Lawrence De Villiers said he's had his eye on the space at 17th and Van Dorn streets for several years now, thinking it would be the perfect place for a French restaurant.
He wasn't in a position to try to move into the building a couple of years ago when El Sitio left. But when he found out the current occupant, Bunners, was leaving, he jumped on the chance to lease the space. "It turned out to be perfect timing for us," said De Villiers.
Bunners closed over the weekend, and De Villiers said he plans to move his French restaurant, The Normandy, to the building within a month. He plans to be open for a private event on Valentine's Day and is planning his grand opening for March 1.
De Villiers said moving out of The Railyard, where he's been for less than four months, was a tough decision. The Railyard is an exciting place, he said, and business was growing. He also appreciated his landlord, WRK LLC, which he said was very supportive and accommodating.
But De Villiers, who owns and operates The Normandy along with his wife, Renee Clark, was limited in what he could do in the food court-like atmosphere of The Railyard's Public Market.
"To be perfectly honest with you, most people who came in to have our food were expecting a restaurant," he said.
Now, the space he's getting "is going to be the restaurant I've been dreaming about all my life," De Villiers said.
The previous owners did a great job remodeling the restaurant, creating a well-designed kitchen, he said. The only thing he doesn't like is the blue paint on the exterior, but he'll live with it until it gets warm enough to repaint.
The restaurant will have the same French comfort food he's been serving at The Railyard, just more of it, he said. "We're doing French, but we're doing casual French."
De Villiers, who got his start selling at various farmers markets around town before opening The Normandy, said he plans to source all his ingredients locally. That will be a bit more expensive, but he still wants to keep the entrees affordable, between $10 and $20.
De Villiers also plans to have local musicians play most nights at the restaurant, including a French accordion player every Saturday.
"Those are little things that we're doing to differentiate us from other businesses," he said.
It will be open only Tuesday-Saturday. Mondays are not a big business day for restaurants, De Villiers said, so that gives him a supply day. Not being open Sunday is harder from a business standpoint, he said, but he and his wife are Catholics and feel it's important not to work that day.
Justin Carlson, president of the nearby Country Club Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood appreciated having Bunners and is glad to see The Normandy moving in and keeping the space occupied.