TERRE HAUTE —
It could be just the shot in the arm 12 Points has long needed.
Jimmy Saliju, a professional chef with decades of restaurant experience, is working to restore the former Old National Bank building at Lafayette and Maple Avenues and convert it to a restaurant.
With towering windows that frame the heart of the historic 12 Points neighborhood, the building seems an ideal setting for anyone wishing for a bit of old Terre Haute nostalgia with a high-caliber meal.
Recently vacant, the building dates back about 100 years when it was the 12 Points State Bank. It later became Merchants National Bank and then Old National. It was also Medusa’s hair salon.
In a few weeks, it promises to be another destination for anyone seeking an evening out in a locally owned restaurant. Saliju hopes to open for business in mid-November, he said.
“I really enjoy cooking,” said Saliju standing in the still-unfinished dining room area of what he plans to call The Old Bank Grill. The grill will seat 160 in its dining room, more than 100 in a banquet room and about 30 in the “Tellers’ Bar.”
Most importantly, Saliju is adding a 2,000-square-foot kitchen to the north side of the building with new state-of-the-art equipment, he said. “I am very picky about my kitchen.”
Saliju received much of his culinary experience while living on Long Island in New York not long after immigrating from the former Yugoslavia in 1981 at age 20. He is of ethnic Albanian decent and plans to offer Albanian, Italian and Greek dishes in addition to steak, seafood and other customary favorites.
“My life is restaurant,” Saliju said in his thick Albanian accent. “I really enjoy pleasing people. I have been in the pleasing business for 30 years.”
Saliju learned about cooking in France and also worked in the restaurant business in Chicago. He came to Terre Haute nine years ago and operated the European Grill on Margaret Avenue from 2005 to 2009, he said.
Now, Saliju is giving 12 Points a shot, almost certainly making the biggest investment in one of the neighborhood’s historic buildings in many, many years.
“This is a beautiful building,” Saliju said looking up at the high ceilings and standing next to the bank’s massive vault, which will soon be converted into a wine room.
“I really love this building,” he said.
The investment is highly welcome for the entire north side, said Neil Garrison, a member of the Terre Haute City Council who represents the 12 Points and Collett Park neighborhoods.
“I am often asked by residents in the north end ways to save or energize the 12 points area,” Garrison said. “So I hope the community will support this new development.”
Saliju said he owes a lot to his good friend, Bill Olah, a Terre Haute attorney who shares an east-European heritage (Olah’s family immigrated from Hungary). Olah has been a strong supporter of Saliju’s since meeting him five years ago.
“Jimmy has many admirable qualities” including being multilingual and possessing a strong work ethic, Olah said. “But as a restaurant developer and chef, his best attributes are his desire to please and the obvious joy he exhibits when anyone enjoys a meal he prepares,” he said.
In addition to a wide variety of dishes, the Old Bank Grill is set to offer beer and wine and also some “old bank” nostalgia. Materials associated with the former bank, some dating back 100 years, will be on display at the restaurant, Saliju said.
In addition to high-quality cuts of steak, a variety of salads, Mediterranean and other cuisine, the Old Bank Grill also will offer low-carb, high protein, low-fat dishes, Saliju said.
“What I enjoy most is to please people,” Saliju said. With a son and daughter in the Vigo County school system, he has no plans to leave Terre Haute.
“I like it here,” Saliju said. “This is home.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.