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Published: The News & Observer , February 27, 2003

Dudley Price
Samantha Smith;
Staff Writers

Edition: Final
Section: Business
Page: D1

Two eateries to move in downtown

RALEIGH -- Two vacant buildings in the downtown warehouse district will soon see new life as restaurants.

The first will be at a former railroad depot on Davie Street. Two Durham partners have leased about a third of the former depot for a restaurant called Pop's Chop House and plan to begin serving Italian entrees and steaks, chops and pork plates in late September.

And across Davie Street in an old meat-packing plant, Bart Bonbrest, the general manager at Sullivan's steakhouse, and three partners will open an Italian restaurant called Buonfresco. The restaurant should open in November serving what Bonbrest calls "authentic modern Italian cuisine" that will include fresh seafood, homemade pastas, wood-fired pizzas and entrees.

Both sets of restaurant owners were drawn to the area for its potential as an entertainment hub.

" I think if you really put your visionary hat on, this area has some great attributes," Bonbrest said, whose restaurant is going into space renovated by downtown developer Greg Hatem. Bonbrest said he picked the space because it reminded him of the lively Georgetown area of Washington.

Both restaurants are less than three blocks from a planned light-rail station that is expected to help rejuvenate the area.

" We saw that building two and a half years ago and we thought it would be a good revival of downtown," said Gonzalo Munoz, a partner in the Chop House. "We're excited about being close to Progress Energy, the new convention center, and we think the warehouse district will expand toward us."

Munoz referred to Progress Energy's plan for a $100 million headquarters expansion just off Fayetteville Street Mall and a new convention center site recommended this week about a block from the old depot.

Munoz is general manager of Pop's restaurant in Durham. His partner in the new restaurant is Scott Howell, owner of Pop's and also Nana's restaurant in Durham.

The partners are opening their restaurant in a vintage building that stretches nearly a city block from Davie Street to Cabarrus Street. Long-sought by downtown developers, it has a loading dock with 13 big wooden doors on the western side. The roof of the one-story building is supported by massive timbers. The adjacent parking area is paved with cobblestones.

Built by Southern Railway in 1920, the depot has been vacant since an insulation company moved out about five years ago. It is owned by the N.C. Railroad, which is completing a $2 million renovation of the building.

The partners plan more renovations costing $400,000, to provide seating for 150 customers and a full-service saloon, Munoz said. Another attraction is the building's 60 parking spaces, he said.

About 10,000 square feet of the building is still vacant and available for lease, said Scott Saylor, the railroad's president and general counsel.

" We're real excited to have a tenant like this to anchor the building, and it will do a lot for redevelopment of that part of downtown," Saylor said.

The building is across the tracks from the city's Amtrak station, which recently had a $500,000 renovation and expansion. Developers have also proposed a luxury 62-unit condominium project a block away off Harrington Street, but that is on hold.Copyright 2003 by The

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