New year ushers in major changes for Chestnut Hill’s restaurant scene

 

Chestnut Hill’s restaurant scene has been a bit of a revolving door lately. Over the past month, three restaurants have closed, one has opened and two more are on the way.

In three cases, the new dining establishments will slip into the same space another restaurant has left behind

 

Goodbye to ¡CUBA!

¡CUBA! at 8609 Germantown Ave. shuttered its doors Jan. 9 after two years in business.

Owner Miguel Castaneda said the upfront costs of making the former retail space ready to be a restaurant ultimately forced him to close. In particular, the heating and plumbing work. “If I hadn’t needed to do that I would be sitting on $70,000 in reserves, which would be fine,” said Castaneda.

There were also a number of missteps early on, including issues concerning staff and the menu’s authenticity. All of which lead to an unflattering review by Inquirer food critic Craig Laban.

Castaneda said the restaurant regrouped afterwards and had actually “turned the corner” both operationally and menu wise. But moving past the initial debt proved too much to overcome.

The fact that the restaurant opened just before the start of the national recession didn’t help either. “We were really busy June, July and August,” said Castaneda. “September hit and [business] probably dropped 80 percent.”

In parting, Castaneda thanked the community for their immediate and genuine support of his concept. He said he has interest in opening another business, but isn’t rushing into anything yet.

“I’m looking, but there’s nothing definite,” said Castaneda, who filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy for his business a few months before closing.

 

From the owner of Blackfish comes…

In ¡CUBA!’s place will be a new restaurant from Chip Roman, owner and head chef of Blackfish in Conshohocken. Roman said many of the restaurant’s details remain unresolved, including the name and menu.

In general, the place will be similar to Blackfish, but will be less seafood focused, he said. Menu items will remain in the vein of what he calls Progressive American cuisine. “It means constant reinterpretation of the classic (European) dishes,” said Roman.

But unlike Blackfish, Roman’s new 40-seat restaurant will have a liquor license and focus on wine service. Blackfish is a BYOB.

Roman said while it was attractive that the space was already set-up for food service and is up to code, it wasn’t the main selling point. It was its location. Roman said he likes Chestnut Hill’s charm, but also admires the property’s proximity to his home and Blackfish restaurant.

“It’s five minutes from my house so I can be in between Blackfish and the new place and oversee both,” said Roman, who lives close by in Montgomery County. The two restaurants are less than 20 minutes from one another. Roman hopes to open in March.

 

Italian restaurant closes but reopens with new name

The Italian restaurant Stella Sera opened in mid-January at 8630 Germantown Avenue – a little more than two weeks after Bocelli 2 closed at that location.

Stella Sera’s owner Anis Kharroubi was a co-owner of the previous Italian restaurant Bocelli 2. When one of his business partners dropped out, he decided to simply reopen with a new name, new menu and new interior. You will see familiar faces at Stella Sera because the staff is from Bocelli 2. The original Bocelli restaurant in Gwynedd Valley is still in operation.

 

Thai Kuu takes over Sundeez’s old spot

In February, a couple from Media is planning to open Thai Kuu at 8705 Germantown Ave. It will be located in the Top of the Hill Plaza near the Wine & Spirit Shop.

 

The sun sets for Solaris

Farther down the hill Solaris Grille closed its doors abruptly on Jan. 13 after 15 years on the Avenue. Solaris’ parent company J&J Restaurants Associates had previously filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

 

Tough month for Chestnut Hill’s retail scene

For Eileen Reilly, this restaurant carousel paired with other business closing announcements has been somewhat brutal.

As Chestnut Hill’s retail recruiter, Reilly is charged with filling vacancies along the bruised commercial corridor.

“I had a rough month,” said Reilly, who has helped bring a handful of new businesses to the Avenue since she started last summer. By her math, she is now back where she started, with just under 20 percent of the Avenue vacant.

Reilly said she knew these restaurant closings were on the horizon. While not happy they came in a cluster, she said the closings are a necessary part of her process.

“They had to come off for the end result to be in two years an amazing, vital commercial district.” “You can’t do that with businesses that aren’t drawing people,” she added.

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