to host happy hours — earlier than usual, for the education crowd — with live acoustic music on Fridays.
On Wednesdays, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Robinson wants to open the Rough Draft to high school kids.
“I want them to come in, listen to music, play their music, play games, read books,” she says. “It’s going back to what the original Space was for, a place they can network, get to know each other.”
All of the bartenders, wait staff and kitchen employees hired by the Rough Draft — 8 to 10 employees so far — are former Outer Space employees.
There won’t be a cover charge for shows. The venue wants people to “come and just to sit at the bar, or come in for dinner, without having to pay,” Robinson says.
“We are planning to pay our bands a competitive amount. Everything is going to have to be trial-and-error for the first couple of months. Hopefully we will be able to swing that.”
Amanda Garrity, who worked at the Space and Outer Space, is the Rough Draft’s booking agent.
“I’m familiar with some of the bands to know what they’re capable of,” Garrity says. “I said, ‘Why not? Let’s do it.”
The first show is planned for May 11, though without a signed contract yet, Garrity can’t announce who’ll perform.
“Right now, I’m mostly reaching out to the local bands,” Garrity says. “That’s not to say that if a touring band contacted us, we wouldn’t book them. But we’re looking to be the spot for locals, the place to play and bring their fans right in the community.”
The New Haven music scene is a “community and a family. Being new to the scene, we want to try everything, what works for us and what the people want.”
“She’s very loyal to the brand,” Robinson says of Garrity. “She has volunteered her time so graciously. … So many volunteers from the Space/Outer Space community, Amanda included, have been coming every weekend to get everything ready.”
So far, Robinson says, the Space Ballroom/Rough Draft dynamic has been congenial. The Space Ballroom recently offered all of the tables and chairs from the Outer Space.
“We’re all just humans in the end,” Robinson says. “I haven’t been introduced to or met Keith [Mahler]. There hasn’t been any tension that I’ve noticed.”
The Space Ballroom books national-level acts — upcoming shows include Built To Spill, Cults and the Melvins — with some opening slots reserved for Connecticut bands.
“We’ll keep doing what we do with local bands, trying to get them on national spots,” Nussbaum told the Courant in January. “This will be a chance for younger and newer acts to spotlight what they’re doing.”
At the Rough Draft, Robinson is interested in “getting names out there.”
“We’re on opposite sides of the spectrum. We’re hoping it will be a symbiotic relationship for both businesses.”
In the future, the Rough Draft may also brew its own beer.
“Chris’s dream was always to open a brewery,” Robinson says. “Once we’re established he’d like to open a brew room so that we can have featured beers. There would be one featured beer for the month.”