Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Tenant sought for site of former South Laurel nightclub

Tex-Mex restaurant that replaced the embattled J’s Sports Cafe closed in October

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Crystal Plaza shopping center property managers are still trying to fill a vacancy created with the closure of the Los Tios Tex Mex & Grill in October.

Los Tios was the new business owner Alex Kim and his business partner D. J. Lee opened after closing J’s Sports Café in May.

The embattled J’s café, which Kim and Lee took over from previous owner Woo Hun Jung in October 2006, closed for good when the Prince George’s County liquor board denied it a liquor-license renewal after three shooting deaths in the club’s immediate vicinity in as many years.

Kim said he decided to close Los Tios due to low revenue.

‘‘We just didn’t have enough sales coming in, and it just didn’t justify keeping it open,” Kim said.

Kim declined to speculate on whether the restaurant’s lack of a liquor license contributed to low revenue, but said that having a wider array of available goods at a restaurant always helps sales.

The space has stood empty since Los Tios’ departure, but J’s Sports Cafe is still listed on the shopping center’s marquee.

The Baltimore-based William Tan & Associates Inc., which manages Crystal Plaza, has been trying to sublet the space since Los Tios closed.

‘‘We’d love a new tenant to [have moved] in yesterday,” property manager Emily Brophy said. ‘‘The last thing we want to do is put another operator in there and have them default on that lease after a certain amount of time.” Brophy said Kim and Lee had defaulted on the lease.

Maria Agres, who testified against J’s at the May liquor board hearing, said she hopes to see something more family-friendly take over for Los Tios.

‘‘I know that, for myself, I do not want a club there,” she said. ‘‘I’d like to see a Trader Joe’s there ... something family-oriented. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a restaurant [as long as there is no liquor present.]”

Brophy said the company has several prospective tenant companies for the space and would like to see a business move in as soon as possible.

‘‘We’re definitely looking at restaurants,” she said. ‘‘But a more family-oriented restaurant, like an Outback Steakhouse...We’re going for something the [community] would like.”

South Laurel resident Garold Stone, who has written extensively about the sports bar on his blog, SouthLaurel.blogspot.com, attributed the restaurant’s failure in part to its lack of liquor, but said he didn’t want to see another alcohol-serving establishment in the former Los Tios space.

‘‘I went in and had some Tex Mex in there a few times, and the food was fine, but they were operating without a liquor license,” he said. ‘‘I think any business there that has alcohol with the possibility of drawing a large crowd would be potentially problematic because of the history of violence associated with alcohol,” he said.

Currently, Yum’s Restaurant in the shopping center serves alcohol but, Brophy said, ‘‘liquor does not make up a huge part of their sales.”