YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A vacant restaurant site will return to life this year, part of a downtown project that also includes a new catering hall and commercial space.
The new restaurant, to be called Bar Viña, will be in the Erie Terminal building, in the space formerly occupied by The Kitchen Post. It will open in June.
Bar Viña will feature an extensive wine list, and a small menu of tapas, ribs, pizza and other shareable plates. Its main room will have its entrance at the corner of West Commerce and North Phelps streets, and will have a bar, table seating and an open kitchen.
There will also be a tap room adjacent to the main room that will have a garage-type door that will be opened in the summer, says Bill Santangelo, one of three co-owners of the restaurant and its general manager. A patio with outdoor seating will be accessible from the tap room, on the north side of the building.
Santangelo was a regional sales manager for nine years at Gia Russa Italian Foods in Boardman.
His business background also includes the import, sale and distribution of fine Italian wines.
The ownership team includes chef-restaurateur Josh Santangelo, and investor-restaurateur Tim Huber. Their partnership, called Premier Restaurant Group, is also developing a rental hall and other commercial space in the Apollo Building downtown.
Huber and Josh Santangelo are also co-owners of Prima Cucina Ristorante, downtown, where Santangelo is head chef.
Bill and Josh Santangelo are not related to each other.
INSIDE THE WINE BAR
Bar Viña will have seating for 50 in each of its two rooms, plus about 50 more on the patio. Work on the two dining rooms and bar areas will begin shortly, Bill Santangelo says.
The property already has a full kitchen in place, and a brick pizza oven will be added to the taproom. A.J. Guarnieri will be the chef.
The co-owners’ goal is to create something new for patrons.
“It will be different from [the food options] currently available downtown,” Santangelo says.
Bar Viña will also begin producing its own wines at an off-site location as soon as its license is approved. “It will be an urban winery,” he says.
Bar Viña will be open Tuesday through Sunday, serving lunch and dinner on weekdays, with a special brunch menu on weekends. The restaurant will close at 11 p.m. on weekends, and earlier on weekdays.
The owners have also rented the adjacent storefront on North Phelps in the same building that was the former site of OH Donut and will use it to sell takeout pizza and other items from their menu.
West Commerce Street, which runs in front of the Bar Viña site, remains under construction and closed to traffic but is scheduled to reopen in May, according to Santangelo.
Street reconstruction has been ongoing all over downtown for more than a year, forcing detours and kicking up dust. But Santangelo says the end is near and West Commerce Street will be the first street to fully reopen. “We can’t open our restaurant until the street reopens,” he points out.
Santangelo believes the reopening of downtown streets this summer will mean a more exciting and beautified area that will entice visitors and make them want to linger.
The co-owners of Bar Viña, in fact, are bullish on downtown and plan to take an aggressive approach.
“We’re going to attack downtown,” Santangelo says.
“We believe in it. There’s a lot [of construction] going on now but it’s going to pop in a couple of months. There will be lots of reasons to come downtown, and we want it to be a destination, where you can park your car and hang out, or maybe start your night here, or end it here.”
He noted that more people now live downtown, citing the once-vacant Gallagher Building across the street, which is being renovated into apartments.
One issue that has always plagued downtown is parking, and Santangelo vows to tackle the problem before Bar Viña opens.
He intends to contact other bar and restaurant owners so they can devise options to create additional parking for their businesses – including renting space in existing private lots.
“We want to make it as easy as possible to come downtown,” he says.
THE APOLLO BUILDING
The opening of Bar Viña is only one project for the ownership team. In addition to the restaurant, the group has two other elements: Apollo Events Center and Prima Events Catering.
Renovations will begin in May to create the Apollo Events Center on the ground floor of a four-story building at 117 S. Champion St., downtown.
Currently, the space houses Soap Gallery, an art gallery that will close at the end of the month.
Huber bought the building, then known as the Rica Building, last year. He has since changed the name to the Apollo Building.
The events center will be a rental facility that can accommodate parties, receptions and meetings of up to 140 people, Huber says. It can also be rented for parties before and after concerts at nearby Covelli Centre.
“We’re hoping this will be a good addition to downtown,” Huber says.
All catering at The Apollo will be handled by Prima Events Catering and prepared in a large commercial kitchen the company has rented in the basement of the Erie Terminal building, directly below Bar Viña.
It would have been impossible to add a kitchen to the Apollo Building, Huber says, because there is no suitable place to add vents.
One of the first things Huber did after buying the building was commission the painting of murals on the exterior. The west wall features a stylized mural of the Greek god Apollo.
Huber has already begun renovation of the top floors of the building and has secured tenants.
The second floor will become the office of an architectural firm, but Huber could not divulge the name.
The third floor will be a luxury apartment that has been rented by Steelite Corp. The company will use it to house executives and salesmen who visit the Steelite headquarters and showroom in the Commerce Building, just two blocks away.
The fourth floor will also be an apartment, where Huber will live.
A loading dock area adjacent to the north wall of the building that currently slopes downward will be leveled out and used for parking.
Huber says he has always wanted to rehab a downtown building and is making the most of the opportunity.
When he took possession of the building last year, he told his only tenants, Daniel Rauschenbach and Steve Poullas, that their Soap Gallery could remain indefinitely. However, Rauschenbach and Poullas decided to close the gallery.
Rauschenbach has since teamed with Kevin Walsh and his brother, Eric Rauschenbach, on a new venture.
They have purchased a building in downtown Struthers and are renovating it into an art gallery and store where artisans can sell their wares. It will also have studio space that can be rented and a performance area.
“When I acquired the Rica Building, I told Soap Gallery’s owners they could stay as long as they wanted, but I did have plans to expand into the events center [business],” Huber says. “When [Rauschenbach] told me he wanted to get his own building, it was clear that the events center was the way to go. Now that they are leaving, I have focused my energy on developing the Apollo building.”
Pictured at top: Bill Santangelo stands inside space that will become Bar Viña. He is co-owner and general manager.