Primo Middletown steak house given $200K forgivable loan to open in city

City Manager Paul Lolli calls it a ‘calculated risk’ and he expects restaurant to become destination.

Middletown’s city manager called it a “calculated risk” to approve a $200,000 forgivable loan agreement with an upscale Cincinnati-based steak restaurant that wants to expand into Middletown.

“We need to dare to win,” City Manager Paul Lolli told City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting. “We can’t live in failure.”

Then council unanimously approved the emergency legislation to loan the money to the owners of Prime Cincinnati, who plan to open Primo Middletown in the Murphy’s Landing building in downtown Middletown.

The council vote was 4-0 with Mayor Nicole Condrey excused from the meeting since she was competing with Team Fastrax at the world skydiving competition.

The loan, which comes from the Civic Development Fund, is attached to the restaurant meeting certain commitments, including having a yearly payroll of at least $1 million after five years. If certain benchmarks aren’t met, the owners have agreed to pay the loan back over five years, said Jacob Schulte, economic development program manager.

Schulte said the $1 million payroll is “pretty high caliber” and more in line with industrial companies instead of restaurants. He said to reach that payroll, the restaurant would need 25 employees earning $40,000 a year.

Primo is authorized to use the loan for expenses incurred to purchase furniture, fixtures, equipment, and other similar tangible personal property to be used at the Middletown location, according to city documents.

The loan may be drawn upon by Primo at any time during the disbursement period by submission of a draw request to the city. The initial funding outlay will be partially off-set by new income tax revenues over the term of the loan period as long as Prime hits its annual payroll thresholds, according to city documents.

In the event of a payroll deficiency, the 4% interest rate charged will not be forgiven and these additional proceeds will go toward offsetting short-falls. The loan will also be collateralized against assets purchased with the loan proceeds.

Jay and Linda Moorman, who own the downtown building that also houses BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studios, attended Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Jay Moorman said he was excited about the prospects of another downtown restaurant opening.

“It’s everything that I ever wanted,” Jay Moorman said. “I built it out for a high-end restaurant.”

Several restaurants have opened and closed in the space, but Moorman believes Primo Middletown will be successful because of the owner’s commitment to food quality and customer service.

“I’m sold,” said Moorman, who added the restaurant may open in three months.

He said Nelson Castillo, owner of Primo Middletown, has signed a 10-year lease with an option to buy the building.

Schulte said the owner hopes to work with culinary students at Butler Tech and the Warren County Career Center.

Lolli said 60% of restaurants fail within the first year and 80% within five years. But he’s confident in Primo Middletown.

“They know how to operate,” he said.

Castillo said the restaurant will be open for brunch and dinner and will offer steaks, seafood and a wide wine selection.

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