July 18, 2008 in Seven

The empire strikes gold

Macapagal, Nagano expand further into the local scene
Tom Bowers Taste Of The Town Staff writer
 
Rajah Bose photo

Envy, formerly Studio 23, extends out onto the Sprague Avenue sidewalk, where seating has been added for clubbing al fresco.
(Full-size photo)

For a city to grow, it needs to attract empire builders.

It needs people who look around and see endless potential for future projects.

People like Noel Macapagal and Eric Nagano.

Word has been spreading about new projects involving the owner-operators of Raw Sushi and Island Grill, Bluefish and Studio 23, who recently decided to move their Cuisine Northwest and Spokane Sushi hospitality groups into a larger umbrella, called Northwest Islanders Hospitality Group. And if their plans work out, it should mean big changes in the local restaurant and bar scene as a whole.

“By the time the next snow falls, we should have at least seven operating bars and restaurants,” along with other projects that are still in the development stages, Macapagal said in a phone interview while on vacation in his native Hawaii.

The first big change has been to purchase the space formerly occupied by Studio 23 and reimagine the feel and focus of the restaurant and bar.

The resulting nightlife spot, Envy, enters the club scene with a different approach than its predecessor.

“The look and feel of 23 was like this exclusive, high-end nightclub,” Macapagal said. “The look and feel of Envy is like this inclusive, high-end nightclub. There is no VIP section. Every section’s a VIP section.”

In fact the old VIP space from 23 has been creatively repurposed.

“There’s a garage door where our VIP area used to be,” Macapagal said. Envy spills out onto the Sprague Avenue sidewalk, where they added seating for clubbing al fresco.

“Basically, what we did is we took lessons from what we were trying to do sort of like this – not chic, but a little more selective – crowd. And instead of just cutting them off in the door, or sticking people into a VIP section, we’ve maintained a level of bouncers and door hosts and stuff like that, so there’s a ton of security in a small space, to make sure nobody gets out of hand. But rather than having those VIP sections and have that feel of the haves and the have-nots, the whole thing is just one big, open lounge. The whole thing is a VIP section. There are couches everywhere.”

But Envy’s just the beginning. Macapagal and Nagano have been working in a consultant capacity of sorts with Hotel Lusso, its signature restaurant, Fugazzi, and the Cavallino Lounge. Macapagal says the two Spokane staples will have new menus in August, with Fugazzi adopting an Italian focus and Cavallino going for the Spanish-style tapas feel.

Macapagal also plans to expand his original two restaurants, Raw Sushi and Island Grill and Okane on the Hill, significantly increasing the square footage to offer more services (here’s a sneak preview: think karaoke rooms at Raw).

Macapagal also has plans in the works for a Raw franchise to open in Pullman in the fall, finally expanding outside of the Spokane market.

For the big picture, he said these projects are going to commit to the Spokane area for at least the next 10 years. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have other plans.

“I think it’s funny that you’re catching me in Hawaii, because this is pretty much going to be my last hurrah for a while,” he said. “But I’m not gonna lie, I am looking at two properties here.”

You know what they say, once an empire builder …


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