Owner Ben Lefenfeld of the famed La Cuchara restaurant described life as a “whirlwind” since closing on a new space in Hampden to house his second restaurant.

He celebrated La Cuchara Monday morning as it hosted dignitaries from the Spanish Embassy, all the while planning demolitions and renovations for the new space in the historic Five and Dime Building on 901 W. 36th Street.

The new restaurant will be unlike Lefenfeld’s Basque-cuisine spot in Woodberry. He and his team, including his wife, Amy, and brother, Jacob, want to introduce a concept that will stand apart from every other eatery in Baltimore. They plan to open in the next year.

The vacant spot on The Avenue is a Hampden landmark, housing over the years a dollar store, antique dealers and most recently the Five and Dime Ale House restaurant, which closed last year, according to The Baltimore Sun. Lefenfeld is working with the Maryland Historic Trust to preserve the building’s character, with plans to keep the original brick walls and build on the updates made to utilities in 2016. While Lefenfeld declined to reveal the new concept, he will be adding new flooring, light fixtures and bar spaces, as well as a substantial basement wine cave.

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“It’s such an important corner,” said Jeremy Landsman, a developer whose Reba Holdings LLC purchased the building in 2023 and sold it to the Lefenfelds. “And it’s not a space for beginners.”

Landsman said the Lefenfelds were a rare breed: They had a successful restaurant and were capable of buying a building. He says the purchase makes the restaurant owners important stakeholders in Hampden real estate. With 12,000 square feet, the single tenant space is large, old and beloved by Hampden community members. It requires a significant investment, Landsman said, which meant a lot of waiting for the right buyers to come along.

“They wanted to own their real estate and we wanted them in the neighborhood,” he said.

Ben Lefenfeld purchased the building on April 12, after four months of pursuing the space. The spot is about one mile east of La Cuchara, whose dishes merging Spanish and French culture have been hailed among the best in Baltimore. The close proximity was a critical part of buying the property, he said. Previous attempts to open a successful second restaurant in South Baltimore failed, Lefenfeld said, due to the distance between locations.

In 2017, Lefenfeld opened Minnow, a seafood restaurant on the first floor of the 2 East Wells apartment building, but two years later the business closed and was reimagined as Hot Dry, another Lefenfeld creation, this time focused on Chinese food from the Hubei Province. The restaurant closed two months later.

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Lefenfeld said he’s learned that building on the success of La Cuchara and remaining in the same area, where he also lives, will allow the business to thrive. It will also make maintaining the spaces and keeping a consistent presence at each restaurant easier, he said.

“It checks all of the boxes,” he said.

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