After seven years in business, Ayse Meze Lounge has shut its doors for good. The downtown Frederick restaurant’s final day serving customers was Sunday as Nezih Pistar, a partner in Fountain Rock Restaurant Management Group, which owned the business, explained Tuesday afternoon.
The decision was a quick one, he said, and it came as a result of a combination of things, which included the end of Fountain Rock’s lease on the building, along with lingering maintenance issues Pistar declined to detail in an interview Tuesday.
Ayse, as it turned out, was the only building the management group didn’t own when it came to its properties, which include Brewer’s Alley, Pistarro’s Ristorante Pizzeria, Isabella’s Taverna and Tapas Bar, and Bella Trattoria, and according to Pistar, the group didn’t want to invest more money into a building it didn’t own.
“We own all our other businesses and buildings, and it’s a big difference,” he said. “It came down to, ‘Hey, is it worth it? When the lease is up, do you want to commit to another five years?’ We own too many restaurants for it being a small town, so it got to the point where we were competing with ourselves, and I don’t want to do that anymore.
“It was a very stressful decision,” he added. “It happened so fast, my wife didn’t even know. But in the end, it was a quick business decision, even though it just happened so fast.”
Phil Bowers, one of Pistar’s Fountain Rock business partners, stressed Tuesday that more than anything, the closing was a function of his group preferring to own the properties that house its businesses.
“The bottom line is that the lease was up, and anytime a lease is up, you have a landlord who’s looking for certain things and a tenant looking for certain things, and if they don’t line up, you can’t get the lease renegotiated — that was the main thing,” Bowers explained. “It was a nice space. I’m not going to complain about the space. Our business model has started to be wanting to own our properties. When you do want to make investments, it’s easier to make those on your own property than it is on one you’re renting. That’s kind of the meat of it.”
News of its closing began to spread through parts of the Frederick community Tuesday morning before Pistar confirmed the decision with a Facebook post.
“We want to thank you for all your past business and support for the past seven years,” the post read. “We are very thankful and grateful in having you as our customer and endless gratitude for our staff.”
Among the people affected by the closing are the musicians who were booked to play at Ayse over the next few months. Most received an email early Tuesday from Jaime Ellis-Ade, who booked entertainment for the lounge, explaining the decision to shut its doors.
One group that played at the restaurant consistently throughout its existence was the Monocacy Jazz Quartet. Having entertained the crowd nearly every Thursday since the business opened its doors, the band’s residency dated back to the days when it was called Danielle’s. Mark Lysher has been a member of the quartet for years, and when he received word of the news, he was disappointed.
“I think we kind of go with the building,” Lysher said Tuesday. “We have been playing in that building for 12 years, 13 years. I know that they didn’t close it because there was no business coming in — we’ve played there plenty of nights when it was packed.”
Indeed, though business was good, Pistar stressed how conflicted he was about the decision, asserting how important it was to both him and Bowers to provide jobs for those in Frederick. It’s because of as much, he said, that everybody who worked at Ayse was offered jobs elsewhere in the company.
Bowers, meanwhile, noted that while Ayse’s employees were offered positions at other restaurants, he wasn’t yet sure who would transfer to any of the group’s other locations.
“That’s the one advantage we have,” Bowers said. “We have other opportunities for our employees, so we’re offering everyone a job. I’m just not sure that everyone is going to take it.”
As for what’s next, Pistar, whose mother was Ayse’s namesake, revealed that he has a few projects in the works, even if they are on a smaller scale than the one that closed Sunday on North East Street. He was mum on the details, though he also added that he’s looking at moving Ayse’s entertainment to either Pistarro’s or Brewer’s Alley.
Still, both Bowers and Pistar expressed immense gratitude for the staff they employed as well as the memories many families made at the restaurant over its seven years. Pistar, for one, noted how special it was to see his children get married at the restaurant, while Bowers explained that from the beginning, it was his partner who made the location special.
“Nezih did a really good job putting that thing together and maintaining it,” Bowers said. “We had a really good run there. It was a great restaurant and critically, people loved it. It was a lot of fun.”