A couple of local boys return home to fulfill a lifetime dream. They buy a legendary local restaurant and return it to a source of neighborhood pride.
That’s what Joey and Louie Campanaro did by creating Village Belle in the neighborhood in which they grew up, Philadelphia’s Queen Village. But a simple dream turned out to be anything but simple, and the Campanaros were happy to have Dilworth Paxson attorneys along with them to make sure everything turned out right.
“Nothing is as easy it appears,” said co-owner Louie Campnaro. “You’d normally encounter some challenges in getting any business opened, but due to issues under previous ownership, things seemed to snowball each step of the way. We had to work through the previous owner’s bankruptcy; we had orders from courts requiring a structure on the site be removed because of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation right-of-way rules; we had issues preventing approval of the lease; and things were complicated further when we went to acquire the old restaurant’s liquor license – it had problems we didn’t even know existed.”
It took over one year from the time the Campanaros made an initial agreement to acquire Frederick’s, the legendary restaurant in Queen Village, until they were able to take possession of the building and start renovations. Joey, who is also an owner of The Little Owl, Market Table and Kenmare, three New York City restaurants, had been a client of Dilworth Paxson for some time. Joey looked for help from the full-service firm that included assistance from Dilworth’s corporate, real estate and bankruptcy groups.
First, Dilworth formed a limited liability company and drafted an operating agreement that handled all corporate governance issues between the Campanaros and their business partners. That may have been the easy part. Then, when the firm investigated acquiring Frederick’s existing liquor license, things began to slow down.
Transfer of the liquor license was delayed for several reasons. There was a lien on the license and, unbeknownst to the Campanaros, outstanding fines were owed to, and the license had been suspended by, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). With the help of additional attorneys, issues related to the license were addressed and resolved, allowing the Campanaros to take possession of the license just prior to the restaurant’s renovation.
Further complicating matters, the entity that owned the restaurant filed for bankruptcy during this process. Dilworth attorneys worked diligently to make sure all aspects of the bankruptcy were resolved before the Campanaros took possession of the property. The firm argued before bankruptcy courts, scoured public records for relevant information and appealed to Pennsylvania tax bureaus and the PCLB. Along the way, the firm used its knowledge of the banking industry and bankruptcy law to accommodate requests from several institutions that held notes on the filing entity. Dilworth Paxson, in order to forge progress, emphasized common sense in its legal acumen by embracing the role of mediator between the various stakeholders. Finally, Dilworth negotiated a lease with the owner of the land on which Village Belle stands.
“Working with Dilworth Paxson has been great,” says Joey. “We were always confident that even though we faced very difficult and long processes, the Dilworth team was going to get us open.”
With all legal aspects resolved, Village Belle finally opened at 757 South Front Street on October 27, 2010. And the restaurant has gained solid reviews.
Village Belle’s menu draws inspiration from the Mediterranean and from the Campanaros experience of growing up in a Queen Village Italian family. The menu is a mix of seasonal, light and satisfying fare with accessible bold flavors.
The restaurant’s architecture draws heavily on the historic aspect of the building, with exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling windows. It features a 28-foot bar that is over 100 years old and constructed from a solid piece of mahogany. The interior fits Joey’s vision of combining the feeling of a cozy space with a bustling American-Italian bistro.
Joey, Louie and their business partner, Mike Romeo, continue to hone Village Belle’s dining experience by listening to the feedback of its guests. Among the restaurant’s specialties, Joey and Louie recommend the frico appetizer, country salad, tomato-basil risotto, lamb or pork chop, the tagliatelle pasta and a fish entrée made from skate.