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Nonprofit rehabbing rowhomes near Penn Station for affordable housing

Empire Homes of Maryland has bought six rowhouses in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District that it will renovate and turn into affordable, one-bedroom apartments for the disabled.

The $3.3 million project in the 1600, 1700 and 1800 blocks of North Calvert Street will result in 18 apartments when its completed this summer. Construction will begin in January.

The Baltimore City Housing Authority owned the vacant rowhouses that are spread throughout the project site. Empire Homes, a non-profit developer and property manager of affordable housing headquartered on North Charles Street, bought the rowhouses at a cost of about $10,000 each, according to president and CEO T.F. Burden.
 
“Because they are public housing properties, they can only be used for that purpose," Buden says. "They can’t be rehabbed and sold for market rate or turned into single-family housing.”
 
The rowhouses are located near Amtrak’s Pennsylvania Station and Baltimore School of Design, a public high school.
 
Each of the six rowhouses will contain three units. Rent will cost about $650 per month, with the tenant paying a maximum of 30 percent of his or her income. The city and Innovative Housing Institute, a downtown nonprofit, will choose tenants from the city’s housing choice voucher wait list.
 
Empire Homes obtained funding from several sources for the project, including $1.8 million from the state, $700,000 from the city, $300,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank and $300,000 from bank financing.
 
Last July, Empire Homes opened another affordable rental project in Station North. The Lillian Jones Apartments, at 1303 Greenmount Ave., were constructed on a vacant lot. The four-story, 74-unit building has one- , two- and three-bedroom apartments. Empire Homes and city real estate developer the French Development Company partnered on the $16.1 million project.
 
Source: T.F. Burden, Empire Homes of Maryland
Writer: Barbara Pash at bpash@comcast.net
 

Dooby's Coffee opens in Mount Vernon

After months of anticipation from Mount Vernon residents, Dooby’s Coffee opened Saturday in the building that once housed popular coffee shop Donna's.

Owner Phil Han says the coffee house features his four favorite things.  If “we can excel in coffee, in-house pastries, sandwiches, and craft beers, then we’re perfectly happy."

The cafe serves 12 draft beers and assortment of wines. Dooby's is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reviewers on Yelp praise the cafe's avocado toast and butter-brown chocolate chip cookies. 

A pop-up version of the coffeehouse had been operating over the last few months in the Hatch, Han's incubator that is located around the corner from Dooby's. Home accessories retailer zestt is moving into the pop-up space. Founded by Jessica Diehl and Benita Goldblattt, zestt sells contemporary textiles, art and accessories. 

Extensive renovation at 800 North Charles St. took place following a five-alarm fire in 2010. The fire forced local favorite restaurants Indigma, Donna’s and My Thai to close. Indigma has since opened across the street at 801 N. Charles St. and My Thai opened next to Heavy Seas Alehouse in the Tack Factory in Little Italy. Donna's is not reopening in the building. It has locations in the Village of Cross Keys and Charles Village. Its Columbia location closed in May.

The 2,500-square-foot location will have seating for 75 inside and an additional 22 seats outside once it gets its permit for outdoor seating. It will feature clean lines and natural colors.

Han says it took more than a year to settle on the perfect name for the coffeehouse. “Dooby” is Han’s childhood nickname and comes from a Korean word. 

Han says many Korean-Americans like himself are in the food service business, but he says a Korean-American owned coffeehouse was an unfilled niche. So, as a gift to the Korean-American community, he decided to jump in.

He first searched for a space in Howard County, home to many Korean-owned businesses. When he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he turned to the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.

“It was like a no-brainer spot for me. This is such an awesome place, with colleges, young professionals. The amount of art and creativity that surrounds us is just amazing.”

Han says he believes the neighborhood is looking forward to having a new coffee house in the now-renovated block. Many area residents have taken pictures and asked him when he is opening.
 
