Sometimes a lock out notice displayed on the doors of a business is a telling sign of mismanagement or less than stellar sales. Or it could also be apart of a deliberate plan discussed in advance with the landlord's consent. At least that's what Mohammed Al-Ahmed, owner of Polovina Italian Cafe had to say of his restaurant's lockout notice last month.
The Washington Avenue restaurant quietly closed October 10, a few days after Coppa Ristorante Italiano shuttered, It was only after social media chatter and a photo of a public notice taped to the door, that many in the neighborhood were left to wonder if Polovina was closed for good. Missing dining tables and other restaurant fixtures only added to the speculations, as did a mysterious name in the restaurant's website title description.
Over the weekend, Al-Ahmed appeared on television and radio personality Cleverley Stone's weekly food talk radio show, where he discussed the lockout in length. He confirmed reports of Polovina being served a lock out notice for non-payment the week of October 17, telling Stone management was aware of his intentions. He also revealed that this was a business decision the he and the property managers of Washington 4500, whom he has a great relationship with, agreed upon. Management knew of Polovina's plans to close in advance and the lockout notice was a formality.
"The Heights and Washington Avenue isn't what it used to be five years ago", said Al-Ahmed of his decision to close Polovina. Foot traffic drastically decreased and business overall was slower than in years past, but the end isn't near for Polovina entirely. "For now we're trying to relocate downtown as are most restaurants [who] have been in the Heights... move towards Downtown."
Al-Ahmed wouldn't disclose the location but hinted the restaurant would relocate to Congress Street. If it's foot traffic from Downtown's bustling scene he wants, it's unlikely, but not impossible he'll have that at Houston Live, the former sports lounge currently for lease on the corner of Jackson and Congress. He could get the desired foot traffic at Market Square, possibly where the pizza and sandwich specialty restaurant, ERA was once located.
The space hasn't been operational since ERA closed in 2011, but work on the space has been an ongoing effort for over a year. The area also has a steady stream of foot and car traffic from Market Square Park, Barnaby's Cafe, Hearsay Gastro Lounge, OKRA Charity Saloon, recently opened Public Services Wine & Whiskey and other restaurants and bars nearby. It's also in close proximity to the commercial and residential towers expected to open by 2016, something Al-Ahmed mentioned in his interview.
As for the "Beirut Fine" wording on Polovina's website, Al-Ahmed confirmed it was a typo at first but decided to leave it up as a way to promote Beirut Fine Lebanese Cuisine. As first mentioned last week, Beirut Fine Lebanese Cuisine is another Washington Avenue venture of Al-Ahmed's. It's an upscale Lebanese restaurant, with locations in Hong Kong and Vietnam, that he and a business partner are opening soon in the vacated Reign Lounge on 4105 Washington Avenue.
Whether Polovina Italian Cafe will open in the ERA space or elsewhere on Congress remains to be seen for now. A lease for the new Downtown location will be finalized this week with hopes of opening before the end of the year. What is for certain, the staff will stay on board.
According to Al-Ahmed, he hasn't taken anyone off the payroll and is paying his staff while the restaurant transitions to its new home. When asked by Stone, who's also the founder of Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW), about her followers' concerns about his HRW commitment, Al-Ahmed continued his do-gooder streak of the day, pledging to double his donation to the Houston Food Bank.