Thursday, October 13, 2016

[Suburbia Lost] Tex-Mex and Asian Fusion of Union Centre - West Chester, Ohio

A local chain and one from Louisville try to make a go of it in West Chester's late 90's/early 2000's development.

West Chester’s Union Centre development probably deserves its own dedicated post on QC/D. Growing up nearby as a kid, I remember people marveling over how great it seemed. In high school, “The Rave” (now an AMC) was one of the better movie theaters. As an adult, I’ve found myself living in the area once again, this time directly in West Chester - just a quick drive (or precarious bike ride) away from Union Centre. The development as a whole isn’t an eyesore or filled with deteriorating and fading structures, it’s just unremarkable. Since it’s debut in the late 90’s, several similar developments have cropped up all across Cincinnati’s and other American city’s suburbs.

Union Centre itself, while still boasting some relatively nice chain restaurants and retail establishments hasn’t grown as much as anticipated. From the air you can see where more streets and buildings were planned, but there’s a few existing empty structures and strip mall slots that could probably use tenants before expansion could even be considered.

- A section of Union Centre as seen from the air. Much of the green space has on street parking, but no development to be paired with it. 

While new attractions such as Top Golf and Main Event have opened across the highway at “The Streets (parking lots, really) of West Chester,” Union Centre exists in a state of purgatory. With the opening of yet another standard, suburban “lifestyle centre” (that’s middle aged white guy speak for “outdoor mall") just up the highway and known as Liberty Center, it’s unlikely Union Centre will grow further anytime soon. In the meantime, the entire development isn't an eyesore, just your typical suburban collection of fast food and casual chain fare.

There are two interesting and forgotten highlights within the area though:

El Coyote:

El Coyote has long been a mainstay on the region’s east side. Two brothers started the restaurant in New York City in 1975, but expanded the business to their hometown in 1983. While the establishment known for its Tex-Mex offerings, steaks, and chops seems to still do good business in the Eastern suburbs, its attempts at local expansion didn’t seem to fare well. A downtown location never lasted long and before that, a Northern Kentucky location as well as this one in West Chester at Union Centre also closed. The West Chester building echoes the abandoned Bahama Breeze in nearby Springdale. Change the exterior paint, add a few decorative elements and you can make this generic building design into any kind of restaurant theme you desire: island getaway, Irish pub, post-church brunch spot, simple (yet god fearing) man sports bar, etc.

The structure is listed as having once been a business named “D Landing Bar & Grill” for a short time, briefly existing before or after El Coyote came around. I’m not sure which business brought along the faux, painted on windows, stone, and brick that look like they were done by a high school art class. The building boasts an astounding 116 dedicated parking spaces according this commercial real estate listing, so you’re in good shape if you want to snatch it up and turn it into one of the previously mentioned generic suburban restaurant themes.

- Note the painted on, fake windows.


Chef Peng S. Looi found himself in the United States by way of Malaysia, England, and the University of Louisville’s engineering school. With cooking as a lifelong passion, he opened up August Moon Bistro and eventually followed up with another restaurant, Asiatique. Both establishments regularly receive high praise and have become mainstays in Louisville’s dining scene. In 2010, Looi and his ownership group sought to expand their brand and take Asiatique into regional cities nearby. Cincinnati was the first step.

Unlike most suburban architecture, Asiatique’s design actually had some thought behind it. Featuring a minimalist, contemporary, and modern design, Asiatique looked a lot better than most of the bland hotels, strip malls, chain restaurants, and office buildings surrounding it. The Louisville firm who designed the building described it as reflecting “the concept of Chef Peng Looi’s cuisine: clean, metropolitan, modern, and healthful.” They go on further to state: "The use of contemporary styling at Asiatique’s West Chester location does not sacrifice depth and comfort, however. Simple lines are softened through the use of warm colors. The use of steel and concrete structure with extensive glazing fills interior spaces with natural light. Sleek furnishings and fixtures serve to reinforce the restaurant’s urbane setting."

Although I wouldn’t necessarily describe West Chester as “urbane,” I get what they meant. The design is so starkly different from all other suburban restaurants built with a brand in mind, that I thought it was an abandoned car dealership at first.

Nice look or not, Asiatique didn’t seem to catch on in this market and there were no further expansions. Chef Looi and his legacy restaurants seem to still be going strong in nearby Louisville though. 

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here


  1. That wasn't an El Coyote, it opened as Coyote Grill. The "D Landing Bar & Grill" came afterwards.

    I never knew what the Asiatique was supposed to be. Didn't even know it was a restaurant. Never seemed to actually open.

    1. Are you sure? Pretty certain it was El Coyote: