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A new face is expected to pop up on a controversial Midtown party block in the next few months.
An Asian-fusion restaurant named Red Lotus Kitchen & Bar is in the works to take over 2718 J St., where G.V. Hurley's closed its doors last Sunday.
Buu "Billy" Ngo and Peter Kwong — the owners of the successful Japanese restaurant Kru just a few blocks down J Street — plan to serve "a little of everything" in a contemporary Asian restaurant whose culinary base will be Chinese food.
"It's my interpretation of Chinese, which incorporates everything," Ngo said.
Ngo and Kwong have bought the business and will lease the space from G.V. Hurley's owners, a trio of Sacramento developers who own the building.
Township 9 developer Steve Goodwin, River West Investments President Brian Vail and Pete Hurley Geremia, who owns Hurley Construction and comes from the Geremia Pools family, experienced problems with neighboring residents long before opening Hurley's. Those problems had no impact on the closing, Vail said.
"It had nothing to do with our decisions," he said.
After the establishment was proposed, some residents in the Marshall School neighborhood and beyond complained the addition of another bar would turn the 2700 block of J Street into an entertainment district that served business needs but harmed residents' quality of life.
They voiced concerns that an already crowded parking situation would get worse. The parking conflict reportedly postponed Hurley's opening, which had been set for late 2007.
Residents, including senior citizens in the neighborhood, also weren't happy when Goodwin, Vail and Geremia tore down a thriving Carrows restaurant they owned at 28th and J streets and replaced it with a parking lot.
After opening in the spring of 2008, Hurley's thrived as a bar. But its restaurant seemed to often sit empty. The establishment got mixed reviews on yelp.com, with many people raving about how fun and social the scene was around the giant, u-shaped bar, while others complained, mainly about the service.
In recent months and the past week, residents complained Hurley's was no longer providing security guards to patrol the neighborhood weekend nights as required by the city planning commission. Vail said he didn't know the status of security guards because he wasn't involved in day-to-day operations.
Hurley's owners had been trying to sell the operation for at least six months. That's when Vail first spoke to Ngo about the idea. A deal with the owners of Chops Steaks Seafood and Bar fell through, Vail said.
Business had gotten slower recently. Owning a restaurant and bar was tough for Goodwin, Vail and Geremia, who had little to no experience with the business and devoted most of their time to their development ventures, Vail said.
His take on the experience: "Stick to your day job. And I have great respect for Randy Paragary and Stacy Paragary," he said, referring to the owners of neighboring Centro Cocina Mexicana.
They offered what Ngo described as a good deal. Neither side would disclose details of the agreement.
"There wasn't a fire sale," Vail said. "We want them to succeed and they offered us a fair price."
An application is pending with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to transfer G.V. Hurley's liquor license to Ngo and Kwong. ABC has no record of complaints or disciplinary actions against Hurley's, said ABC spokesman John Carr.
Red Lotus is expected to open in November or December after the interior gets minor redecorating. Ngo has been looking for the right space to open his second Asian-fusion restaurant, which reflects his heritage.
Born in Hong Kong, Ngo grew up in Sacramento in a Chinese family with roots in Vietnam.
"I'm a big melting pot of all these things," he said.
He worked with several local chefs, including Taka Watanabe of Taka's Sushi in Fair Oaks, then graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 2004. He interned with Randall Selland at The Kitchen before opening Kru with Kwong in May 2005 at 2516 J St., the former home of J. Lee Euro-Asia Bistro.
His experience working with neighbors of Kru, who opposed live music there, helped prepare him to work with Marshall School neighbors near the future Red Lotus, he said.
"I'm 100 percent open on working with the neighbors on any problems," Ngo said.
The place will be open until midnight except on Fridays and Saturdays, when hours will extend to 2 a.m., Ngo said. Only dinner will be served at first, but lunch and a weekend brunch are expected to be added.
However, Ngo stressed their emphasis will be on food, rather than alcohol sales.
"We definitely want it to be restaurant," he said. "With another restaurant going in there, it can help that block a lot."
Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press and a resident of the Marshall School neighborhood.