The owners of downtown San Jose’s Original Gravity, a craft beer house, and Paper Plane, a restaurant and cocktail bar, will open a third restaurant-bar combination tentatively in March 2018.
The yet-to-be-named bar will have an '80s to '90s retro bar-arcade concept and will be located in downtown San Jose at 52 E. Santa Clara St., a 5,528 square foot building that was previously home to Toons Piano Bar. The lease was finalized on Friday.
George Lahlouh, co-owner of Paper Plane, said the owners will brand the restaurant and bar separately, with two separate names in the same building coming together as a cohesive space.
The downtown area has seen an influx of new eateries, many of them local concepts like Oakland's Blue Bottle Coffee, which is the first tenant to sign on in the revamped historic space at 1 W. Santa Clara St., a block away from where the restaurateurs' new bar concept is going in.
“We see how much activity is going on with construction downtown — residential and professional,” Lahlouh said. “Downtown San Jose has so much room for growth in terms of the food and beverage scene — people are hungry and thirsty, they want to go somewhere nearby.”
Much of the downtown buzz is being spurred by an influx of new apartment complexes, hotels and companies — including, potentially Google— moving into San Jose.
Owners Dan Phan and Johnny Wang opened Original Gravity five years ago at 66 S. First Street, and partnered with Lahlouh to open Paper Plane 18 months later in the same building. All three owners are working together on the third concept.
The new space will be a challenge for the owners. It’s bigger than Original Gravity and Paper Plane. It is also an empty shell, which allows the owners and Gensler Architects to fully customize the bar-restaurant — although this can be more costly than outfitting an existing kitchen.
The space the "bar-arcade"-style restaurant and bar will move into was one of many bare bones spaces that tend to stay vacant longer than spaces with an already built kitchen, said Nate Echeverria, director of policy and operations at the San Jose Downtown Association.
The city recently rolled out a new streamlined permitting process for restaurants, which Echeverria said will hopefully help with filling those vacancies as a way to incentivize business owners to open restaurants downtown.
“It goes from being pretty lengthy, to sitting down in a room for an hour or two and just getting signature after signature,” Lahlouh said about the permitting process.
Lahlouh said the city has told him that the new bar-restaurant is on track to qualify for the streamlined process.
The new concept's bar will feature 20 beers on tap and an extensive handmade cocktail menu, along with 20 to 40 arcade games and pinball machines.
Lahlouh and his team's serial success speaks to a trend: Many San Jose restaurant owners may be slow to take that first leap — but once they do, plans for expansion follow shortly.
“When people get their first or second concept open they’re already thinking about their third,” said Echeverria of the Downtown Association.
Lahlouh said experience and relationships make the second or third time launching a restaurant a lot easier. "I would say that it’s been a learning process in terms of learning how to work with the city, the permitting process, compliant from code on bathroom sizes to [Americans with Disabilities Act requirments] to so on and so forth,” he said.
With a successful track record, Lahlouh said support from the city has been coming in bigger waves: “This time we got a lot of great support from the Downtown Association, Planning Department and Economic Development — conversations are coming a little bit easier.”
Olivia Schaber is an editorial intern for the Silicon Valley Business Journal, primarily reporting on retail, restaurants and hospitality.