March 1, 2002

Changes in store for neighborhood establishments

Over the next few months, Hyde Parkers will witness the closing or revamping of several businesses in the area. Window to Africa is the first casualty, having recently closed its doors; the World Gym Fitness Center on 53rd Street will follow suit on March 15. Jalapeño's restaurant will revert to Orly's this month, and in May, Cedars of Lebanon will move to a new location in Kimbark Plaza.

Window to Africa, a Harper Court store that sold African art, beads, jewelry, and clothing has lost its lease after 17 years. Owner Patrick Woodtor said that the Harper Court Foundation cited late rent payment as the reason for not renewing the lease. "For the last 12 months we have paid our rent on time, though," Woodtor said, speculating that Harper Court "might have someone else for the lease."

Window to Africa does not currently intend to relocate, though Woodtor does plan to open an office in Hyde Park in order to continue such traditions as the Hyde Park African Festival of the Arts and the Hyde Park African Food Festival.

Like Window to Africa, World Gym is closing without plans to relocate. The 53rd Street location of the World Gym chain will officially shut its doors on March 15.

Starting March 12, Jalapeño's will be reconverted to Orly's. The 55th Street restaurant was Orly's for 18 years and Jalapeño's for the last four. The restaurant's owner, David Shapiro, a University alumnus, said that the change from Orly's to Jalapeño's was very successful with students but alienated much of the neighborhood and South Shore community who did not like Mexican food.

"From day one, Orly's resonated all over the neighborhood," Shapiro said. "It was a fun, crazy, busy place all the time." Shapiro hopes that the switch back to Orly's will restore the restaurant's connection with the larger community.

Orly's menu will be "exponentially larger than Jalapeño's," Shapiro said, and will include a wide variety of salads and sandwiches as well as pasta, fish, and seafood dishes. In addition, there will be a large list of appetizers.

"The menu will have an American / international flavor. It will go in many different directions, and the portions will be big," Shapiro said.

The Orly's menu will keep approximately 20 of Jalapeño's most popular dishes and the same selection of a half dozen margaritas that made Jalapeño's so popular with students. "I expect students to keep coming on weekends," Shapiro said.

Though the interior alterations will be minimal, the restaurant will change significantly on the outside. There will be a new canopy, a neon sign, and new exterior wood.

For the first two weeks, the entire menu will be served for half price. "In the beginning, what we really want is chaos," Shapiro said.

Because the menu and staff will be greatly expanded, the transition from Jalapeño's to Orly's may not be as smooth as Shapiro would like.

"We need to make mistakes in an environment of tolerance. During the first two weeks, I feel more comfortable letting people eat for half price," Shapiro said.

In May, Cedars of Lebanon, which was temporarily shut down last week due to health code violations, will move to Kimbark Plaza. The restaurant's 53rd Street lease expires in May and will not be renewed by McKey and Poague. Cedars will stay in its current building until the new location is ready.

Husband and wife owners Sudbki and Basima Abdullah are excited about the change. "It's going to be excellent," Basima Abdullah said. The new restaurant will seat approximately 120 to 130 people, a significant increase from the 53rd Street location. The owners are also excited about having a parking lot.

Once in the new location, Basima Abdullah intends to implement some changes, although she said it was too soon to know what they will be. "We're going to do nice business," Basima Abdullah said. "Nothing better has ever happened to Hyde Park."