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New restaurant in EBDI neighborhood comes … and goes

The roast pork, quesadillas and Havana Blast Shakes at what may have been the first restaurant to open in Baltimore’s Middle East neighborhood in 50 years are no more.

The sign on the door tells the story: The Cuban Revolution has been overthrown. (The Daily Record / Melody Simmons)

Cuban Revolution has closed its doors.

After nearly a year, the unusual chain restaurant in the East Baltimore Development Inc. project area was shuttered at the end of last year because of slow business, officials said Tuesday.

“Other than some of the Hopkins students, not a lot of people from the community went there, and I’m sort of assuming they didn’t cater to the food many in the community liked,” said City Councilman Warren Branch, whose 13th District includes the 1900 block of Ashland Avenue. That’s where Cuban Revolution was located, on the ground floor of the John G. Rangos Sr. Building — the only life-sciences building standing at the EBDI site, where up to five were promised when the $1.8 billion project was launched in 2002.

Branch said the restaurant — it was the councilman who hailed it as the first eatery to open in his district in half a century — struggled because of a lack of residents living in the area.

The 88-acre EBDI site has been cleared of more than 700 houses and buildings over the past decade, and more than 600 residents have been relocated by the nonprofit to make way for what it said was going to be a world-class life sciences park with new housing.

Yet the project sputtered. It has been redesigned with new master plans three times since the relocations began, including the addition of a $60 million graduate student tower to house Johns Hopkins University students, a new park in the center of the development and a charter school.

The addition of Cuban Revolution in early 2013, followed by the opening of a 7-Eleven and a Walgreens nearby, brought renewed optimism for the EBDI project, Branch, EBDI and other city officials said last year. On Jan. 2, a $46 million public charter school, the Elmer A. Henderson — A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, opened in the community.

Branch said Tuesday that Cuban Revolution owners had hoped to get “a jump” on establishing a business in Middle East.

“Thought they was trying to get the jump on everybody, to secure their feet in the district — but if there’s nobody there …” he said. “You’re almost like in a desert over there.”

Some of the vacant houses are now being razed under a $2.5 million state grant authorized for that use by the City Council in late December. Branch said that 200 new houses are expected to be built at the site, and he said a timetable for construction would be discussed next week in a meeting with EBDI officials.

Scott Levitan, senior vice president for Forest City, a part of the team of master developers of the EBDI site, declined to discuss the closing of Cuban Revolution on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to go into details,” he said, adding the developer was “working diligently” to find a new restaurant to move into the space.