Those doubts will soon be quelled, as property owner Banatao Heritage Trust is on the verge of bringing an unnamed "mom and pop" restaurant to the Hamilton Avenue spot.
Close to firming up a lease with a new tenant, real-estate company Cornish and Carey Commercial said three restaurant businesses have made offers on the Hamilton Avenue spot.
One is a national chain, one a small, regional chain, and one a local "mom and pop" restaurant, according to Sean O'Carroll, Cornish and Carey's vice president with retail services, speaking on behalf of entrepreneur Diosdado Banatao. He would not reveal their names.
But he said the owner is leaning toward the mom and pop. George Pavlov, general partner at Tallwood Venture Capital -- where Banatao is managing partner -- was not available for comment on the project earlier this week.
"They're very experienced," O'Carroll said of the restaurateur. "He understands Palo Alto and has a lot of experience in this area."
"Those chain restaurant deals," he added, "are not always as well received in a community like Palo Alto."
He would not say if the restaurant would be upscale or moderately priced.
Other interested parties looked at the site, but there was a catch.
"The landlord would prefer to lease the entire ground floor," O'Carroll said. The bottom level of the building is 5,000 square feet -- larger than another downtown restaurant, La Strada, but smaller than Gordon Biersch -- and Verona had only used half.
"It was chopped up," he said. "You had an office space behind a restaurant, so it made it difficult as far as deliveries and access for the office spaces."
The vacant space wasn't always planned to become a restaurant. A few months ago, Caffe Verona almost became the purveyor of all things fleece: a Patagonia retail store. But O'Carroll said that possibility "fell through" two months ago, and the challenge became finding a restaurant who would be willing to lease all 5,000 square feet of ground floor. The outdoor-clothing company is still looking around downtown Palo Alto for retail space, according to a Patagonia spokesperson.
When Caffe Verona shut its doors three years ago after being put on a month-to-month lease, Banatao Heritage Trust purchased the site from Gatley Properties in May 2004. Tallwood had plans to build its four-story headquarters there with a restaurant or coffee shop on the ground floor. But recently, the firm relocated to offices further down Hamilton Avenue instead of rebuilding the Verona site.
The coffee shop's loyalists used to praise the coffee shop for its tasty paninis, reasonable prices and, more importantly, its friendly feel.
Project architect Tony Carrasco hopes the future tenant will be able to preserve the latter, as well pay tribute to the original uses of the spot. The building used to be a drive-through fuel and feed store.
"We want to capture that old feel back again," Carrasco said. "When you drove through that space, you could see the tresses and sense the entire space."
He added that the potential new tenant might add some covered, outdoor seating in the area that used to be part of the driveway.
Carrasco said he would ideally like to include a mezzanine in the project, to preserve the high-ceilinged openness of Caffe Verona.
Plans for the site do not include major additions at this point, and the future use of the second-floor office area is still an unknown.
"We haven't really determined what we're going to do with the space at that point," O'Carroll said.