Chef Carl Redding, the restaurateur whose self-named soul food eatery was viewed by some as a cornerstone to rejuvenating Kentucky Avenue, has abruptly left Atlantic City.
Redding said he shuttered the 10,000-square-foot Redding’s Restaurant on Tuesday after losing money during 17 months in business.
“I’m done,” the 47-year-old former Marine sergeant said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not a multimillionaire. I’m a small businessman. I wasn’t able to sustain a business that requires 12 months of business, and not just four months.”
The 250-seat, bright yellow-and-red corner restaurant had 18 employees and a bakery. It served burgers, shrimp po boys, chicken and waffles, and farm-raised catfish, among other items.
Its size and location made it a landmark on the once-famous Kentucky Avenue, where jazz clubs and lounges gave way to urban decay over the past 30 years.
Redding said his year-round business model depended on patronage from Atlantic City clients, but he rarely saw them.
“I got no real local help from the community. I got no real community support. Most of the patronage I got from Atlantic City was from outside people,” he said. “They were from Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., northern New Jersey, Connecticut. They were not from the area.”
Redding said he was losing $8,000 to $10,000 per month recently and could not afford the rent. He had been considering closing, and made his final decision Tuesday.
Redding spent Wednesday scouting locations in Philadelphia to open a restaurant. He is looking at New York City as well, he said.
Redding said the problems in Atlantic City went beyond monetary losses. He cited high real estate taxes and “bureaucratic wrangling” with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Redding said the business never saw $60,000 of an $85,000 facade improvement grant it received in 2010 from the Atlantic City Special Improvement District, which was transitioned from an independent agency to part of the CRDA during the state’s development of the Tourism Disctrict last year.
“My (former) partner forked up the money, $85,000 was promised to us, and we’re not seeing that,” he said.
John Schultz, a former Atlantic City councilman and co-chair of the SID, said the remaining money was held up because architectural plans were not done properly and went back for review.
“It was resolved two weeks ago,” he said.
The remaining funding will be released shortly, he said.
Redding, who once was an aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton and first opened a restaurant in Harlem, opened in Atlantic City in September 2010.
To start the restaurant, Redding teamed with Mitchell Mekles, a real estate entrepreneur whom he had partnered with in Harlem. Their partnership ended in September as the restaurant faltered, although Mekles still is his landlord, Redding said.
“He didn’t see where it was going to make a profit, so he got out (in September). He’s a smart businessman. I’m the one who held out hope for Atlantic City and that kind of restaurant,” Redding said.
Mekles could not be reached for comment in his office at Mitchell Enterprises late Wednesday.
Schultz, who lives a block from the restaurant, said he was sorry to see the business leave, particularly because of the time and energy Redding put into it.
“It’s a combination of everything. You have this economic climate in the nation and Atlantic City having competition with other gaming entities,” Schultz said. “It’s a shame. It’s the timing. I really feel bad because he’s a nice guy and works really hard.”
A Press restaurant review in April gave the eatery 2.5 stars out of four. On user-review website Urban Spoon, six of nine liked the restaurant.
“I learned a lot from being in this area. It has made me even more resilient in my fight to have a successful business,” Redding said. “I’ll try this somewhere else.”
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