The owners of Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar decided in January 2018 that changes had to be made to keep the downtown Akron restaurant afloat.
They laid off some workers and made changes to the menu so they could drop some prices.
In the end, they decided that ongoing construction downtown and high overhead, including debt, were too hard to overcome.
Nuevo closed Tuesday, not quite five years after the locally owned spot made a spicy splash on the downtown dining scene.
"We were doing great right out of the gate," attracting customers, said Zack Hirt, who owned the restaurant with his wife, Lisa. "But it never stopped being rocky" financially.
The Cleveland Nuevo — which opened on the downtown lakefront in 2016 — will remain open, and Nuevo will continue to offer catering in the Akron area.
The Akron Nuevo opened, after much anticipation, in February 2014 in the 1903 Gothic building. The historic building is at 54 E. Mill St. across from the John S. Knight convention center.Zack Hirt, previously a sous chef at Crave restaurant downtown, said when it opened that Akron Nuevo would offer a modern twist on Mexican food. The booze list included dozens of types of tequila.
From its rooftop patio, the restaurant boasted one of the best views of Akron's downtown. Diners could see the 28-story art-deco Huntington Tower (formerly the FirstMerit Tower) and other parts of the skyline.
In the past several months, road construction for the Main Street Corridor Project took a large bite out of customer traffic.
The number of guests was down about 2,500 for the last six months of 2018 compared with the same time in 2017, Hirt said Wednesday.
"If people don't have to come downtown, they don't come downtown," he said. "It's a mess."
The construction, when finished, will be a big plus for downtown, he said. And planned downtown apartments are expected to bring residents who will visit restaurants, he noted.
But with the lease on the Mill Street space up for renewal, he said, "we had the opportunity to step back and say, you know, now is a good time to shut down the Akron restaurant before things got really bad as far as finances go."
Hirt said many of the employees already have found work at Akron area restaurants; a few took jobs at the Cleveland Nuevo.
Downtown construction is no doubt hurting traffic at some businesses, Sharon Gillberg, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Downtown Akron Partnership said.
"We're doing all we can to let people know businesses are open," she said, including having signs installed and launching marketing efforts.
The first phase of the Main Street Corridor Project, which includes new pavement, new sidewalks, a bicycle track, underground utilities, a roundabout at Main and Mill streets and more, is expected to be complete by 2020.
Lisa Hirt on Wednesday thanked people for "really welcoming us, welcoming our new cuisine and our new faces as restaurant owners. ... I just want to thank the community for that."
Tony Troppe and partners own the property. Troppe has spearheaded a string of historic preservation projects in Akron. Hirt doesn't foresee the property being empty for long.
The Hirts said the Cleveland restaurant helped to subsidize the Akron eatery.
In 2016, when the Cleveland Nuevo was preparing to open as part of a larger development, Zack Hirt said that he and Lisa had been thinking about adding a second restaurant, just perhaps not so soon.
A commercial real estate broker, who had been looking for tenants for the lakefront project, had read about Nuevo in Akron. Soon the Hirts were meeting with the project’s developer and a deal was struck, under which the Hirts lease the two-story glass and concrete building in Cleveland.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.