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Vacant W192 restaurant to be converted into culinary school & test kitchen

The owner of a restaurant equipment supply company in New York recently purchased this vacant Kissimmee restaurant building and plans to reopen it as a culinary school.
The owner of a restaurant equipment supply company in New York recently purchased this vacant Kissimmee restaurant building and plans to reopen it as a culinary school. (file)

The owner of a restaurant equipment supply company in New York plans to open a culinary school and test kitchen in Kissimmee this year, company executives told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday.

W192 Development Authority Executive Director David Buchheit said he met Tuesday with owner Manuel Lebron and general manager Louis Maldonado regarding their plans for the culinary school.

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"They want to be open in six months," Buchheit said.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Lebron started his restaurant equipment company in the Bronx in 1988 and opened a second location in Washington Heights. In 2008, he launched Lebron's Culinary Training, which specializes in Latin American cuisine on the second floor of the Washington Heights store. The school also offers courses in baking, cake decorating, event planning, bartending and food safety.

Classes will be offered in English and Spanish.

Part-time Kissimmee resident Manuel Lebron is expanding his New York business and culinary school to the W192 corridor.
Part-time Kissimmee resident Manuel Lebron is expanding his New York business and culinary school to the W192 corridor. (handout)

"What we do in New York, we will do the same thing here," Maldonado said. "We've been wanting to expand to Orlando for a while."

He said Lebron has been pursuing the same building -- a former Buddy Freddy's restaurant at 4118 W. Vine St. -- for four years.

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"They say in real estate it's all about location," Maldonado said. "The president of our company believes strongly in that. He said that's the location I want. He has a house in Kissimmee, so he knows the area."

While attending a trade show here in March, they swung by the long vacant building and noticed a different phone number on the "For Sale" sign.

"We called and had a meeting with the owner the next day -- and here we are a month and a half later and we own it," he said.

Lebron paid $1.2 million through an affiliate company for the 10,000-square-foot building, set on 2.5 acres near the intersection of Vine and Hoagland Boulevard.

The seller, Benzer Enterprise owner Arvind Nandu, provided $950,000 in financing.

Maldonado said that Lebron has engaged architect John R. Link to redesign the interior space to accommodate a classroom and demonstration kitchen outfitted with state-of-the-art commercial equipment.

"We have a demo kitchen in New York," he said. "One of the things we do is when someone is opening a new restaurant, we invite them to come in and try the equipment to test their menu and see how quickly they can prepare the food and get it to the customer."

Lebron also plans to spruce up the building's exterior with a fresh coat of paint, landscaping, new signage and a decorative fountain.

Lebron isn't the first to recognize the need for a culinary school in Kissimmee. The city's economic development team announced plans in late 2015 for a Latin American culinary academy to open in the Kissimmee Corners shopping center, but that project never came to fruition.

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The institute qualifies for fast-track permitting as a target industry for the city and plans to invest $1.54M in site improvements and equipment.

The Vine Street building is the latest of several vacant restaurants on the W192 corridor to either be demolished or repurposed in the last year.

Fair Play Arena is in the process of converting a former Sonny's Barbecue at 4200 W. Vine St. into the pro-shop for its new soccer complex next to Shingle Creek Park, as reported by GrowthSpotter last September.

And shopping center developer Mohamed Diab took down a vacant restaurant at the Cane Island Shopping Center to build a new retail strip anchored by a 10,000-square-foot Dollar Tree store.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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