Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh Times seeks loan from city for expansion

One of downtown’s most popular restaurants hopes to use a $50,000 loan from the city to add a dining area for private events, a gelato counter and a rooftop patio.

The Raleigh Times Bar has become a mainstay on the downtown dining scene since it opened in 2006. The renovated building on Hargett Street was once home to an afternoon newspaper, and that’s where the bar draws its name and theme.

The establishment is part of Empire Eats, the local restaurant group run by Greg Hatem that also owns Gravy, Sitti and The Pit.

In documents submitted to the city, Hatem says the loan would go toward the purchase of $200,000 in stoves, ovens, refrigerators, prep tables and a gelato display case.

The restaurant plans to expand into adjacent, vacant space formerly home to the Brass Grill. A patio is planned atop part of the building, above the Stitch retail shop at the corner of Hargett and Wilmington streets.

“We’ve really turned away a lot of private events that we’ve wanted to do, fundraisers and so forth,” Hatem said in an interview. “We can’t shut down an area of the restaurant. This will give us an opportunity to have a space.”

The bar would add six full-time and nine-part time employees within a year of the expansion, which will boost seating capacity by 91 seats to 216, Hatem told the city.

Renovations could be complete by mid-summer, he said.

Loan program for downtown

The request got a favorable recommendation from the City Council’s budget and economic development committee last week, setting up a vote Monday by the full council.

The city created a downtown loan program in 2006 to spur jobs and reinvestment in downtown, home to a number of vacant storefronts that are expensive to renovate.

So far, only three loans have been issued, prompting the city in January to expand the boundaries to include a wider swath of downtown.

Businesses are eligible for up to $50,000. The loans can be repaid over a period of up to 10 years with a review after five years.

The interest rate for the Hatem loan will be 3.5 percent.

City looks for safer bets

With a lengthy craft beer list and bustling sidewalk dining area, The Times is often packed with groups of young people on weekends.

Councilman Randy Stagner questioned why the city would lend money to a successful restaurant rather than smaller merchants aspiring to move downtown.

“We generally try to find established businesses or at least (businesses with) a track record so that we don’t put our money at risk,” said City Manager Russell Allen.

Six years ago, Hatem was among local restaurateurs who criticized the city for spending $1 million to renovate a publicly owned space that became The Mint, an upscale Southern restaurant.

Some restaurateurs said the city was subsidizing their competition. The Mint closed last month because of lagging business, and the city is now working with a prospective restaurant tenant to strike a new lease deal.

The tenant would get up to six months to make upfits, hire a staff and prepare for an opening, but it wouldn’t receive city assistance, Allen said.