A new restaurant in Prospect Heights is nearing completion after months of construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restaurateur behind the operation is finally gearing up to welcome patrons to the Dean Street eatery.
“We’re very excited to get open,” said owner Randi Lee.
Leland Eating and Drinking House, at the corner of Washington Avenue, will be Lee’s first solo venture after working in the restaurant industry for 25 years — and getting the joint open has proven to be more of a struggle than he ever could have imagined.
The food maestro closed on a lease for the storefront in February, just one month before the pandemic washed over American shores and halted all non-essential construction — causing Lee to consider abandoning the project as the site sat unfinished, and construction crews were barred from working.
Instead, the crafty entrepreneur took matters into his own hands, utilizing his background in design — working with his fiancé and friend to transform the former gastropub into a shiny new neighborhood eatery. The makeshift crew worked tirelessly to refinish the floors, lay tile, restore the original bar, and craft new tables out of sheets of oak.
Now, the trio is working on the finishing touches — installing an awning out front, and new windows inside with ventilation in mind for indoor dining — with the hopes of welcoming guests in October, four months after the original planned opening date.
The renovation is being partially crowdfunded through GoFundMe, which has currently raised $25,000 towards a goal of $30,000.
Many Prospect Heights residents have contributed to the fundraising effort, and locals have been stopping by regularly to tell Lee how excited they are to have the storefront occupied again after two years of it sitting empty.
The new restaurant’s location on a mostly residential strip of Washington Avenue should be advantageous, Lee hopes, serving as a middle ground between restaurant rows on Vanderbilt and Franklin Avenues for locals in the immediate area.
“As far as having a nice bite and a good pint or glass of wine, there’s not a lot of places,” Lee said of the immediate area. “I think we’re positioned to be in between two neighborhoods.”
Lee is planning a menu of “New York Mediterannean” style cuisine, meaning Mediterranean dishes made with ingredients from local farms, fishmongers, and butchers.
“We’re focusing on the small artisanal ingredients at first,” Lee said. “Every dish has to have a story…It has to come from somewhere, it has to have a face behind it, it has to have our hands touching it, otherwise it’s just putting food on a plate.”