Latitudes owners want to establish long-term presence in Knightdale

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

Sandy Delgado, one of the owners of the soon-to-be-open Latitudes restaurant, shows off the new bar in the building. Since it was built in 1985, the building has hosted several businesses.

MECHELLE HANKERSON — mhankerson@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Latitudes: Fine Food and Spirits

    Who’s behind Latitudes?

    The building that is in the process of becoming Latitudes is owned by Indigo Investors Group, LLC, an investment firm. Sandy Delgado, Imelda Castro and Doris De Paz are co-lessees, leasing the buiding from Indigo. Delgado owned a restaurant in New York in the mid-’90s before working in sales at U.S. Foods in Zebulon. Castro co-owns La Cocina de Mama Greta in North Raleigh. All the business owners are from El Salvador.

    Why the name Latitudes?

    Delgado said the name Latitudes is two-fold: one refers to the Jimmy Buffett song, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” and the other reason is to reference different cultures and cuisines (different countries often sit on different latitudinal planes). To honor that name, Delgado said the goal of the restaurant is to become somewhere for diners to relax. He said there are also tentative plans to offer special food items every few weeks that correlate with a different culture.

    What will the restaurant serve?

    Delgado said customers can expect American-style food with a Latin twist. Plans for the menu include American staples like burgers and steak, but he said he wants to bring in infuences from countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico. The restaurant’s signature steak, he said, will be churasco latino, a steak prepared like it would be in Latino countries. And a plus for parents: Delgado said he wants to make sure kids eat healthy and plans to include half a cup of vegetables in the children’s burger.

— The property at 7425 Knightdale Blvd. has seen its share of businesses and owners since it was constructed in 1985.

According to Wake County real estate records, the property has changed hands nine times in 29 years, hosting a variety of restaurants including a pizza place, Knightdale Ale House and a Mexican restaurant, El Fogón.

In some ways, it’s seemed cursed.

Knightdale planning staff have tried to guess why a business can’t seem to stay open at the property for more than a few years. Maybe it’s because it’s on the wrong side of the road; families coming home in the evening aren’t seeing it so it’s not an option for dinner. Maybe it’s on the wrong side of the town. Ever since Interstate 540 connected to Knightdale, retail centers have clung to the western side of town.

The reasons, Sandy Delgado said, don’t matter to him. Delgado, Imelda Castro and Doris De Paz signed a lease for the property in December and plan to open a new restaurant, Latitudes, in the coming weeks.

With exterior improvements, including adding trees and a sidewalk near the property and a new interior, Delgado said he thinks Latitudes might be able to break the curse.

“It’s going to be what we feel is a different kind of place,” he said.

Learning the land

The building at 7425 Knightdale Blvd. has seen it’s share of difficulties, which have been more than just finding a permanent tenant.

In 2006, the location was called Highbeams. In March of that year, a drunken driving accident killed one man in the parking lot. The driver and the victim had both been drinking at Highbeams before the accident.

Highbeams later became Knightdale Ale House, but the business shut down shortly after. It’s not clear if the closure was directly tied to the fatal accident and the legal fallout, which included attorneys referring to Highbeams as a “watering hole” and saying the restaurant was partially responsible for the accident.

In 2008, a new Mexican restaurant, El Fogón Grill, was getting ready to open in its place.

Delgado first came across the property when it was El Fogón. Delgado works for U.S. Foods, selling food to restaurants and El Fogón was one of his clients.

He helped behind the bar on Saturday nights to get back to his restauranteur roots (he owned a restaurant in New York in the mid-’90s) and watched the business flounder.

El Fogón closed, the bank took over the property and the current landlords, a group called Indigo Investors, held on to the property for about a year before Delgado and Co. made a move to lease it.

In the time he spent helping with El Fogón, Delgado said he developed a pretty good idea of what the property needed.

“I felt like this place had a lot of potential,” he said. “(The) first priority was to make the improvements. No more 'Let’s patch it up,' let’s do what we can within our budget.”

So far, those interior improvements include a new all-oak bar, new paint, new flooring and a new plan for using the space. Right now, the restaurant is divided into a bar area, a dining area, a second dining area that can be used for private events and an entertainment area with two pool tables and Delgado said some dartboards will also be put in before opening day.

Taking efforts outside

Outside the building though, is where Delgado’s venture is really branching away from past efforts.

The town required a sidewalk be put in near the property as well as more foliage, like trees. They were requirements the building’s landlords have willingly taken on, Delgado said.

Knightdale Planning Director Chris Hills said there was nothing technically wrong with the property to explain why a business hasn’t been able to find long-term success in it.

At the Citizens Planning Academy in February, where Knightdale residents could go to learn more about planning the town, Hills said the site improvements may make the property more appealing to customers, but it’s not a guarantee.

The building is on a side of town where retail and housing have been slow to crop up compared to where I-540 connects the town to the rest of the county. But Hills said there is progress toward Latitudes’ way, with more housing slowly going up in the east.

Right now, Delgado said there are still a few renovations to be made so they haven’t set an opening date.

After all, it might take a bit of time to undo a 29-year-old curse.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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