PENNSAUKEN -- Days after the Cooper House restaurant closed its doors on the banks of the Cooper River, the county announced Monday that the space will soon hold another "top flight" eatery.
The LaScala Restaurant Group of Cherry Hill will launch a casual Italian restaurant in the county-owned space in Cooper River Park as early as December, the county said.
"This will be the perfect place to enjoy a meal along the river, or to have a relaxing dinner with an incredible sunset as a backdrop," Freeholder Jeffrey Nash said of the plans. "This restaurant will quickly become Cooper River Park's destination within a destination."
County officials made similar statements about the Cooper House a year and a half ago, when the restaurant had its grand opening in the building the county spent $2.9 million to renovate.
The plan was to upgrade the space that formerly held the Lobster Trap to create a more upscale, family restaurant with outdoor seating and other renovations to take advantage of the view. The building, known as the Hadley House, was built as a tennis clubhouse in 1937 through President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.
LaScala Restaurant Group will be taking over the lease from KTMK Group, which operated the Cooper House in the 6,572 square-foot building. The lease, which nets the county $5,000 a month plus a percentage of sales, has another two years on it.
Kevin Meeker, owner of Keg & Kitchen in Haddon Township, was one of the partners in KTMK Group when the project got off the ground. Reached Monday, he said he left the group about a year ago.
Meeker doesn't know what led to the closing, but said the remaining partner was doing his best to "make a go of it."
Meeker declined to name him, but a county spokesman said Mike DeBenedictis was running the Cooper House.
"There are a lot of positives but some negatives," Meeker said of the location. "I've owned 12 restaurants and I do what I want with them. It was difficult for me to work under the constraints" set by the county.
While the county later relaxed the rules, Meeker said that they at first included things like no bar stools allowed at the bar, no televisions and no catering. He also said the restaurant's visibility is poor at night due to the lighting and signage.
The benefits of the 5300 North Park Drive location touted by the county include the views, as well as the park's draw for walkers, bikers, families and rowers. The nearby Cooper River Boathouse frequently hosts large regattas on the river.
The space is currently undergoing minor renovations and "rebranding," the county said, but those visiting the park could be able to have a meal in the new restaurant by early December. The menu will include "creative pizza, artisan Italian food and world beers," according to the press release.
"This is a great opportunity for us to offer some amazing food in a truly one-of-a-kind setting," said Rob LaScala. "We are enthusiastic to be a part of the excitement taking place in Cooper River Park and being able to provide top-flight service to the thousands of visitors."
A message left for the LaScala Restaurant Group was not returned Monday afternoon. The group has run restaurants in Philadelphia and South Jersey since 1991, the county said, including LaScala Fire in Marlton. It is also listed as one of the caterers for events at the nearby Camden County Boathouse.
Any gift cards or parties booked with the Cooper House will be honored by La Scala once the unnamed restaurant opens its doors.
Anyone with questions about previous bookings can call (856) 795-0007.
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