Enoteca Pizzeria and Wine Bar faced more competition from downtown restaurants in recent years. Owner Rick Sabbagh also blames streetcar construction for a steep dropoff in customers. The restaurant, at 58 W. Congress St., opened in 2004 but had changed hands since then.


A once-popular downtown restaurant has closed its doors.

Enoteca Pizzeria and Wine Bar, 58 W. Congress St., struggled for months with a flagging customer base as streetcar construction dragged on, before finally pulling the plug Friday.

"We were under a lot of financial distress during construction," said Rick Sabbagh, who has owned the restaurant for a year.

He said the ongoing streetcar construction downtown has taken a toll on business, causing him to take additional loans and fall further into debt.

He estimates the additional loans and unpaid bills have cost $100,000.

"We lost pretty much all November, December and January," Sabbagh said.

Business began to pick up again by February, he said, but not enough to keep the restaurant afloat.

"The construction absolutely has had an impact," said Britton Dornquast, program manager for the Regional Transportation Authority MainStreet Business Assistance Program.

Dornquast said construction of the streetcar line through downtown has seen some unexpected delays, in part because of aged, underground infrastructure.

"That construction in that section of Congress was very difficult and took a lot of time," Dornquast said.

Sabbagh said the work originally was scheduled for three months but ran closer to seven months.

Even with construction downtown, which at times closed Congress Street completely, Sabbagh said lunch business was consistent. Nights and weekends were a different story, though.

"Dinner business was dead," he said.

Added to the problems of road construction, Dornquast said many businesses, especially restaurants and bars in the downtown area, have a new level of competition they hadn't before had to contend with.

"I think one of the biggest challenges that businesses face downtown, unlike other areas and corridors, is an increase in competition," he said, noting the influx of new eateries and bars downtown.

The final blow for Enoteca, however, came recently when an explosion in an underground electrical vault right outside its doors killed the power to several downtown businesses.

The explosion happened June 14. Enoteca lost much of its inventory as a result, Sabbagh said, and the restaurant hasn't reopened since then.

The property owner, BC Limited LLC, and its management company, Chapman Management Group, locked Enoteca out of the premises and placed a lien on the contents of the restaurant on Thursday.

Sabbagh said he understands why the landlord took the action.

"In the end, the guy's gotta get paid," he said. "They've put up with a lot of stuff."

The restaurant owed months' of back rent, Sabbagh said.

Enoteca had 12 employees at the time of closure. "That's what hurt the most," Sabbagh said.

He said he's been in discussion with a real estate agent and wants to sell the restaurant business as soon as possible, perhaps in a short sale.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at pmcnamara@azstarnet.com or 573-4241.