Pine Avenue Property Has Been Vacant For Two Years; Sold For $2.1 Million
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
October 23, 2012 - Property owners John and Michelle Molina have sold 144 Pine Ave., the former location of Smooth’s Sports Grille, to Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG) out of San Diego.
The $2.1 million owner-to-owner deal for the 12,710-square-foot property in Downtown Long Beach closed escrow on October 15. According to Michelle Molina, it took about a year – almost a year to the day escrow closed – to get CRG to sign the deal, which includes existing furniture and equipment.
The property has been vacant for two years, though a company did come in about a year ago to set up shop. “[John] Morris and the Molinas were partners in the building [at the time],” Michelle Molina said. “The ownership of the building never went through, so they were going to lease the property and open a restaurant. They put up their ‘Coming Soon,’ they did their demo [work], and then they split.”
Since then, no changes have been made to the property. The Molinas have maintained the property and sold it as-is.
The Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) had pursued CRG for several years, according to DLBA President and CEO Kraig Kojian. CRG was founded by David and Lesley Cohn, who own 18 restaurants.
“David has some very good San Diego neighbors who were also speaking highly of the opportunities that were making themselves available on Pine Avenue for a few years,” Kojian said. The two first met over lunch about four years ago, and Kojian maintained a connection over the years.
“[Cohn] peeked over at the Promenade for a while, then came back to Pine Avenue,” Kojian said. “He had met John Morris years ago, but nothing happened at that point. And then when Michelle and John Molina ended up with 144 [Pine Ave.], I introduced Cohn Restaurant Group to Michelle, and then she followed up.”
Molina said she had called Cohn through the holidays in 2011 and was able to spend a week in San Diego in January. In that week, Molina was able to meet with Cohn, his general manager and executive chef, and visited eight to 10 of his restaurants.
“For whatever reason, we liked each other,” Molina said. “We thought this would be a great deal going forward, and it was about passing on a few other deals that came our way.” The Molinas, who are also property developers of the Millworks project at 6th and Pine, have a vision for Pine Avenue and the opportunity to influence positive changes happening for the main artery of downtown.
“We were really looking for a right fit for Pine Avenue, and it had to be what I call food front; to really push the culinary part of the experience,” Molina said. “It’s about making good choices for operators, for ownership, for tenants, because we owe that to our community. And we want to go there. We’re excited about that.”
CRG began with one small diner in San Diego in 1981. Since then, the restaurant group has grown to operate a family of 15 restaurants in the Greater San Diego area and three in Maui. Many of the restaurants are award winners, and each brand has its own unique ambiance, décor and cuisine – from French bistro food to California cookery, American ’50s diner delights, island eats and more.
David Cohn told the Business Journal that when the company began to explore options in the area of Orange County, he was looking for areas where young people were moving into condos, where locals mixed with conventioneers and visitors in a dining and entertainment destination community. “We also look for that mixture of residential and nightlife, as well as entertainment venues,” Cohn said. “These are 24/7 communities where people live, work and play.”
Cohn said he plans to use 144 Pine Ave. as a space for a hybrid of existing restaurants in the CRG family on the main floor. Current thinking is a cross between BO-beau Kitchen + Bar, a California French fusion bistro, and its sister 100 Wines, a California Mediterranean fusion restaurant. “All entrees are under $20, and we are all about sharing and trying different small plates,” Cohn said.
Cohn said CRG is looking toward putting in a craft beer garden with full food service on its rooftop deck. “We’re taking a trip back to Manhattan soon to look at some of the craft beer gardens out there,” he said. In terms of entertainment, Cohn said the restaurant could host a single acoustic performer, a duo or a trio, but won’t host nightclub events or dancing. “We want to see that mix on the street, but we want it to be a balanced mix,” he said. “It is important to us that we are mostly food centric.”
The look and feel of the restaurant, Cohn said, is to make it seem like the business has been operating out of the location for years. “We like that this is a historical building that has been a part of Pine Avenue for a long time,” he said. “When you walk in it will feel like a restaurant that has been there for 40 years; that it’s an established restaurant, not something new.”
In addition, Cohn said his company intends to get involved in the Downtown Long Beach community by participating in charitable giving and working on advocacy with other businesses on the street.
“David is very well established and very well respected in the San Diego community,” Kojian said. “I think the street is really going to benefit from this investment by the Cohn Restaurant Group. The community at large is going to benefit by having David and his folks here because he knows how to give back to the community. That is really important. Just look at his work in San Diego, as far as being a benevolent contributor to the community itself. If he does a third of that here, it’s still going to be a huge benefit for our community.”
An example of CRG giving back is the company’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon. In 1996, the Cohns established the Garfield High School Foundation, a fundraising arm of Garfield High School in San Diego to support high-risk students. Monies donated to the foundation over the years were used in 2008 to build a culinary arts and event center at the high school campus. Every year since then, CRG partners with the school to host a Thanksgiving luncheon at its flagship restaurant, The Prado at Balboa Park, where the students do everything from prep work to serving under Executive Chef Jonathan Hale.
Demolition begins this week. The goal is to open summer 2013, Cohn said. For more information on CRG, visit http://cohnrestaurants.com.
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