“If the food is good enough, people will come.”
A Chicago restaurateur is bringing a little bit of that city to Chattanooga with plans to open a new bistro downtown focusing on Middle Eastern Mediterranean food.
Rashad Moughrabi, who's originally from Chattanooga, said he and his family operate a similar eatery in Chicago, but he'll eventually relocate to the Scenic City to start the new restaurant at 405 Market St. near Jack's Alley.
"It will bring something different," said Moughrabi, who'll also be executive chef. "I'm really excited."
He said the food will be "Palestinian, Lebanese-style food." Also, Moughrabi said, there'll be a bakery offering bread.
Called The 405, the restaurant will see a couple of hundred thousand dollars in investment to remodel the inside of the property, which previously held The Henpecked Chicken before it closed last summer.
"We'll have fun ideas to bring it up to the standard of a nice bistro," Moughrabi said, adding he expects to employ about 20 people when the restaurant opens in late August or in September. "I'll give it a pretty good face lift."
The restaurateur, 36, said that while he grew up in Chicago, he has a lot of family living in and around Chattanooga and often visited.
His father had a restaurant in Chattanooga in the late 1970s downtown near the Hamilton County Courthouse. He said he's related to Dr. Fouad Moughrabi, former head of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science department, who still lives near the campus.
Amy Donahue, the River City Co.'s director of marketing and communications, said people in Chattanooga want to see more ethnic food options.
"If you go to other markets ... you do have options of a lot of different types of food," she said. "The more we can broaden that base in Chattanooga, it's a really good thing."
Moughrabi said he has watched Chattanooga grow and change over the years and kept an eye out for opportunities. The Market Street space became available and, if the restaurant idea worked out, he decided he'd make the move. Jeff Jennings of NAI Charter Real Estate Corp. brokered the deal.
Moughrabi said there are nearby vacancies in that block of space that held restaurants which had operated and closed, such as Applebee's next door. But, he said, he likes the busy, downtown area and believes in his food and ability to run a restaurant.
"If I can get them in the door and try it, they will come back," Moughrabi said.
In terms of parking, which some people have indicated is a problem, he said he believes there's a lot of spaces nearby in lots and garages, and he may use valet parking sometimes.
"In Chicago, there's no parking anywhere," Moughrabi said. "If the food is good enough, people will come."
Donahue said the downtown redevelopment group likes to hear people who want to be part of the momentum in the central city.
"We think it's like any block downtown," she said. "It has its own challenges and pieces to figure out. Folks in that area have been successful in the long run. Lupi's on Broad Street is expanding and making a much larger facility. The right concept at the right time is the key."
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.