VALPARAISO | Reports of the approaching demise of Gabriella's restaurant apparently were a bit premature.
Paul Schreiner, president of Project Neighbors, which owns the building at 454 Greenwich St., spoke to the city's Site Review Committee on Tuesday about converting the restaurant space on the first floor into two apartments. The building has two apartments on the second floor.
Schreiner said that, after the meeting, he spoke to the owners of Gabriella's about the future of the restaurant, and they told him that, while they have had some tough times, they want to stay open.
"They commented that the last newspaper article really damaged their business," he said. "Folks who received gift certificates came to cash them in and parties were canceled. This was my fault for sharing so much information."
After talking to them, Schreiner said Project Neighbors has not made a final decision on the fate of the building other than to say Gabriella's is not closing.
"They came in a year or so ago when Maria Elena's had struggled for some time and they rescued the restaurant," he said. "They want to build up the restaurant, but it might take time to build it up to a level of sustainability, and we want to give them that time."
Schreiner said the couple plan to reach out and do more marketing, which is vital for a business like theirs that is off the main streets. Maria Elena's was able to thrive at the location for several years before health problems hampered the owner, and then the eatery had trouble competing with the downtown dining market created by the city.
The restaurant also has to deal with the issue of parking, which was going to be a problem for the apartment proposal as well. Since a story about the possible closing appeared in The Times in December, Schreiner said he's heard from several people about the building, but had not gotten any offers.
Schreiner said he's one of those hoping the restaurant, with its mix of Mexican, American and Italian cuisine, can remain open.
"That's my favorite restaurant in town," he said. "When I go out to eat, that's where I go. We are going to work with them as long as we can to see if they can make it work."