- Eric Schwartzberg Staff Writer
An Oxford business that shut down Monday is already fielding a deluge of interest from potential replacements.
Kona Bistro, 31 W. High St., abruptly closed its doors after lunch Monday, leaving a sign on the door and a note on Facebook.
FIRST REPORT: Popular Oxford restaurant abruptly closes after 20 years
Alan Kyger, Oxford’s economic development director, said most of his week, especially the day after the restaurant closed, has been consumed with answering questions posed by numerous people asking about opening a new business at the storefront.
“I had inquiries within hours the day that they closed … and then (Tuesday), I did nothing but field calls for that location,” Kyger said. “(Wednesday) there were four other calls that wanted to go into that site.”
Those calls produced at least “two strong, good candidates” looking to move into the storefront.
Part of the demand for the space, he said, is because of the lack of available locations in the High Street area. Those few buildings that are vacant remain that way for now due to lack of building readiness or because they are removed from the main retail area.
What would slow negotiations to move into the building at this point would be the acquisition of Kona’s fixed assets, including tables, chairs and cooking utensils, Kyger said.
What should not slow negotiations is the lease on the building, which expires Oct. 31, according to Chamkaur Singh, whose father-in-law Resham Bassi owns the building and has also fielded numerous calls to fill the space.
The building where Kona Bistro operated was constructed in 1900 and before Kona Bistro’s founders Tom and Amy Elliott opened the restaurant in 1997, it was home to a bar named Bash Riprock’s.
Blake and Tyler Jennings, two former Kona Bistro employees who purchased the business in October 2015, did not respond to requests for comment.
Kyger said the two brothers reached out to him sometime in the past year to discuss ideas to increase business there, but made no indication about plans to shut down, he said.
Jim Lahey, a Miami University senior, who said he’s been going to Kona Bistro since he was a freshman, said he would miss the restaurant’s “quality food and convenient location.”
“It’s kind of unfortunate because it’s been here for 20 years,” said Lahey, who unknowingly at the time became one of the restaurant’s last customers Monday when he ordered a garlic burger for lunch. “It’s kind of like a historical place in the town.”
Another Miami University senior, Paul Filippe, said he was sad to see the restaurant close after dining there all his years in Oxford.
“I like supporting small businesses like this that aren’t, like, big chains like Subway or Jimmy John’s,” Filippe said. “It’s kind of sad.”
While Lahey, Filippe and other customers with whom the Journal-News spoke with said they wished Kona’s owners could have done more than post a sign on its door and a note on its Facebook page, Kyger said it is rare that any restaurant does out of fear of repercussions.
“If you have support staff and they hear you’re going to close, what are you (as an employee) going to do?” Kyger said. “You’re getting by paycheck to paycheck, you’re going to look for another job. You’re going to be gone or, ‘Hey, they’re going to close in two weeks, so why should I go back?’ and then all of sudden you open your doors for business and there’s nobody in the kitchen.”
News of the closing sparked an outpouring of love and support on social media from customers who worked, dined, dated and even proposed marriage there.
“It’s definitely sad to see them go,” said Kyger. “Kona’s been there for 20 years, so we’re losing an institution in Uptown Oxford. It will be filled with something else, but it’s not going to be Kona.”