When Chris Losonsky and his wife, Toni, started operating restaurants in downtown Columbus the area was dotted with wig and porn shops.
They opened the Tavern on the Square on 11th Street in 1977 and closed it about a decade ago. The Lonsonsklys have operated 12th Street Deli for nearly 30 years They recently made the decision to close the longtime popular breakfast and lunch spot at the end of the year. A third Columbus restaurant they own, the Speakeasy on Mercury Drive, will remain open and will not be impacted by the closure, Chris Losonsky said Monday morning.
The Losonskys spoke exclusively with News 3 about his decision to shut down 12th Street Deli, which opened in February 1989. The business has 15 employees and some have been offered the opportunity to transfer to the Speakeasy.
“You know, we just haven’t kept up with the times,” Losonsky said, citing economics as one of the primary reasons for shutting down the restaurant at 117 12th Street.
Since Losonskty opened 12th Street Deli there has been an explosion of downtown restaurants. There are currently four restaurants between 12th Street Deli and the corner of 12th Street and First Avenue across from the federal courthouse.
“When I started here there was nobody else on the block,” he said. “I am afraid the market is close to saturation. As more and more restaurants are coming in, we are just sharing the same pie.”
There are about two dozen restaurants, many of them mom-and-pop operations, in the downtown area.
For the better part of the last 30 years, 12th Street has been consistent. It has operated Monday-Friday and opened for just breakfast and lunch. It also has had a strong catering business.
“We never opened on the weekends and that was a decision we made,” he said.
As he crunched the numbers for the last two years, Losonsky said the business had not been profitable.
“This has come over time,” Losonsky said. “We had a tough year last year and this has been a tough year.”
The Losonskys have used three guiding principles in their business.
“We have always focused on service, quality and a fair price,” Toni said.
There should be no impact on the Speakseasy, Chris said.
“It shouldn’t impact it at all,” he said. “If anything, we hope to gain a little of the catering business that we have established here over the years.”
Losonsky will be remembered as a downtown pioneer, said his friend and longtime restaurant competitor Jim Morpeth, owner of Country’s Morpeth open Country’s on Broadway a few years before 12th Street Deli opened and has operated next door to the Speakseasy for nearly four decades.
“I have a lot of respect for everything Chris has done in the restaurant business,” Morpeth said. “When you go back to the Tavern on the Square, just think about how long he has operated downtown. It’s been a long time.”
And Morpeth puts it in terms that many long-time customers of the 12th Street Deli can understand.
“I am really going to miss the chicken salad,” Morpeth said.
Chris has seen downtown change in a dramatic way. since 1977.
“At that time, downtown was really derelict, I guess is the word,” he said. “So, we were kind of instrumental in establishing a restaurant, as well as the Rankin Deli. We were kind of anchors to downtown. In the past years, due to the efforts of the BID and Uptown Columbus, it’s changed.”
Losonsky purchased the building on 12th Street about 30 years ago and plans to sell it, he said.
“That was part of our exit strategy,” he said.