Yes, Sabor Centro Americano is still open.The question is, how much longer?
The restaurant, at 2661 Independence Avenue in the Historic Northeast, has been serving the cuisine of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica in a former Captain D's for the past seven years. But the clock appears to be running out.
Texas-based developer Cabinrock Investments LLC, which owns the property as well as several surrounding buildings, plans to tear down Sabor Centro Americano. The idea is to use the parcel (and the weed-choked vacant lot behind it) as the footprint for a new building that would house an Advance Auto Parts store.
"That's phase one of the plan," says Mike Bushnell, publisher of Northeast News and an outspoken advocate of the proposed development. The second phase would be to tear down an old florist shop and empty post-office building and take over another weed-filled lot and construct a new retail development, which this stretch of Independence Avenue hasn't had in decades."
Not everyone is so upbeat about Cabinrock's plan.
Just go to the Real Northeast Facebook page to meet the neighborhood residents who oppose the project (and a few who support it, and at least one who would like to see a new Captain D's in the area). Many of them are angry about the perceived exclusion of neighborhood residents from the decision-making process. "The developers say that they talked to all the neighbors who own homes surrounding the property," says actor Ron Megee, who lives around the corner from Sabor Centro Americano. "But they lied. No one told us anything. I found out by accident."
Some of the other arguments on the Real Northeast page: "I actually don't have a problem with it, it's just that Independence Avenue already has a Napa, O'Reilly, and Advanced Auto Parts [sic] ... "; "More specifically, an auto parts store does not seem to be congruent with the plans for the Avenue's resurrection ... "; and "I also do not think it is a bad thing. ... A business that will close at night, with a secure lot. Finally, no place for drug dealers to hide, hookers to service men, and killings in the Honduran restaurant parking lot."
The last comment was from Megee who admits, somewhat sheepishly, that he wants to see the auto-parts store built. "I'll get hell from my neighbors for saying this, but I like the plan," he says. "It will be harder for johns from Johnson County to come here and have sex with Independence Avenue hookers in my neighborhood. People are really passionate about this, though. Someone keeps calling the lots behind the restaurant 'green space.' It's really just old lots filled with weeds."
Bushnell adds: "[The] developer has bent over backward to appease the neighborhood. The opposition needs to sit down and take a good long look at exactly what they're fighting."
Bushnell believes that the properties at Independence Avenue and Chestnut will be developed, furor or not, and that Sabor Centro Americano, which is beloved in this ethnically diverse community, will live on in another location.
"There's an empty restaurant property just up the street," Bushnell says. "It just needs a tenant."