Alabama Fish Bar Undergoing Renovation as Part of Lease with 3CDC

Posted on September 6, 2021 by sujvary

Alabama Fish Bar Signs Long-Term Lease with 3CDC to Remain in Upgraded Space

CINCINNATI (September 7, 2021) – A Cincinnati staple is getting an upgrade this fall. Alabama Fish Bar, an Over-the-Rhine neighborhood favorite, no-frills restaurant, has signed a long-term lease with Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) to remain in its space at 1601 Race Street. The building is part of 3CDC’s Willkommen project, which has been under construction the past year throughout OTR. The agreement includes necessary upgrades and new equipment for the beloved restaurant.

Alabama Fish Bar has been 3CDC’s tenant since the non-profit real estate developer bought the 1601 Race Street building from the City of Cincinnati as part of its broader Willkommen project. 3CDC and Alabama’s have been working on long-term plans for the space since the 3CDC purchased the building, a process that has taken three years.

“Things take time, and if you want something done right, you can’t rush into it,” Anna Fillis, owner of Alabama Fish Bar said. “It’s been about three years in the making, but I’m happy for the change, and excited for the future.”

Alabama’s 1,460-square-foot space is undergoing renovations to freshen up the restaurant, so owner Anna Fillis and her family can continue to serve the community, as they have done for 29 years. In addition to a fresh coat of paint, new flooring and an updated storefront, Alabama Fish Bar will continue to create its famous menu on more modern equipment, including a new hood, walk-in cooler and grill.

The enhancements made to the restaurant are part of the overall plan for Willkommen, a $50 million mixed-income, mixed-use project that consists of 16 rehabbed buildings and four new infill buildings scattered throughout four different sites in Over-the-Rhine. The project will create 163 residential units—69 of which will be affordable—and 19,500 square feet of commercial space, including Alabama Fish Bar.

“Alabama Fish Bar is an institution in this neighborhood, so we felt it was critical to keep them in their current space,” Katie Westbrook, Development Manager for 3CDC, said. “These improvements will not only benefit Alabama’s, but the whole community, and we hope the renovation contributes to keeping the restaurant here for many years to come.”

Alabama Fish Bar opened in 1992 as Mr. Pizza USA, where it sold pizza by the slice. It sporadically offered different menu items—think turkey legs, wings and sandwiches—but it wasn’t until an employee came back from Kroger with some whiting fish that the restaurant truly evolved. Though they weren’t initially serving the fish, Fillis used her own batter—her grandmother’s recipe—to fry it up and enjoy it with her employees. It snowballed from there. The owners offered their battered whiting fish to one of their regulars who loved it. By 1996, with only enough storage to focus on pizza or fried fish, Mr. Pizza USA fully transitioned to a whiting-only menu, with a rebrand and remodel to follow. Eventually, perch was added to the menu, followed by cod, and of the only three menu items, Alaskan cod is the restaurant’s best seller.

Over the past three decades, Fillis and her family have watched the neighborhood transform, but they’ve remained a staple for customers. In fact, last year the restaurant was bestowed by the city of Cincinnati with its own holiday. “Alabama Fish Bar Day,” is held annually on June 15. Fillis says it remains a staple because she and her crew treat everyone with kindness and respect.

“I’ve always been taught and always told my employees: you treat people the same; how you want to be treated,” Fillis said. “I’ve always lived by that.”

Fillis practices what she preaches, especially when it comes to her employees. Although Alabama Fish Bar will have to close for several weeks for the renovation, Fillis will continue to pay her nine employees a weekly salary. Most of them have been with her for 20 years. Fillis knows that they’ve helped keep her restaurant open for 29 years and that’s irreplaceable.

Renovations on Alabama Fish Bar are expected to start and finish within several weeks this coming fall. 3CDC and its partner on the Willkommen project, The Model Group, have planned extensively to ensure the neighborhood mainstay is closed for as short a period as possible.

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