Source: Phil Han, owner, Dooby’s Coffee
Writer: Amy Landsman landlink1@verizon.net 
 
 

By Degrees Cafe opens in Little Italy

A Baltimore chef who has worked for the Wine Market and Fleet Street Kitchen opened a casual contemporary restaurant in an industrial building on the edge of Little Italy Oct. 15.

The 1,350-square-foot By Degrees Cafe serves soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch and half a dozen entrees for dinner. By Degrees serves lunch at the counter and relies on wait staff for dinner.

Located in the redeveloped Fallsway Spring building at 415 S. Central Ave., the restaurant will hopefully appeal to young professionals in the neighborhood and adjacent Harbor East, Owner Omar Semidey says. 

Semidey says he wants to offer a small, intimate dining experience for diners who want an alternative to the massive, swanky eateries in tony Harbor East. By Degrees will seat 50 in the dining room and another six at the bar. 

He describes By Degrees as a “third-day” restaurant. When you have a friend in town, you take him somewhere nice the first day. The second day you cook dinner at home. And the third day you’re ready to eat out again, but somewhere that offers "solid food that doesn’t break the bank.” Most entrees at By Degrees cost less than $17 and soups around $5 and sandwiches under $10.

“The goal is not to revolutionize the culinary landscape, but shift it by degrees,” Semidey says.

Semidey is working with a silent business partner, whom he declined to name. He also declined to say how much he and his business partner will spend on the restaurant, financed with cash. 

The building’s developer Larry Silverstein is responsible for refurbishing several other properties in East Baltimore, including the Union Box Co. and the Holland Tack Factory, home of Heavy Seas Ale House and My Thai

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Omar Semidey, By Degrees Cafe


Real estate broker opening grocery store in Oliver neighborhood

A Pikesville real estate broker is branching out, with plans to renovate a rowhome and open a grocery store in the city’s Oliver neighborhood in six months.

Janie Cauthorne, owner of Pikesville’s Real Estate Executives, will spend $100,000 to renovate the approximately 2,000-square-foot building at 1800 N. Bond St. The first floor will house the grocery store and a branch of her real estate firm. The second level contains two apartments.

She’s still working out the details, but Cauthorne hopes the as-yet unnamed store will specialize in organic food and will “promote healthy eating” in the community. She will privately finance the renovations.

She estimates that about five realtors will use the office, and the grocery store will employ five.

The building is currently vacant, but it has a history of retail. Cauthorne says zoning board records show the first floor of the building had been a grocery store since the 1940s. 

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Janie Cauthorne, Real Estate Executives 

Dress for Success getting more closet space in new Northeast Baltimore digs

The local affiliate of Dress for Success is moving to 5525 Belair Road in June, an expansion that will give the nonprofit more room to outfit low-income women with gently used professional clothing.
 
Dress will occupy about 1,300-square-feet on the lower level and first floor of a rowhouse in the city’s Waltherson neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore.
 
Since 2009, Dress for Success has been renting space in the Anchorage Building, belonging to St. Ann Parish Church at 528 E. 22nd Street in the city’s Barclay neighborhood.
 
Dress for Success Executive Director Cleona Garfield says the nonprofit has outgrown the Anchorage and has been searching for larger quarters since 2011 after getting more donations.
 
The nonprofit received $23,000 in donations in fiscal year 2011, the most recent tax return filed on GuideStar. Garfield says she couldn’t even guess how many donations it received recently.
 
“Oh boy! I don’t know how to explain it to you other than to say we get a lot of donations.”
 
Property owner Jacob Danyali, the owner of Mercury Management LLC, says he’ll invest about $10,000 into painting, refinishing the wood floors, and other improvements for the group. Dress for Success will pay an undisclosed below-market rent.  Danyali has owned the property about ten years.
 
Dress for Success will use the first floor for the boutique and offices, and the lower floor for clothing storage. The boutique is set up just like a shop, with work-appropriate career coats, dresses, suits, blouses and blazers, all neatly sized and on racks. Shoes and bags are also on display.
 
A volunteer stylist meets with the client, gets an idea of her style, and selects an outfit for her. The client then tries everything on to see how it looks.
 
