CALUMET HEIGHTS — Plans are in the works for a new Southern-style restaurant in the building that used to house Leon's Barbecue in Calumet Heights.
Claude Jones Jr., founder and CEO of Corbenic Development, said he was finalizing the sale of the 11,000-square-foot site at 1638 E. 79th St. and expected to close on the property in September.
"The site is ... prime real estate when you consider its location," said the 40-year-old Bucktown resident. "It is located on East 79th Street where 14,000 cars a day travel ... and adjacent to Stony Island, where 40,000 cars travel daily. You can even see the site from the Skyway."
Construction for the new restaurant is not expected to begin until May 2014 with a completion date set for October 2014, according to Jones. He's planning to serve up catfish, fried chicken, smothered fried steak and, of course, collard greens.
Across the street from the vacant site is the New Regal Theater, which will be sold to a new owner "any day now," said Greg Hernandez, a spokesman for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which acquired the theater in 2011.
Jones said the theater, 1645 E. 79th St., was not his motivating reason for wanting to open a restaurant in the neighborhood.
"The South Shore area needs more restaurants. I am simply filling a need in the community," Jones added.
Linda Bryant, an assistant to Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), whose ward includes the restaurant site, said the alderman supported more economic development near the theater.
But one local business is not thrilled about the coming competition.
Next door to the proposed restaurant at 1652 E. 79th St. is Caribbean Jerk & BBQ Pit, which has struggled since the 2003 closing of the New Regal Theater.
"People would come in here and eat before and after the show. This place was packed on the weekends. Not anymore though," said Paulette Mendez, the restaurant's manager. "Another restaurant next to us would make things even tighter. A parking lot or gas station would be good for that spot."
Residents who live near the proposed restaurant said they welcomed a sit-down restaurant.
"The only places to eat around here are fast-food joints like that jerk chicken spot on the corner," said Ann Smith, 66, who lives in the 7800 block of South Constance Avenue. "A banquet hall is what I would like to see built around here."
Langston Alexander, 39, of the 7700 block of South Bennett Avenue, said while he would patronize any sit-down restaurant that opened near the theater, he would prefer a chain restaurant like Applebee's or Chili's.
"This way I could sit down and have a drink with my meal. Those types of restaurants don't exist in the black community anymore," Alexander said.