“Good Food Takes Time” was the motto of Anna’s Greek Restaurant during a six-year run as a fine-dining establishment on Three Springs Road in Bowling Green and later at its location in Glasgow.
The same motto could apply to the process of renovating 100-year-old church buildings.
As Vilson and Anna Qehaja have discovered, it takes considerably more time than preparing a gyro dish or a baklava dessert.
The new Anna’s Greek Restaurant, a year after closing its Glasgow location and some six years after the Bowling Green location fell victim to a road-widening project, is awaiting final building inspections and could be ready to open this fall at the former Victory Baptist Church building at 1202 State St. in Bowling Green.
It’s a tasty dish that was four years in the making and one that will include not only the return of Anna’s Greek Restaurant, but a new venue for weddings and other events called Century Palace.
Vilson Qehaja bought the vacant, dilapidated building at auction in 2015 for $171,000, and he and his father, Esat Qehaja, spent countless hours since then shoring up aging support beams and walls while also installing all new wiring in the building that was built in 1912.
While continuing to run limousine and electronics businesses, Vilson Qehaja methodically rebuilt the former church, keeping its stained glass windows and other historical features intact but adding upgrades like LED lighting and a sound system to bring it into the 21st century.
“This place has been built mostly with our own hands,” said Vilson Qehaja, 39. “There were times during the past four years that I wanted to give up because so much work needed to be done.
“I feel like God knew who to pick to complete this project. I think someone with less faith would’ve given up. God put the right people in front of me to guide me.”
The main person guiding Vilson Qehaja was his 65-year-old father, whose background as an electronics engineer proved invaluable in the restoration.
“We created the whole thing,” said Esat Qehaja, who fled the war-torn European country of Kosovo and brought his family to Bowling Green in 2000. “It ended up being complicated. It took a year just to reinforce the building.”
His father’s help was important, but Vilson Qehaja also gives credit to a pair of local artisans – Marvin Jarboe and Ronnie Miller – who have worked to restore the many stained glass windows and frames in the building.
“This place wouldn’t have been completed without those two,” Vilson Qehaja said. “We needed a total restoration of the stained glass. Without them, this place would’ve lost its identity. I wanted to relay a message that this was a church that is now a restaurant.”
Jarboe, who worked on the stained glass when the building was Victory Baptist Church, worked with Miller to repair some windows and replace others with their own handmade work. Jarboe even incorporated a passage from Psalms into his work as homage to the building’s history.
“This is some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve seen,” Jarboe said. “It’s so old and so rich in color. It’s unique.”
Now those windows can be enjoyed by patrons of a venue that is itself unique. The building started as Westminster Presbyterian Church in 1912 and was home to Victory Baptist from 1979 until 2015.
Encompassing 13,000 square feet between the main floor and a balcony, the building will now be a venue for weddings, anniversaries, Christmas parties and other celebrations.
Vilson Qehaja said he is planning an invitation-only grand opening Oct. 4 for Century Palace, which he said will be able to accommodate up to 500 people. Anna’s Greek Restaurant, which will have its entrance on the State Street side of the building with its decorative columns and stairway, will seat about 200.
Vilson Qehaja expects the restaurant to be open for business in early November, although he plans to go slowly. “We will try to control our flow of people so we don’t get overwhelmed,” he said. “We’ll start with reservations only.”
The restaurant can’t open soon enough to suit Anna Qehaja, who operated a restaurant on the Greek island of Santorini for seven years before marrying Vilson Qehaja and immigrating to America.
“Finally, I get to get back in the kitchen,” she said. “I’ve missed that for the past year. I love cooking. Restaurants have been part of my life for over 25 years.”
She said the new Anna’s will have the same authentic Greek dishes along with cuisine from other European countries and even some American dishes.
The process of transforming the former church building into a restaurant and event venue has at times tried her patience, Anna Qehaja admits.
“It has been frustrating for everybody,” she said. “Vilson took time away from our family to work on it, but now he can say he did it.”
Vilson Qehaja admits to being tired from the years of work on the building, but he’s eager to show it off to the community. “I hope people will appreciate it as much as I do,” he said.
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.