Once a client lands a new job, she returns to Dress for Success for additional clothes to help her build a professional wardrobe.
 
Dress for Success also runs career development workshops, focusing on everything from money management, to the importance of showing up for work on time.
 
Many of Baltimore’s Dress for Success clients find jobs in customer service; others land entry-level work in medicine or education. In 2012, the organization helped 500 women.
 
Dress for Success in Baltimore has about 20 volunteers. Founded in New York in 1997, Dress for Success now has affiliates across the U.S. and worldwide.
 
 
Reporter: Amy Landsman
Sources: Cleona Garfield, executive director, Dress for Success Baltimore; Jacob Danyali, owner, Mercury Management

Top Kitty Boutique opening second store in Mount Vernon

Maria Smith, owner of Top Kitty boutique in Waverly, is opening a second location in Mount Vernon next month.

Smith will share a third floor, 300-square-foot rental at 516 N. Charles St. with Sharifah Gavins, owner of design consultancy Butterfli Affect. Top Kitty offers styling services, accessories, and clothes geared toward professional women. 

Smith and Gavins are in the process of painting and decorating the suite, located above A People United fair trade shop. The shop is located on the building’s ground level, with four stories of office space above. Smith has one intern, but no additional employees.

Smith says she believes having space in both Waverly and Mount Vernon covers many bases. Shoppers have discovered her Waverly boutique, while Mount Vernon tends to be home base for her VIP styling clients.

Smith and Gavins are still working on a name and slogan for the new location. They may go with: “House of DecoFash: Where a Butterfly Designs and a Kitty Styles.”

Smith will use the Charles Street office for Baltimore Fashion Week model calls, and for year-round one-on-one fashion consultations with clients.

Along with running Top Kitty, Smith serves as a stylist and production team member for Baltimore Fashion Week. Now in its sixth year, Fashion Week takes place Aug. 8 –11 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Pikesville.

“Most of my clients who come to me for styling are going to be the type of woman who wants to meet with me in Mount Vernon. She’s the upwardly mobile kitty. She’s busy. She’s a professional. She’s a business owner.”

In addition to operating Top Kitty, Smith works full-time in residential and commercial property management. She says she self-financed both the Waverly and Mount Vernon locations.

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Maria Smith, owner Top Kitty Clothing
 

International pastry shop and cafe opens in Mount Vernon

There’s a new place in Mount Vernon for residents to pick up steamed pork buns, Cuban pastries, Turkish coffee and Paraguayan empanadas.

The Bun Shop opened last month at 239 W. Read St. Co-owner Andrew Bui says he and his business partner Minh Vo will expand the BYOB café’s offerings in the next month to include furniture, home goods and flowers since the 1,700-square-foot spot offers room to grow.

“Originally we wanted a small store front but we just found this place. It was a bakery so it had a lot of equipment that we needed that we couldn’t afford,” Bui says.

The owners also will begin selling Vietnamese spring rolls and other appetizers on the weekends starting this month. The café will host its first event with the May 17 launch party for Slight-Mag, a fashion magazine started by Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) students.

Childhood friends Bui and Bo spent about $30,000 to open the Bun Shop, using their own cash and money borrowed from family. Bui says he left a product design job in New York while Bo left his pharmacology Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University.

Bui says the Bun Shop has been attracting area residents, including MICA and University of Baltimore students, interested in late-night cheap eats. The Bun Shop is open until 3 a.m. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Andrew Bui, the Bun Shop

Developer moves ahead on 86-unit apartment complex in Station North

The developer behind Milk & Honey Market and the reopening of the Chesapeake restaurant is plotting an 86-unit apartment complex on Lanvale Street next to his new food establishments, which are weeks away from opening.
 
Ernst Valery says he expects to select an architect by July for the market-rate studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Construction on the yet-to-be named building in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District will begin a year from now and wrap up by summer of 2015. Valery says he hasn’t yet determined apartment rates.
 
