Bella Vita restaurant planned for Circle Centre

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An Italian restaurant whose owner has ties to embattled local businessman Tim Durham is poised to take the first-floor space in Circle Centre mall formerly occupied by Bertolini’s.

The Bella Vita restaurant is “coming soon” to the location, according to signage outside the storefront next to P.F. Chang’s and Champps.

The new restaurant is owned by Indianapolis restaurateur Henri Najem and his wife, Shelley. They've operated a Bella Vita in the area since 1998, the past five years at Geist Marina.

Najem signed a five-year lease for 6,700 square feet at Circle Centre and expects the restaurant to open in early January, pending approval of a liquor license. 

He said he's been eyeing downtown for the past two years.

"All the development and the expansion of the [Indiana] Convention Center really drew me down here,"  he said.

Durham is not involved in the downtown Bella Vita project, but he has partnered with Najem on previous attempts to expand the restaurant.

He and Najem had planned to open a Bella Vita in Charlotte, N.C., but construction there stopped late last year after Indianapolis-based Shiel-Sexton Co. said it wasn't getting paid. The contractor filed a lawsuit in May, saying the partners owed more than $433,000 for construction work. That lawsuit is pending.

Najem, who said the Charlotte restaurant is about half done, attributed the problems to the bankruptcy of the project's developer. He also said Durham no longer is involved in the partnership.

Najem and Durham had interests in another Bella Vita restaurant as well, opening a moderately priced version of the eatery last year in New Castle. Najem said he exited the partnership about eight months ago after the partners disagreed on the restaurant's direction. The name of the eatery since has been changed to Durhams Ristorante.

Durham has legal problems of his own. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis alleges his Ohio-based Fair Finance Co. operated as a Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to pay what it owed prior investors, thereby “lulling the earlier victims into believing that their money was being [handled] responsibly.”

The Najems, meanwhile, have resolved a lawsuit Muncie-based First Merchants Bank filed in January, saying the restaurant owners had defaulted on a nearly $230,000 loan that was supposed to be paid off in November 2008. The suit sought to foreclose on the Geist restaurant real estate, which served as collateral.

Najem said he didn’t have the money to pay off the note when it came up for renewal. The suit was dismissed in March after the parties reached a settlement in which Najem agreed to pay down some of the principal in return for extending the terms of the loan.

The high-traffic space Bella Vita will occupy in Circle Centre has been empty since Bertolini’s, part of Chicago-based Morton’s Restaurant Group, closed in March 2008.

Steve Delaney, a partner at Indianapolis-based Sitehawk Retail Real Estate, said Bella Vita’s independent status could complement the two nearby chain restaurants. The location attracted interest from at least a few prospects, he said, but has suffered from a lack of visibility from outdoor passersby.

“If they can get the proper signage out on the street,” he said. “it’s a very good location.”


  • Indianapolis Indiana circle center
    It is combo best & better. The Bella Vita Restaurant lounge is almost as old as the cooks in the kitchen. I saw the owner named Bill smoking a cigarette in the kitchen with Dennis the cook.Circle Centre has over 100 shopping, dining, and entertainment selections that are in the style of a European street market. Located in the heart of downtown Indianapolis Indiana, Circle Centre is bordered by Illinois Street, Washington Street, Meridian Street, and Georgia Street in the Wholesale District. the circle center may be defined as stress relief mall because it is scienticfic proved when we are in stress then we shop our tension gets released.
  • Great Place
    My wife and I stopped in to Bella Vita today for lunch. Our server Melissa was awesome and the food was really good. Ordering off the lunch menu was cheap for the portion you get. I've read quite a few reviews on Bella Vita and I'm feeling like my wife and I must have had a really good experience because most people haven't shared our feelings. We will definetly be back for more.
  • VERY poor service
    My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniv. and after many restaraunt choices around circle center mall we chose Bella Vita. What a mistake!! The waitress was very unprofessional and down right rude. She shorted my husband 10$ after we received our change, and only after letting her know did she rudely give it back! It was obvious she intended on keeping it. NEVER again!! Good food, but TERRIBLE service and high price!
  • Creditor
    How is it that Najem can sign a 5 year lease on a new location when he can't pay for the location he started in North Carolina. It is absolutely unbelievable that if he is credit worthy enough to sign a 5 year lease on a Simnon Property why he can't pay Shiel Sexton or Enterprise Electrical & Mechanical for work already performed on his Charlotte, NC location. This type of individual is exactly why our credit markets are in their current condition.
    • Yay!
      I'm glad to see that location finally filled. I always enjoyed Bertollini's and was sad to see it go. At least the location is getting a local restaurant instead of another chain. Even if it is Italian!
    • BEST!
      Great to see-they always have great music and atmosphere. Best of luck!
    • Best of Luck
      I like locally owned Bella Vita.
    • sheesh
      Well, I guess we're going to see how many Italian restaurants downtown Indy can support, eh?! Iaria's, Milano Inn, Iozzo's, Vito's on Penn, Buca di Beppo, Old Spaghetti Factory, Ambrosia Centro, Amici's, Agio AND now Bella Vita.

      10 total. Pretty sure there are now more Italian restaurants than steak houses in downtown.

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