By Roger DuPuis, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — The ribbon was cut, applause filled the room, and the real moment of truth neared closer.
Wait staff in black uniforms darted around the dining room of Le Manhattan Bistro following a ceremonial re-opening Friday afternoon, deftly gliding past dignitaries to make sure everything was just so before the dinner crowd arrived.
For new owner Rob Friedman, weeks of hard work were about to culminate in his latest project: Bringing a downtown staple back to life and adding to his portfolio of fine dining establishments.
“I’m just really excited to see everything come together,” Friedman said. “We’re ready to open up and welcome people to a great dinner.”
Friedman and his staff welcomed lawmakers, chamber and community development officials to the event, which came three months after the restaurant closed suddenly on Nov. 30 when its former operator and chef was evicted due to back rent and fees.
Friedman’s decision to take over the business boosts a restaurant and hospitality portfolio that already includes Kevin’s Bar & Restaurant in Kingston, the Beaumont Inn in Dallas, Cork Bar and Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, Grico’s Restaurant in Exeter, Back Mountain wedding venue Friedman Farms and the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township.
It also boosts the downtown dining scene.
“This is another great day for the city,” Mayor Tony George said. “Businesses are moving in, as they see how progressive the city is getting, and that’s my goal.”
Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, agreed.
“We are thrilled to see this space open and full of life again. It is such and important anchor for downtown and the third block of South Main Street,” Newman said.
The restaurant is located in an early 20th century bank building that has undergone several reincarnations over the past 107 years.
For City Councilman Tony Brooks, a longtime preservationist and historian, seeing Le Manhattan brought back to life is a fitting continuation of the structure’s story.
“I’m very happy for downtown Wilkes-Barre, I’m very happy for historic preservation, for keeping an old, historic building — with an historic restaurant — in business,” he said.
The former South Side Bank was built in 1912, Brooks said, and served as a bank until the 1960s. It was later a magistrate’s office and, eventually, a restaurant.
Sam Johnson, from whom Friedman is leasing the restaurant space, previously renovated the structure to include more than a dozen upscale apartments.
“We easily could have lost this building,” Brooks said. “But thankfully there are people who really are motivated by historic preservation, like Sam Johnson. I give a lot of kudos to him — and to Rob Friedman, for reopening the restaurant.”
Friedman has been joined in that endeavor by a team that includes head chef Jonathan Minor, operations manager Sheila Humphrey and general manager Patrick DeRojas.
The restaurant will be open for dinner Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5–9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m., as well as for brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
“Am I excited? Absolutely,” DeRojas said during a quiet moment between the ribbon cutting and dinner on Friday. “And I’m very confident in the staff, too.”