A collective "Oh!" greeted restaurateur Chris Spann's announcement to the Hampden Village Merchants Association on Wednesday that he plans to take over the former Dogwood restaurant space on The Avenue.
Spann, owner of the well-reviewed restaurant The Wine Market Bistro in Locust Point, said he plans to open an upscale restaurant in the old Dogwood. Spann said he is still developing the concept of the new restaurant.
"It's not going to be The Wine Market Bistro II, but it's going to appeal to the same people," Spann said. He said he is also considering selling "gourmet products" upstairs in the building at 911 W. 36th St.
In other Hampden restaurant news, the owner of the Mexican restaurant Holy Frijoles on The Avenue won the support of the merchants' association for his plan for live entertainment and an expanded liquor license.
Geoff Danek, who has owned Holy Frijoles since 1996 when he was 22, said he is applying for a Class B restaurant license that would allow him to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., seven days a week. Currently, he said, he has an outdated, 6-day, 1 a.m. Class D license, which he purchased from the bar Zissimo's in 2002, he said.
"All I'm trying to do is add an extra hour every day and add Sunday," Danek said. He said he welcomes more restaurants and bars on The Avenue, but that his restaurant has struggled financially and he wants an extra advantage in keeping up with the explosion of new restaurants in Hampden.
"I'm just looking to be able to compete and be more on a playing level, with everything that's going on in Hampden," said Danek, 39. "Maybe this will put me over the hump."
The association voted unanimously to write a letter of support to the Baltimore City liquor board.
"Jeff has been a fixture in Hampden for years," said the merchants' association president Benn Ray. "He was one of the first ones here."
Danek said he has also thought about expanding, but has no plans to do so.
The increasing restaurant competition in Hampden was evident at the meeting, as Spann announced his interest in The Dogwood space.
The Dogwood closed in March because "the business can no longer support itself," co-owner Galen Sampson announced online.
Founded in 2007, the Dogwood was known for its use of seasonal and local ingredients, and for a professional paid training program funded by the Baltimore Community Fellowship Program.
"It's really early," Spann said when merchants sought specifics about his plans for the space. "Certainly, stay tuned as we home in on the exact concept."
He said he tentatively plans to open this fall.
Spann could not be reached after the meeting for further comment.
Merchants' association president Benn Ray congratulated Spann at the meeting and said he doesn't think Hampden has reached a tipping point of too many new restaurants.
"If the neighborhood can sustain it will, and if it can't, it won't," Ray said.
But Ray added that although he has nothing against upscale restaurants, "I'd like to see more affordable, working-class restaurants in Hampden."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun