“We love Republic of Doyle! We’ve seen every episode,” says Eldin Husic. Husic, along with his wife, Adnela Halebic-Husic, are enthusiastic about laying down roots in St. John’s, having purchased the former Sports Bar at 11 Boncloddy Street, where they hope to open a neighbourhood restaurant, serving Balkan cuisine and more.
At press time, the future of the Balkan Grill on Boncloddy was up in the air. The former Sports Bar building was initially zoned as residential, but given a non-conforming use exemption from the residential zoning of the neighbourhood for decades. Then, the exemption lapsed, just after Husic purchased the building, because the property had not operated as a commercial business for three years.
Then, on August 21, at a City Council meeting, Coun. Art Puddister brought a notice of motion to extend the time frame to four years. Should things work out, the couple hopes to open The Balkan Grill by March 2018.
Even before this latest zoning rigmarole, the former Sports Bar had a history, and not all of it good. The establishment was a Vikings Motorcycle Club clubhouse for a time, until a police raid last September shut it down.
“I came to Newfoundland for the low crime,” says Halebic-Husic, laughing. The couple says that, at first, they were scared, but now they just feel for all of the people that were affected. Husic says they want the establishment to be family-friendly. “We want to be part of that community,” says Husic. To encourage the intended family atmosphere, the couple does not intend to serve alcohol, or apply for a liquor license.
Husic first became familiar with Newfoundland when he moved here in 1996, and worked at The Duke of Duckworth and The Ship, before moving to South Korea in 2002 for the FIFA World Cup. Since then, he’s been teaching at Kangnam University. After he returned to NL, Adnela came with the kids in March 2017.
For the couple, the location was a lock as soon as they walked in the door. “The moment I walked into that place, it reminded me of a Bosnian tea house,” says Husic. “The layout and the dark wood and the mirrors…” The location on Boncloddy showed up on their radar after a long period of searching. “We shopped around,” says Eldin. “You can open a restaurant in Mogadishu and you’ll do well, probably,” says Husic. “Here, I felt myself. If you’re comfortable with yourself, any place can be home.”
“But the backyard is a jungle,” says Husic. “I think I’ll find Kung Fu Panda.”
The recent months have been hectic. “It takes plans, proposals, lawyers,” says Husic. “I would like to praise the system for young entrepreneurs,” he says, crediting the Business Development Bank of Canada, Royal LePage, the Business Centre, and many others for helping make it happen.
With opening day still months away, the menu’s not set yet, but you can expect Balkan cuisine, which is often modestly seasoned with black pepper, paprika, and garlic, alongside grilled meats, cheese, fresh pastries and desserts, similar to the Mediterranean cuisine of the neighbouring region. The couple credits Bosnia as the originators of Balkan cuisine. “If you want to eat, you go to Bosnia,” says Halebic-Husic.