The apartment building is the latest project in a neighborhood that is attracting more interest among city officials, developers and universities. A developer hired by Amtrak has proposed shops, housing and offices around Penn Station. Johns Hopkins University is moving some of its arts programs to the neighborhood and the Maryland Institute College of Art has purchased two buildings in the area.
 
But the neighborhood could use more housing, Valery says.
 
“Its a step toward making the neighborhood really great and realizing its full potential,” Valery says of his project.
 
Valery says he is now securing financing for the apartments and declined to provide details until the plans are finalized.
 
Station North’s Milk & Honey Market and the new Chesapeake Restaurant will open in two to three weeks, Valery says. It will be the city’s second Milk & Honey. The other one is located in Mount Vernon. Chesapeake, which will focus on regional cuisine, bears the same name as the restaurant that shuttered a quarter century ago. The property has since been vacant.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Ernst Valery

Owner of Waverly's Darker Than Blue hopes to hit a homerun with new sports bar

The owner of Waverly’s popular Darker Than Blue Café is opening a neighborhood sports bar in the city’s Cedmont community, six blocks south of Northern Parkway.

Casey Jenkins’ new Birdland Sports Bar & Grill at 6319 Belair Road will open by late May. It's just one of several restaurant projects for Jenkins, who is scouting new locations for an expanded Darker Than Blue.  

Jenkins says he’s put about $100,000 into redoing what was once the Ray Charles Lounge. The 2,000-square-foot space will seat 125 and employ six.

While Darker Than Blue is an 85-seat white tablecloth establishment, Birdland will have a bright, more casual vibe. The menu will feature some Southern cuisine — Darker Than Blue’s specialty – and serve pasta and 15 types of sliders. The restaurant will be decorated with art and memorabilia that links the city’s rich sports history of the Colts and the Orioles of old, with the Ravens and Orioles of today.

“It’s gonna be a hip sports bar,” Jenkins says.

Jenkins says he hopes to repeat the recipe for success he’s had with Darker Than Blue on Greenmount Avenue with this new venture on Belair Road. That is, he’s opening a locally owned restaurant on a major thoroughfare in a neighborhood underserved by good dining options. He predicts Birdland will be the spark that brings other local businesses to the community.

Jenkins attended a community meeting to hear what neighborhood residents themselves wanted along Belair Road.

“They said they wanted someplace they could sit and go to. There are no sit-down restaurants in that corridor, and that’s extremely shocking to me, and that’s exactly what they said in the Cedmont community meeting.”

The renovations are being financed by Jenkins and two partners. Jenkins is also looking at gap financing, including micro-loans.

Birdland will feature a a full bar. The menu will showcase about 15 different types of sliders, pastas, and a variety of dishes with “Southern flair.”
 
 
Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Casey Jenkins, owner, Darker Than Blue, Birdland Sports Bar & Grill.

Darker Than Blue owner eyes Rotunda and Charles Village project for new location

The owner of Waverly’s Darker Than Blue Café is talking to the developers of two of Baltimore City’s biggest residential and retail projects near Johns Hopkins University about relocating the popular restaurant to a bigger spot. And he’s cooking up plans for a new eatery at his current home on Greenmount Avenue.

Casey Jenkins says he is working with Artios Retail LLC, a Bel Air leasing and brokerage firm, to assist with the expansion by 2015. The business owner is looking at the Rotunda in Hampden and the lot at 32nd Street and Saint Paul Street in Charles Village as possible locations for the expanded Darker Than Blue.

“Our dream is to move to a large development,” Jenkins says, noting that a larger development will give the restaurant more visibility.

Jenkins opened the 85-seat Darker Than Blue at 3034 Greenmount Ave. seven years ago. The move will hopefully allow him to seat as many as 150 in the expanded location. The new Darker Than Blue will be more polished and upscale and have less of a mom-and-pop feel.

The restaurant will still serve Southern-inspired food, including catfish and grits and chicken and waffles. Jenkins will also continue to feature regular live jazz. A bigger restaurant will allow Jenkins to feature new items, including a rotisserie with ribs, pork and chicken. 

