Urban eats

Joey’s Pizzeria opened along Film Row April 1, as additional eateries and a coffee roaster are setting up shop Downtown. A count by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber showed 69 Downtown retail establishments have opened, plan to open, or have expanded since 2007.

As once-forgotten areas such as Film Row and MidTown have been revitalized after years of blight and neglect, restaurateurs have brought concepts ranging from $1 tacos to fine dining.

Jane Jenkins, president of Downtown OKC Inc., says a mix of restaurants is helping the area attract a variety of diners. While those with deep pockets might frequent places such as Red PrimeSteak or Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, many flock to McNellie’s in MidTown on Wednesdays for $3 burger night or Iguana Mexican Grill for $1 tacos on Tuesday evenings.

Jenkins says many have found success Downtown with homegrown and tried-and-true concepts like Hideaway Pizza, Joey’s, and local restaurant owners who have expanded.

“It’s great that Downtown is the place for entrepreneurship,” she says. “But it’s not like someone is trying to open something new; a lot of these are established businesses.”

Russell Kendrick’s wife, Irena Avdalovic, owns Joey’s after purchasing the former store at NW 18 and Classen Boulevard about three years ago. Kendrick says while they are getting the business up and running, he is helping out with everything from managing the restaurant to delivering pizzas.

Chip Fudge, owner and developer of several buildings along Film Row, first spoke with Avdalovic about a year ago. He extended the opportunity for her to open the area’s first restaurant. Fudge says he loves the district’s old buildings, and wants to bring businesses that will complement those spaces.
He does not have other eateries lined up yet, but would like to bring
some culinary diversity to his corner of the Downtown area.

“I
would really like to see some interesting ethnic restaurants, say a
Cuban, Ethiopian or Caribbean restaurant,” he says. “Something
interesting that would be a positive draw.”

Joey’s
new space, 700 W Sheridan Ave., can hold 115 people in comparison to
the old location that had seating for 46. So far, Kendrick says the
busiest times have been at lunch. He expects the full liquor bar to
begin drawing evening visitors.

“We hope we’ll gain a later crowd after games and functions,” he says.

But
Joey’s isn’t the only new pizzeria in the area. Sammy’s Pizza is set
for Bricktown, and Hideaway Pizza is set for Automobile Alley. Those
seeking healthier options might enjoy locally owned salad and wrap chain
Coolgreens, which will be located in the City Place building. In other
food and beverage options, in early May, Elemental Coffee opened its
Alley Bar in MidTown.

Jenkins
says most that have opened eateries Downtown know their market and have
brought in concepts that meet those needs — from high-end steaks to a
quick lunch.

Eat constructively

In
response to restaurateurs feeling the pinch from Project 180
construction limiting access to their establishments, Downtown OKC Inc.
has launched the “Eat Constructively Downtown” campaign. The initiative
specifically mentions 10 restaurants that DOKC encourages patrons to
visit, even if they are a bit harder to get to than before. Those on the
list include Trattoria Il Centro, Coney Island, Johnny’s Lunch Box, La
Luna Mexican Café, Dimitri’s Peacock Greek America Restaurant, Pizza
Town, Thai Kitchen, Joey’s Pizzeria, Markies Deli and the Colcord Café
and Bar.

Joey’s Pizzeria opened in the midst of Project 180 work and a new streetscape along Film Row. Manager

Russell Kendrick says it was tough at times when the restaurant opened in early April.

“You
never know with the construction what’s going to be open when,” he
says. “We were glad the street was open when we got here.”

Dimitri’s
Peacock Greek America Restaurant has been Downtown for 37 years, and at
517 W Reno for the last quarter of a century. With Reno Boulevard torn
up, Michael Komis, the restaurant’s manager, saw fewer lunch diners.

“We’ve seen a drop-off, but what can you do?” he says. “Our customers have been sympathetic.”

When
Reno opened in late April, Komis says he was pleased with the look of
the street, and with many people venturing back to the eatery.

“Things
look better now,” he says. Despite obstacles along the way, Casey
Cornett, account executive for Jones Public Relations, leaves his
Downtown office most days for lunch. He says the walk is often a bit
longer to get to some of his favorite haunts due to construction, but it
hasn’t forced him to start packing a sack lunch.

“It
might take a few minutes longer to walk, but for those of us Downtown,
we don’t want to get in our cars and drive somewhere,” he says. – KC

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