For those of you who haven’t dined at the new restaurant Dumbwaiter downtown you may have to wait. Just wrapping up its first month at the former Samurai J location on Bienville Square, typical reservation times for lunch are booked a day in advance. Want a dinner date? Three days.

Opening to an unprecedented positive reception by the local community not seen since perhaps the Pillars launch of the 1970s, the 3,200-square-foot restaurant has been an unqualified success. According to executive chef Chris McElhaney, occupancy for a typical lunchtime crowd has been 120 patrons with initial expectations of 90. Dinner patronage has averaged around 125 while opening projections anticipated closer to 70.

“We could easily seat 250 for lunch and dinner if we had the seating capacity. For every reservation made there’s one turned away,” McElhaney said.

Gross sales have exceeded projections by 40 percent with suppliers and vendors now shuttling to the eatery twice daily to keep up with unexpectedly explosive demand.

When asked what the underlying reason might be behind such success in so short a time, McElhaney remained humble.

“A group from Birmingham dined here last week and compared their entrees to James Beard-award-winning executive chef Chris Hastings from Birmingham. That’s a tremendous and unexpected honor,” he said.

“My goal when we decided on a location for our first Dumbwaiter restaurant was to look for an up-and-coming area that is fairly easy for people to access. We chose downtown Mobile because I felt like we could bring ‘Old Mobile’ back here. We did a complete renovation on the 1890s building to get it back to the original walls and ceilings and have the look we wanted to accomplish,” owner Wes Lambert said.

“Every piece of furniture in the restaurant (excluding copper chairs) was designed by us and made locally. As we continue to hopefully grow we plan on expanding and have been asked to build in the Spring Hill area, West Mobile, Brookley, Eastern Shore and Ft. Worth, Texas. We will most likely look to expand over the next year or so. We may eventually franchise, but would do that a little differently than most franchises,” Lambert said.

“You always want to be busy, but we are very blessed to have this kind of business and thank all the patrons that have visited our establishment and keep returning. Word of mouth is the best referral you can ask for. So we want to thank everyone for helping spread our name,” Lambert concluded.

Via holding 6th annual “Corks in the Courtyard”
On April 23 at 5:30 p.m., Café 615 at the Via Health, Fitness and Enrichment Center will host its 6th annual “Corks in the Courtyard” event. It will feature live music by local talent Brett LaGrave, food, wine tasting and a silent auction with a variety of Bear Bryant/Alabama sports memorabilia, jewelry, decorative items and artwork.

According to Barbara Estes, director of business development for Via, the event was first held in March 2009 with the goal of attracting new donors to the center. It has grown from an initial gathering of 25 to 150 participants last year. The target market of attendees is working professionals aged 30-50.

Unlike some other nonprofits around town, Via receives less than 10 percent of its funding from local government. Because the majority of members are on fixed incomes, they keep membership and program fees low; member dues average around $10 per month. Because of this, however, the lion’s share of operating funds are raised through competitive grants, performance contracts, special event income and donations.

“Every organization is always looking for new donors, new events and new revenue streams. The Via Center’s donors tend to be seniors — 55 and older. Social media was emerging at the time as a marketing tool and we wanted to use this new platform to launch an event that appealed to a younger crowds,” Estes said. 

In 2009, the event raised $3,000. Last year it raised more than $10,000 due to increasing participation and sponsorships. Serving over 20,000 seniors in the community, Via also has specialized programs for Baby Boomers, Generation X and millennials through their fitness center. Boomers are the second fastest growing segment of Via’s membership as they are now reaching retirement age. 

“They refer to us as ‘Mobile’s Hidden Gym,’ so we want to raise awareness of the physical facilities that the Via Center offers,” Estes said.

Tickets are $35, which includes food and drink, and $150 sponsorships are still available and include marketing benefits and four tickets. For more information contact Barbara Estes at 251-470-5229 or

Commercial real estate moves
Michael Wilson and Sharon Wright of White-Spunner Realty Inc. leased 1,400-square-feet of retail space to Lotus Spa and Nail located at 27955 U.S. Highway 98 in Daphne at the Magnolia Place Publix Center.

Marl M. Cummings with Cummings & Associates, Inc. recently leased 1,200-square-feet of space to Approved Cash Advance at the Dauphin Plaza Shopping Center on DIP, 1,200-square-feet of floor space to CK Salon at Hillcrest Plaza and the former convenience store located at 5880 U.S. Highway 90 in Theodore to M&M Food Mart.

Gulfway Plaza on State Highway 59 in Robertsdale is now completed and has leased 1,400-square-feet of fast food space to Little Caesars Pizza and 1,800-square-feet of retail space to AT&T that will open in June. Cummings handled both transactions for landlord and tenant.

A 1,200-square-foot office property was leased jointly by Hallie Brown Builders and Herrington Realty located at 5225 Cottage Hill Road in Mobile. Both companies will share the space for business. Herrington Realty and Paul Carter with the Paul Carter Agency managed the transaction.

John M. Delchamps, associate broker with the Merrill P. Thomas Co., Inc. leased 540-square-feet of office space in the Daphne Square located at 2200 U.S. Highway 98 to Any Lab Test Now, opening July 1.

According to court records, roughly an acre of property located at 2800 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Mobile was acquired by non-local speculators for $3.85 million. The transaction was managed by Surety Land Title. A CVS retailer currently sits on the site and will continue to operate there in the foreseeable future.