How the miracle on Vine St. evolved
"3CDC is undoubtedly the magic elixir that is driving a new restaurant scene in our city," said Kathleen Norris, owner of real estate company Urban Fast Forward and a former consultant to 3CDC.
Venice on Vine, a pizza restaurant run by a non-profit, has been on Vine since 2006. But the first restaurant in the district that made people sit up and notice that something was changing was Lavomatic, opened by Jean-Robert de Cavel and his partners Martin and Marilyn Wade in 2008.
They bought the building from 3CDC and renovated the structure themselves.
"Lavomatic was very important. When the story came out that Jean-Robert was opening there, it made people say "I'd better pay attention," said Norris.
The partnership between de Cavel and the Wades dissolved in 2009, and Lavomatic continued without him. It closed and was replaced by Krueger's Tavern in 2014).
Norris was hired by 3CDC in 2006 to give it a leasing plan for a new retail district. She was from the arts world, having run theater companies around the world, and her first assignment was to develop Main Street into an arts district. But she and the developer she'd been assigned to work with began to wonder why the emphasis on Main Street and arts. They thought Vine Street would make more sense, with an emphasis on urban design for the new condo owners in the neighborhood. She began to recruit both retail and restaurant businesses.
"It's important to remember the perception of OTR at the time," she said. "The notion that it would become what it did was a fantasy." Selling the first, inexpensive condos seems easy now, "But there was a time we didn't know if we could sell them at any price, " she said. "I was doing door-knock recruiting," she said. "No one was volunteering. They told me I was nuts." Through "sheer Irish bloody-mindedness," she said, she was able to sign up about 25 clients, mostly retail and including Park and Vine, MiCA and Below Zero lounge. "It took some bravery on their part," she said.
But she needed another restaurant. And she wanted something good. "I had grown up in a foodie family, and I had lived and worked in New York and Australia and traveled all over the world. I had maybe a broader picture of what constituted good food at the time," she said.
In most developments, owners look for what's called national credit tenants: brand names with a track record who bring their own money to the table. But here, they wouldn't work. Not only because it didn't fit in with the local vision, but because those operators wouldn't be interested in tiny restaurant spaces in an untested neighborhood.