Café 21 to move into former Croce’s space
Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
One of the hottest pieces of commercial real estate in the Gaslamp District — left vacant by Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in January — has been snapped up by San Diego restaurateurs Alex and Leyla Javadov. The couple, who operate Café 21 in a smaller space down the street, will move their popular restaurant into the historic Keating Building at 802 Fifth Ave. around April 1.
“We started a 10-year lease at the new property,” said Javadoz, whose wife, Leyla, oversees a seasonal menu that incorporates Eurasian influences from the couple’s native homeland of Azerbaijan. Their original Café 21, which opened several years ago in Normal Heights, remains in operation.
Croce’s left the highly visible venue after a 30-year run, moving its supper-club operation to 2760 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill and renaming it Croce’s Park West.
The Javadovs, in the meantime, fast-tracked into the lease agreement amid several other competitors eyeing the space, saying that the property’s landlord, Edward Kaen, has been a frequent diner at Café 21.
“We had been thinking about moving into a bigger place for a while,” Javadov said. “And when Eddy told us about the opening, we put in our offer.”
The 10-year lease is reportedly valued at $3 million.
A major redesign by local architectural firm, Point of Departure, is underway.
“It’s an eclectic space with very good bones,” said the firm’s owner, Jason Maune. “We’re incorporating elements of Azerbaijan and Eastern Europe with lots of textures, patterns and colors, but translating them into a more modern approach. It will look and feel dramatically different compared to Croce’s.”
The remodel, he added, includes new lighting fixtures and a living wall behind the bar for growing herbs, which Javadov said will be used in craft cocktails. A meeting room for conventioneers is also being added, as well as new cooking and baking equipment coming in to the existing kitchen.
Café 21’s eclectic menu will remain largely the same, but with a few comforting additions that include house-made Azerbaijani bread, called tandir, and Turkish coffee brewed in hot sand, a revival of an ancient technique.
“We’ll also be using more local farms for buying ingredients, and we’ll increase our selection of local wines and beers,” Javadov said.
In keeping with the venue’s tradition for live music, Javadov is reaching out to local bands, which he will begin introducing during brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays and “most likely” on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We love jazz, but I’m not saying that it will be just jazz music that we’ll doing.”
Café 21’s move into larger quarters, he added, will result in about 20 additional staffers, and more importantly, fewer customer lines outside the door.
“We’ve been Downtown for three years now and we’ve been doing great. But we don’t feel comfortable having people wait to eat.”
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the café will continue operating at its original Downtown location (750 Fifth Ave.) right up until it reopens at the new address. For updates, call 619-795-0721 or visit the web site at: cafe-21.com.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began writing about food two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. He has since covered the culinary scene extensively for NBC, Pacific San Diego Magazine, San Diego Downtown News, San Diego Uptown News, Gay San Diego, and Living in Style Magazine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.