Nidal Balbeisi raises the bar with his latest downtown venture. By Lisa Hanchey
When entrepreneur Nidal Balbesi started expanding his restaurant empire downtown, he always had his eye on the 1916 Masonic Lodge building on Vermilion Street next door to his cantina and grill, Agave. “It is one of the most beautiful buildings in Lafayette,” he says. “I have always admired that building.”
At the time, Stan Lerille owned the former lodge, opening a casual eatery and young adult nightclub, Stan’s. But, Lerille was growing weary of the nightclub business, and started discreetly looking for a buyer. In December 2009 Balbesi learned of Lerille’s interest in selling the historic two-story building. “It was one of those spontaneous things,” Balbesi says. “Stan was in the market to sell, and we had a friend who asked me if I would like to buy it. I told him, ‘I would love to! In a heartbeat!’” That same evening, Balbesi and Lerille sealed the deal.
Initially, Balbesi envisioned opening an upscale Italian restaurant in the 15,000-square-foot space. He knew that he wanted to keep up with the latest food trends — hence the name, Trynd. “We wanted to do authentic Italian, but we are going to have our own trendy plates,” he explains. “Every season, we will always be ‘the trend.’ That’s our vision for the restaurant.”
Several months ago, Balbesi hired renowned chef Dean Mitchell, previously recognized as one of Food and Wine magazine’s Top 50 Chefs in America. After selling his business, Mitchell moved here with his wife, a Lafayette native. While waiting for Trynd to open, Mitchell worked as a guest chef at another Balbesi Bros. restaurant, Collage Café. Currently, Mitchell is developing the menu for Tyrnd.
But, when Balbesi started renovating the lodge earlier this year, his ideas kept growing and growing — from the initial ristorante concept to a swanky adult nightclub to a cigar bar — and more. Beginning upstairs, Balbesi transformed the dance club space into an upscale lounge with sleek leather furniture, a large full-service bar and a plush, cozy wine bar. Trynd’s nightclub opened this fall with flash and fanfare, starting with a grand opening VIP party followed by a series of special events.
Next, Balbesi concentrated on the restaurant downstairs. “We took the first floor completely out,” he says. “It’s 100 percent different from before.” Under the guidance of Pécot & Company Architects, Todd Zimmerman Interiors and Bruce’s Custom Countertops & Floors, Balbesi totally gutted and revamped the former bar/restaurant space, expanding the kitchen fourfold and adding a raw seafood and antipasto bar accented with colorful glass tiles and onyx countertops. “By the time we are finished, people will be shocked,” he says with a laugh.
Surrounding the restaurant are several chef’s tasting rooms, serving from two to 40 guests. Larger private rooms accommodating more than 200 guests will be available for banquets, parties, seminars and other functions. “It’s geared up for a lot of things,” Balbesi says. “It’s not just a regular dining area. There are going to be a lot of activities going on.”
Within the restaurant space will be a new bar featuring premium wines. The former downstairs bar was moved to a new addition adjacent to the restaurant space, which will serve as a martini bar overlooking a brand new patio. Up front is an outdoor seating area complete with a fountain for al fresco dining. “We took the old world on the left, and then we created the new world on the right,” he explains. “In the old world, we have our wine, restaurant and seafood bar, and in the new world, which is the modern and trendy addition, we have our martini bar/hangout.”
And that’s just the beginning. From the first floor, patrons can access a staircase leading up to the new second-floor outdoor patio surrounded by an ornate wrought-iron balcony. Doors from both the nightclub area and upstairs patio lead into the Sicilian Room, an Italian-style cigar bar and lounge. With memberships, guests will be able to store their own cigars, wine and beverage glasses.
When completed, Trynd will be a one-stop, upscale entertainment center. “Eventually, you are going to be able to eat on the first floor, then you can go upstairs and drink or dance afterwards,” Balbesi explains. “Or, if you want to just listen to music and relax, you can stay on the first floor at the martini bar or go to the upstairs balcony. There will be a lot of areas with different ambiances once we get things going.”
Balbesi’s goal is to open the downstairs space in December. Trynd has already booked several holiday parties. “It’s going to very unique,” Balbesi says. “It’s a major project.”