Christopher Coombs and Brian Piccini hope to replicate the success of their Boston Chops steakhouse in the South End in the large space in Downtown Crossing where Mantra used to be.
At a Boston Licensing Board hearing this morning, the pair, who also own dbar in Dorchester and Deuxave in the Back Bay, said they're looking at putting upwards of $1 million into transforming the troubled old space on Temple Place into a large neighborhood steakhouse for the thousands of people who now live downtown.
The two are seeking one of the five unrestricted liquor licenses the board has to dole out. If they don't get one, they might have to spend more than $300,000 on the open market for one.
Their attorney, Joseph Hanley, said the public need for them to get a license is partly because the burgeoning neighborhood needs a good restaurant. But he continued that the two specialize in taking run-down spaces in forlorn corners and turning them into successful neighborhood-transforming restaurants.
Residents from Dorchester, the South End and the Back Bay all attended the hearing to testify to the changes that had happened with their other restaurants. Back Bay residents and merchants in particular said the pair basically opened up a once ignored stretch to other new restaurants and businesses.
Hanley said that aside from the problems Mantra caused, the space itself is not really attractive to most restaurant operators, because it's so large and mainly bereft of windows. Coombs said the only things that would really work in the space would be another club - which he said nobody in the neighborhood would support - or a large steakhouse.
Without naming specific companies that have recently moved into Boston, their attorney, Joseph Hanley added another reason the board should favor his clients: They're making investments in the city all by themselves. "They're not getting tax breaks, they're not a national company."
The board will not act on any license requests until at least next week, after it holds another round of hearings.