By Grace Wyler
By GRACE WYLER
The Rosetta Stone Cafe & Wine Bar closed its doors Thursday night, less than two years after its opening seemed to herald the revival of downtown dining and nightlife.
The property was put up for sale for $2.9 million in May, sparking suspicion that the owners were looking to get out of the downtown restaurant business.
The economic downturn, coupled with the difficult task of luring suburban diners to downtown Youngstown, has taken its toll on the business, said co-owner Chuck Sop.
“I think we have done a pretty admirable job of bringing the suburbs downtown, but that is a challenging job,” Sop said. “We’ve had to change people’s habits.”
Sop and his partners — his son Greg and local IT specialist George Lenahan — are closing the business “indefinitely” in order to “stop and see what the options are,” Sop said.
“We will be looking at our operations,” he said. “There’s a lot of concern about the economy; people are pulling back.”
He would not provide further details, but said the partners have been looking at “other options outside of the food industry.” The Rosetta Stone was the first restaurant venture for all of the partners.
The restaurant’s 20 employees were informed of the decision to close Thursday morning. Sop said most of the employees were aware that the closure was imminent.
The building, located at 110 W. Federal St., has garnered some interest from potential buyers, Sop said. He added that the owners may decide to reopen the Rosetta Stone if the economy improves.
The property, the former home of Woolworth’s variety store, underwent a $600,000 remodeling before the restaurant opened in 2008. The city of Youngstown contributed $100,000 to the renovation, which was to be forgiven if the restaurant stayed in business for three years. Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said the city’s economic development agency will be looking into the terms of the agreement and assess the appropriate course of action.
The closing of the Rosetta Stone is unfortunate, Williams said, but does not appear to be part of a larger trend.
“There doesn’t seem to be a domino effect,” Williams said. “The hope is that someone else will step in and see its value and potential.”
The closing is a “temporary setback” in downtown development, said Tony Paglia, vice president for the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber.
“It was a bright spot when it opened, and it certainly improved choices for people,” Paglia said. “But I think downtown is moving forward and improving, so hopefully we’ll see other new eateries opening.”
The number of new restaurants and bars downtown may have outpaced employment, said Jim Cossler, chief executive for the Youngstown Business Incubator. He added that new restaurants will likely start to come in as the economy picks up and the downtown workforce grows.
“This is just a bump in the road,” Cossler said.