Virginia’s Armada Hoffler and Baltimore’s Beatty Development Group LLC are leading the redevelopment of the lot near Johns Hopkins University. Formerly a condo project called the Olmsted, it is now dubbed the St. Paul Street Project in Charles Village.

New Jersey’s Hekemian & Co. is leading the $70M Rotunda redevelopment in Hampden, slated to include a local grocer, apartments and restaurants when it is completed in summer 2015.

Meanwhile, Jenkins says he will open a new restaurant in the current Darker Than Blue location — most likely West Indian or Latin. Jenkins says he’ll probably open up the space a little more, and that the new place will be a bit more casual than Darker Than Blue. The as-yet unnamed restaurant would seat the same number of people.

Jenkins is in expansion mode. In May, he’s opening Birdland Sports Bar and Grill in Cedmont.
 
Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Casey Jenkins, owner of Darker Than Blue and Birdland Sports Bar & Grill

New Mount Vernon restaurant promises to serve healthful fare in former Five Guys space

The owner of a new Mount Vernon eatery bDelight Restaurant is out to prove that a nutritious meal can still be tasty.
 
The 50-seat restaurant will open in the former Five Guys Burgers and Fries space, across from the Walters Art Museum, on April 19. The 2,000-square-foot restaurant at 111 Center St. will employ 12.
 
BDelight will offer customers food choices based on their daily calorie intake goal and use this to determine what items to order off the menu. They also have the option of ordering individual items, or a 1,000-calorie “balanced meal” that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Each balanced meal costs $12 and includes a main dish of a sandwich, pasta or a Chinese dish, along with a drink, salad, side and dessert. Individual menu items cost between $4 and $7 and include fruit cup, marinated vegetable salad and reduced-fat potato chips. Sweet-and-sour tofu with vegetables and beef with broccoli are among the Chinese dishes.
 
If successful, owner Rajah Anandarajah says he plans to open more Baltimore locations and possibly expand nationwide, including locations in California where he has relatives.
 
“People are watching what they eat these days. The local community, is more health conscious,” Anandarajah says.
 
Computers and scales in the kitchen area provide prompts to remind cooks and prep workers how much of each ingredient should be included for each dish, Owner Rajah Anandarajah says. Customers can place delivery orders on the website. The restaurant also has cashiers and two kiosks for self-orders.
 
Anandarajah says he used personal finances to purchase the 2,000 square-foot space. He declined to say how much he spent.
 
Writer: Jolene Carr
Sources: Rajah Anandarajah, owner of bDelight Restaurant; Christina Camba, Profiles PR

Entrepreneur opening 10 Smoothie King locations in Greater Baltimore

Locust Point residents will have a spot to fill their craving for fruity drinks like Mangosteen Madness and Celestial Cherry High when Baltimore City’s first Smoothie King opens next month.
 
Franchisee Minseok Yu will open the Smoothie King at 851 East Fort Ave. by April. Yu says he plans to open 10 Smoothie Kings in Greater Baltimore and is currently looking for a location for his second store in Canton or the Inner Harbor.
 
Yu previously owned commercial property in his native country of Korea and will be moving to Baltimore the end of this month. He invested $250,000 in the franchise, which includes rent, training and travel fees. The 1,200-square-foot space was formerly a tanning salon. Yu says he believes Locust Point will be a good location for the first store because the neighborhood is growing but still could still use more retail.
 
Yu noticed how popular Smoothie Kings are in his native country. When he came to visit his brother who lives in Baltimore, he was surprised that there wasn’t a Smoothie King in the city. “A lot of people in the city go to the Smoothie King across from the Towson Mall,” Yu says. Yu says he plans to hire 10 employees for the first location.
 
Smoothie King is a health store that offers fresh-blended smoothies, vitamins and herbs, nutritional supplements and sports nutrition products. There are over 600 Smoothie King locations in the United States, Korea, Singapore and the Caymans. The company is headquartered in New Orleans.
 
