Casabella Commons, a new four-building retail center opening mid-May through the beginning of July (depending on individual space buildouts) at 3538 Urbana Pike, is named after the local developers’ Robert Bongiorno and Paul Hynes’ mothers. “We were trying to come up with a name, and we thought of our mothers’ maiden names,” Hynes said. “His mother’s is Falabella and mine is Coscia, so he said, ‘OK. We’ll call this Casabella, which means beautiful house.”
A fitting tribute not only to their mothers but also to their dream. “The stars had aligned already,” Bongiorno said.
A Brooklyn native, Bongiorno moved to the Villages of Urbana nine years ago after running his own cabinet construction business for many years in New York City. The move, he said, was inspired by his desire to branch out. He worked for other companies while doing his own residential work on the side, and eventually became a part owner in a business. When driving all over the DMV for jobs began to feel like the grind he had left behind in New York, Bongiorno decided to network at the local level and founded Bravo Design & Build.
And then he met Hynes. A 20-year Windsor Knolls resident, Hynes and his wife, Sue, hired Bongiorno to expand her yoga studio. That led to exterior work on the Hynes’ home, a growing friendship, and discussion of what their dreams are.
“I always wanted to be a developer,” Bongiorno said.
They first looked at five or six residential properties, thinking of flipping them, Hynes said, but they didn’t win the bids.
Then they approached Aric Rudden, who with partners owned three lots in the 3500 block of Urbana Pike near Urbana Elementary School—land that was directly across from Bongiorno’s first Villages of Urbana home on Rines Tavern Lane. The sale was complete and original designs drawn up when a fourth lot adjoining the property became available. Bongiorno and Hynes purchased this, too—and drew up new designs.
It all began in April 2014, and it has been “an odyssey with a lot of reward,” Hynes said. The project was two-and-a-half years in utero, he added.
“We can see the finish line,” Bongiorno said. “There are a million and a half layers to this project, but they’re all getting done.”
“We’re working with a lot of local people,” Hynes said, “Jimmy Grove, JHG for all the infrastructure work.”
After a year and nine months spent working the development through the county process, construction began on Nov. 7, 2017. There are three shells up and roofs in now, Bongiorno said.
All has gone fairly smoothly. At a hearing, one of the Frederick County Councilmembers said that he was being uncharacteristically quiet because the development was so well thought out, Hynes recalled.
But as with any undertaking of this complexity, there have been some surprises along the way. The property is near the Zion Episcopal Church and Cemetery, and two graves are located outside of the cemetery on the Casabella Commons property. Beneath a stand of trees, Major Frederick Smith, a member of the 17th Virginia Cavalry who was shot during a skirmish in Urbana just after the Battle of Monocacy, is buried next to Lieut.-Col. Travener, also of the 17th Virginia Cavalry and mortally wounded at the Battle of Monocacy. The gravesite meant that there is an easement on the property for family members, Hynes said, and we were a bit concerned that we would find others buried on our property. Fortunately, they found no other graves, Bongiorno said.
The two have done much of the work themselves. Bongiorno and his firm designed and are doing construction for the four-building center that will soon be home to restaurants, a physical therapy and wellness center, and a yoga studio. Bongiorno’s firm is also in charge of interior work and buildout for their new tenants.
We haven’t used a leasing agent, Hynes explained. It’s all been grassroots and word of mouth.
The result is 100 percent locally owned businesses. Signed tenants include Sage Physical Therapy and Wellness, Urbana Yoga, KYO Sushi Restaurant, Pumpernickel and Rye, and Jasmine. The center can accommodate eight to 12 tenants, Bongiorno said.
Casabella Commons’ selection of homegrown businesses is in keeping with the developers’ mission to create a walkable, welcoming Main Street—someplace where families can come to visit and socialize while their children play, Hynes said.
The center will offer four or five patio spaces with tables and pergolas out back, one common space and two beautifully landscaped bio-retention ponds, Bongiorno said. Green space will truly be that with 127 trees.
Flower of Damascus to Bloom
Takeout-style with limited indoor seating, Jasmine restaurant at Casabella Commons will feature Mediterranean cuisine and should be open this May. Launched by Windsor Knolls husband and wife Nawaf Kouja and Maria De Carvalho, Jasmine is named after the flower of Damascus and honors Kouja’s Syrian heritage.
Kouja left Syria six years ago. He spent four years, much of it in Jordan, waiting for a Visa to join his wife in the U.S. A lawyer and businessman in Syria, Kouja said that he learned to cook in his mother’s kitchen and was the chef-owner of a restaurant on the Mediterranean in Syria. He also worked in a restaurant in Jordan.
De Carvalho’s eyes light up when she talks about her husband’s food—the hummus with roasted red pepper and walnuts, tabbouleh, falafel (one variety stuffed with onions, sumac and cheese), jarjir (a salad made with arugula, sumac, lemon, onion and sometimes tomato and lettuce or added beef), and chicken or lamb shawarma and shawarma kibbeh. Kouja, she said, does much of the cooking at home, and the family loves his kanafeh dessert. Baked and served warm, kanafeh is made with Phyllo dough, clarified butter, special Syrian cheese and garnished with a simple syrup. “It’s very decadent,” De Carvalho said.
Kouja will offer these dishes and more, possibly what De Carvalho refers to as his Middle Eastern grilled cheese sandwich made with Middle Eastern bread, labneh yogurt cheese, mint and Aleppo pepper. A hummus bar with extra garlic, olives, red pepper and tomato is also planned.
“All will be made with fresh ingredients,” Kouja said. “Nothing is left over day to day, including the hummus.” Meats, only chicken and lamb, will be hormone free.
A small retail space will feature specialty items like pomegranate molasses, tahini, spices, rose water, olive oils, Ghee and more. An oncology nurse who worked for a time at a hospital in Jordan, De Carvalho is fond of olive oil soaps sold there and hopes to bring them to Jasmine.
Her husband, De Carvalho said, enjoys sharing his knowledge of dishes he prepares and spices used. “This will be an engaging, community-type place,” De Carvalho said. “People will feel welcome here.”