April 23, 2014

JJ’s restaurant to reopen across from its original location

Brothers Jimmy and David Frantze have signed a lease in the new Plaza Vista, 900 W. 48th Place, just west of the Country Club Plaza. They hope to reopen JJ’s in late summer. About 90 percent of the former JJ’s employees are expected to rejoin the restaurant.

JJ’s restaurant plans to reopen in late summer in the new Plaza Vista building, 18-months after the original restaurant was demolished in a fiery explosion that killed one worker and injured others.

JJ’s owners — brothers Jimmy and David Frantze — have signed a lease for a lobby level space in the building at 900 W. 48th Place, across the street from JJ”s original location.

The new 4,800-square-foot restaurant and bar will be on the south side of the lobby, which is also the headquarters for the Polsinelli law firm. It also will have a 1,600-square-foot outdoor patio along Roanoke Parkway.

“We’re coming back from the ashes,” said Jimmy Frantze. “I’m ready to go to work. I miss the business, I miss the people.”

He said about 90 percent of his former employees plan to return.

JJ’s opened in 1985 at 910 W. 48th St. a couple of blocks outside the Country Club Plaza’s western edge. It built a loyal following for its upscale menu, award-winning wine list, and lively bar which overlooked an elegant restaurant. Its staff members considered themselves a “family.”

But for nearly a decade, JJ’s has been beset by the very development site it will now call home.

“Ironic isn’t the word for it,” Jimmy Frantze said in an interview Monday. “We have to come up with another word.”

In 2005, ground was broken for what was then called the West Edge project on the current Plaza Vista site. The Frantze brothers welcomed the office and hotel complex project, figuring it would funnel even more foot traffic into their restaurant.

But soon things soured.

A rock hurtled by blasting to excavate the West Edge underground garage struck a JJ’s server in 2006, and she had to be hospitalized. Construction either slowed, or at times even blocked, access to the street in front of the restaurant and area parking spaces.

When the project stalled in 2008, concrete barricades and fences went up around the exterior — not the attractive neighbor an upscale restaurant needs. The Frantzes said business dropped by 40 percent.

Still, they held on, even as new developers tore down the West Edge and put up the Plaza Vista.

But on Feb. 19, 2013, an explosion caused by a natural gas leak killed server Megan Cramer and injured several other workers, while also leveling the restaurant and damaging two other neighboring buildings.

The Frantzes considered rebuilding on the original JJ’s site but they said the bids that came in were “insanely expensive.” They also looked at other locations in and around the Country Club Plaza.

But the Plaza Vista site seemed the perfect fit, Jimmy Frantze said. Polsinelli employees had long supported the restaurant, it would have a prominent location with a large outdoor patio overlooking Roanoke, and the complex offered abundant parking.

Plaza Vista opened in November. The JJ’s space was not originally slated to be a restaurant. The Frantzes have been working through the design and negotiations for several months. They signed the lease Monday.

“There’s a real synergy to the Plaza Vista property with a great mixture of dining, hospitality and premier office uses,” said David Harrison, president of VanTrust Real Estate LLC, developer of the Plaza Vista, in a statement. “On a personal note, after growing up with the Frantzes, I am ecstatic that Jimmy and the team selected Plaza Vista as the new home of JJ’s restaurant. As a patron, I am equally excited to be able to dine at JJ’s once again.”

As for the original JJ’s site, a corner yellow brick facade and front entryway tile are nearly all that remain. The Frantze brothers haven’t decided what they will do with the property. Two surrounding building damaged by the explosion have yet to be repaired.

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