Source: Minseok Yu, Smoothie King franchisee
Writer: Jolene Carr

New fast-food restaurant opening three Maryland locations

A local entrepreneur is bringing fried chicken and fish to diners in Greater Baltimore with his new fast-food concept.
 
Munir Qreini is opening three Freestyle Fish n' Chicken restaurants in Maryland by the end of the year and could spend as much as $200,000 on each of the new restaurants. Qreini says he is in negotiations to open two spots in Baltimore City by the end of April. One is in a former Quiznos in Dundalk and the other in the 2000 block of North Howard Street in midtown Baltimore, just north of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. He is still scouting sites for the third location.
 
Qreini already has two other Freestyle Fish n’ Chicken stores. In July, he opened a 2,100-square-foot restaurant in a former KFC at 100 N. Howard St. And earlier this month he opened a store in Bowie.  
 
Freestyle serves salads, fried tilapia and catfish, Philly cheese steaks, chicken tenders and tacos. Qreini has devised his own Mambo sauce, a spin on honey mustard, that’s served with chicken, fish and fries. The business owner gets his fish from Jessup’s Reliant Fish Co.
 
Qreini’s 15 years in the restaurant business, including opening three Jack’s Famous Wings in Chicago, helped him devise the menu and concept. He considers his first Baltimore eatery on the west side a good area because it’s near the Hippodrome and new location for the Everyman Theatre. The restaurant also has a 1,000-square-foot space for private meetings that can hold up to 50.
 
Qreini currently has five employees for his west side location and plans to hire more as business expands.
 
Sources: Munir Qreini, Owner of Freestyle Fish n’ Chicken; Janine Nickel, Marketing Consultant, Maisel Development Co.
Writer: Jolene Carr

A New Partner Dances Into the Creative Alliance

Watch out for new movement in East Baltimore as the Rayn Fall Dance Studio expands to a second location at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown.

Classes operated by the woman-owned dance workshop will take place in the Alliance’s black box theater, which holds concerts, movie screenings and their annual holiday craft fair.

Morgan State University graduate Sharayna Christmas Rose founded Rayn Fall Dance Studio in 2004 and operates the other location at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center.

The Creative Alliance struck a partnership with Rayn Fall after the education coordinator enrolled her stepdaughter at the studio. She admired the program and thought dance would make a good addition to the Alliance’s community outreach. At the same time, Rayn Fall was seeking to expand in southeast Baltimore.

“We are a community based organization, and so is Rayn Fall Dance Studio, so it was such a good marriage,” Creative Alliance Marketing Director Helen Yuen says. The collaboration is a natural extension of the after-school arts education programs the Alliance currently offers to the community.

Classes for the winter session include for Mommy & Me Creative Movement education for toddlers, as well as ballet, tap and hip hop for elementary kids.

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Helen Yuen, Creative Alliance

Carryout Barbecue Joint Comes to Hamilton

After 35 years in the food service business Dexter Ellison is serving up his mom’s old time soul food recipes in a small storefront in Hamilton.

Sarah’s Down Home Cooking opened last month at 4915 Harford Road, serving dishes created from treasured family recipes from Ellison’s late mom, Sarah. The dishes include barbecue minced meat, spare ribs and oxtails.

The 2,400-square-foot shop was previously an African restaurant, but had been vacant a few years when Ellison and his wife Terry took over.

The family, including daughter Shahidah Abdullah, renovated the entire space. There is a snug counter that seats four —  five if you want to get cozy.

They’ve been passing out flyers and trying to spread the word about their opening, says Abdullah, who is in charge of the fresh baked cupcakes, Rice Krispies Treats, and cookies.

Ellison spent 35 years as a food service supervisor and manager. This is his first restaurant venture. He’s keeping Sarah’s open seven days a week, and admits he hasn’t gotten a lot of sleep the past month.
 
The Ellisons live in Rosedale, but are happy they chose Hamilton for their new venture. “It seems like a real nice area,” Ellison says.
 
Writer: Amy Landsman landlink1@verizon.net
Sources: Dexter Ellison, Shahidah Abdullah, Sarah’s Down Home Cooking


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