Eldin Husic and his wife, Adnela Halebic-Husic, recently purchased the building with plans to open an ethnic restaurant serving Balkan cuisine.
“We want to go for something different, a piece of our own heritage and culture and add to the fabric of this society,” Husic says of the Balkan Grill. “We don’t want to have a place that stands out, we want a place that blends in with the neighborhood.”
Since a police raid last September related to an investigation into the Vikings Motorcycle Club, which used the building as a clubhouse for a little less than two years, the building has sat dormant.
But its controversial history dates back even further and has been a sore spot for some neighbours who were never content with the noise, violence and alleged criminal activity that took place there before it closed as a licensed watering hole in late 2013.
“The music blared all over the street. People were drunk outside the club, using dirty language, drinking outside, throwing up,” area resident Pamela MacPherson told The Telegram in 2014 when there was talk of someone was attempting to reopen the bar.
Husic is well aware of the history surrounding the old Sports Bar, but says residents can be assured his establishment will be a family friendly environment.
So far, the neighbours he’s had a chance to connect with have all been “enthusiastic” about the proposed project.
“They promised to be our customers and this is what we hoped for, to have people from around the neighborhood to come in and have a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, have some food, chit chat,” Husic says. “We want a place of business and a place where we can raise our family as well, and I think this will be a good place.”
One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed some mild concern over parking, but overall seemed welcoming of the idea.
“It’s only a little family business and much better than what was there before,” the neighbour says. “Hey, I might even be out there sitting down for my supper some evening.
“I welcome it to the neighbourhood, I really do. It’s very calming to know something like that is happening there.”
Bill Redmond has lived two doors down from the site for more than 25 years with his wife, Linda, and while the two led the charge to impede plans to reopen the bar in 2014, they’re happy to welcome the Husics to Boncloddy Street, especially considering there will be no liquor licence.
“I don’t see an issue if people want to come and try to make a business and add something different to Newfoundland, and no liquor licence is just a plus,” says Redmond.
“I’m sure in the summertime with the smell coming down the street if they’re doing pastries, if I get to know them well enough, there might be a free meal there.”
The menu will consist of cuisine native to the couple’s home in Bosnia and Herzegovina, featuring a Balkan burger, cevapi, a variety of potpies, along with pastries made in-house.
“It’s very famous food in all Balkan, but each country has their own style,” says Halebic-Husic. “At our Balkan Grill everything will be made in Bosnian style.”
Husic is confident the food options will appeal to people in Newfoundland, but he makes it clear he’s not trying to usurp fish and chips as the go-to standard for hungry diners.
“To us, honestly, fish and chips is the best thing there is,” he says convincingly. “So I would say our food will probably come second.”
The City of St. John’s is expected to make a decision on the family’s application at a regular council meeting on Monday, Aug. 21.
‘A life that they can be proud of’
While Adnela Halebic-Husic has been in the province for only a few short months with the couple’s two young boys, Mehmed-Mesha and Tarik, Eldin Husic is no stranger to St. John’s.
In fact, he already has Canadian citizenship.
After immigrating to Newfoundland in 1996, he learned English, attended university and started cooking at the Ship Inn Pub, eventually moving into a management position. In 2002, he left the province to teach English in South Korea and was joined by Adnela five years later.
“We felt great there,” Husic says of their life in South Korea, “but I realized I need to do something for the family, not just for me.
“It doesn’t matter if I support them and everything if they don’t have a life that they can be proud of.”
With one semester left on his university contract in South Korea, the family decided now it the time to move on, and St. John’s was the obvious choice given his prior connections. But with his spring semester not ending until July, it meant Halebic-Husic and the boys would make the trip early.
“When I came she had the apartment, all the furniture, the internet, cable, TV, bought a car, insurance, everything,” Husic says of his wife’s efforts before he arrived last month. “I was flabbergasted because she went in and did everything.”