The vacant Sobeys space on Jasper Avenue and 104th Street is getting a new lease on life, and the first tenant to move into the prime retail spot is a fast-casual Indian restaurant.

Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen has signed a deal to lease a 5,000-square-foot bay in the once-popular grocery stop.

Now called Cecil Place, the building has been vacant for more than three years.

Sobeys closed its Urban Fresh location on July 31, 2014, to the dismay of local residents who relied on it for its ready-to-go meals and convenient location.

When the grocery store opened in 2008, it was heralded as a retail revitalizer for 104th Street.

Joti Dhanju, the owner of Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen, told CBC News she has been eyeing the space for several months. 

Joti Dhanju

Joti Dhanju, founder and owner of Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen, talks to CBC News in the space of her future restaurant on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 104th Street. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"Every time I drove past, I was like, 'What a shame that this space is for lease and nobody's going there.' Year one passed, and nobody. Year two, and I was like ... 'Let's just reach out,' " Dhanju said Tuesday afternoon.

"We're really excited to revitalize this iconic address."

Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, said the corner space is the entry to the arena district, and it was important to get new business in there.

"It's a premier corner in the downtown, it's been dark for three years. 

[It's] time to get it active again and really contribute to the rebirth of Jasper Avenue."
Cecil place

The 19,000-square-foot space, formerly occupied by Sobeys, is empty but ready for construction to begin on the new Indian restaurant. (CBC)

Cam Picketts, a broker with leasing agent Omada Commercial, said Tiffin has leased the biggest bay of the 19,000 square feet available in the building. The agent is looking for four or five more tenants, with units ranging in size from 1,000 to 7,000 square feet.

A second lease deal is pending for the building and Picketts said Omada is looking at more food options.

What will fit

Picketts said since the arena district opened, they've had more inquiries about the space and are looking at several potential businesses to move in.

"We're just sorting out what's the best fit, what's the best tenant mix," he said. 

He said the demise of the former Sobeys was likely due to timing. 

"When they opened up there wasn't nearly as many residential units that are available now, not as much density, not as much traffic flow." 

Cam Picketts

Cam Picketts, broker for Omada Commercial, says the new restaurant moving into the former Sobeys space was two years in the making. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

He said the building owner, ICM Realty Group, will entertain businesses with financial viability and has an open mind to signing local entrepreneurs, like Dhanju. 

"They've got capital behind them," he said of Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen.

"They've got good plans. It's a new fresh-looking concept."

He said the landlords may consider electronics, grocery stores or other retail to fill the remaining vacancies. 

Will it last?

More food options would be a welcome addition for many residents and people working in the area, like Tony Williams.

Williams said since Sobeys closed, it's been a challenge getting something quick for lunch.

"It's a long way to walk to the nearest food store," he told CBC News. 

He said while there are plenty of sit-down restaurants on the block, there aren't enough fast and fresh places to pick up a quick bite. 

Tony Williams

Tony Williams works on 104th Street and hopes the new businesses moving into the former Sobeys space will last. (CBC)

Williams hopes the businesses moving into the former Sobeys space will survive the ups and downs of the 104th Avenue promenade. 

"We really need to get to the point where there's a sort of stability to the street," he said.

"More and more people see it as their go-to place to shop but also to eat, and then more and more people will want to live here as well, which makes the street more lively."

The Tiffin concept

Dhanju is the brains behind the Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen. She and her family have another location on the south side on Ellerslie Road and 50th Street. 

Tiffin

Tiffin India's Fresh Kitchen has a south-side location on Edmonton's Ellerslie Road. (Joti Dhanju)

Dhanju said the Tiffin concept caters to busy people looking for high-quality Indian food.

Tiffin will start constructing the restaurant in February, with the goal of opening in the spring of 2018.

As for future neighbours, Dhanju said she'd like to see more food options in the building alongside her restaurant.