The original chef of An Cuisines is opening a new restaurant in the historic Sams-Jones House in downtown Cary, a building that has been vacant almost two years after its original restaurant tenant encountered financial problems.
The Cary Town Council approved a 10-year lease Dec. 14 with Asian fusion specialist chef Michael Chuong, who now owns Elements in Chapel Hill. The lease will total $579,500 over 10 years.
While Chuong declined to identify the concept and name for the new restaurant, the chef is known for highly modern Asian dishes. The Sams-Jones House is 150 years old and is designated a Cary Historic Landmark.
Chuong, who escaped Communist Vietnam at the age of 15, became the executive chef of Prestonwood Country Club in Cary in 1997. In the summer of 2006, he became the first chef at An Cuisines, the Ann Goodnight-owned contemporary Asian restaurant that received much acclaim.
This will be Cary’s second attempt to transform the town-owned building on South Academy Street into a restaurant. Cary bought the Sams-Jones House in 2011 as part of its downtown revitalization efforts and renovated it.
Belle at the Sams-Jones House opened in 2014 at 324 S. Academy St., as a farm-to-table restaurant and was celebrated for bringing life to the corner of Academy Street and Dry Avenue.
But the restaurant struggled while South Academy Street and Dry Avenue were under major construction, and parking and traffic was limited. The restaurant’s owner also owed the state taxes, which were paid shortly after it closed. At the time, owner Tammy Calaway-Harper said the construction brought sales down by 50 to 75 percent.
“We are grateful for the experience, and we gave it 150 percent, but sometimes that’s just not enough,” she told The News & Observer.
Academy Street reopened to traffic in October 2016, and the corner across from the restaurant is home to the new Downtown Park, which has become a site for town events. A new Wake County regional library and parking deck also are being built across the street.
In July 2016, the town solicited bids for a new tenant. Chuong and his team, known as VVVC Inc. were picked from five proposals.
The rent for the first five years will be $4,600 per month and then increase to $5,060 for the remainder of the term.
The building will likely be renovated by the town before Chuong moves in. Each of the five bids asked for changes to the building, including moving the bathroom doors and adding a walk-in cooler. Because of the historic designation of the Sams-Jones House, any improvements will need to clear the town’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The town spent $255,000 to help renovate the historic 19th century Jones House for Belle, according to the town. Belle had leased the building for $2,191 per month.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson