Real Deals

Hatem buys West Raleigh catering kitchen for Empire Eats

dbracken@newsobserver.com May 17, 2012 

Greg Hatem

As downtown Raleigh developer Greg Hatem has looked to ramp up his catering business, he has been seeking a suitable location for a permanent catering kitchen.

Last week he found one.

Hatem paid $1.5 million for three parcels of land and two buildings across Hillsborough Street from Meredith College in West Raleigh, according to Wake County property records. One of those buildings is a catering kitchen that was originally built by the Baxley family, which operated the Baxley’s Cafe, Restaurant and Catering Services for decades before the selling the business in 1989.

The family has owned the land at the intersection of Hillsborough and Royal streets since the 1960s. The other building Hatem bought from the Baxley family has long been home to the Beansprout Chinese Restaurant, and Hatem said this week he has no intention of uprooting a local institution.

“Beansprout stays,” he said.

Empire Eats – Hatem’s restaurant group that owns The Raleigh Times Bar, Gravy, Sitti and The Pit – had briefly used the former Duck & Dumpling restaurant on Moore Square as a catering kitchen. That ended when Hatem found another tenant for the space.

He then put under contract the former Hideaway BBQ location on Capital Boulevard. But while working through all the improvements that would have to be made to the space, Hatem said he learned that the old Baxley space would soon be vacated.

“We bumped into this one almost as a fluke,” he said.

The deal was completed two weeks later, with Hatem buying the properties through an entity slyly named PIT THE ROAD JACK. Hatem borrowed $1.38 million from the sellers to complete the deal, according to property records, with both properties put up as collateral.

Eschewing traditional financing avenues expedited the process, Hatem said.

“They were interested in getting a stream of income, and we were interested in closing quickly,” he said. “Literally, the whole thing was practically done on a handshake.”

Although the property records say the loan is due in two years, Hatem said the expectation is that it will be refinanced once the catering kitchen is up and running.

Hatem also got approved this week for a $50,000 loan from the city for renovations he plans to make to The Raleigh Times Bar on Hargett Street. The bar is adding a second kitchen and expanding its seating area by taking over the space that was formerly occupied by The Brass Grill.

Hatem also plans to put a rooftop bar atop the adjacent retail store Stitch.

Retailers for downtown

In March, Hatem refinanced the debt on those buildings, which provided $750,000 to make improvements, according to property records. Hatem said the loan from the city helped fill the gap between the upfit allowance and what the renovations will cost.

“In order to do everything we wanted to do, we needed even more across that complex,” he said.

Although Hatem’s firm Empire Properties has largely made its name renovating older buildings and filling them with restaurants, he’s most excited about the fact that four retail shops have leased space in his buildings over the past 12 months.

Retail is the biggest component missing from the revitalization of downtown Raleigh, and adding more of it would go a long way to creating the sort of 24-hour activity that boosters fantasize about.

Faces on Wilmington Street

As for Hatem, he’s been, um, immortalized, at least temporarily, on a mural that now hangs on the east side of the 200 block of Wilmington Street. The mural features four figures, including Hatem and his wife as well as what appears to be North Carolina native John Coltrane.

“I have no idea,” Hatem said when asked about it. “It just showed up one day.”

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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