Gail Edwards and David Berry say they understand residents' concerns about helping Beaufort retain its historical look.
When preliminary designs for their new restaurant at 1601 North St. were too modern, they sent the architect back to the drawing board.
"We want to blend it with the other buildings," Berry said. "We want it to look old, like Beaufort."
The partners, along with Edwards' husband, Tom, are converting the former Koth's Grocery into Olè Cantina, which will feature a menu inspired by Gulf, Baja and coastal cuisine.
The property, along with a vacant lot at 1604 King St., has been the focus of preservationists' recent concerns about rules for rebuilding and remodeling in the Downtown Historic District.
Both properties were rezoned Tuesday into the Bladen Street Redevelopment District, which does not require Historic Review Board approval of building designs.
Some, including representatives of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, say the redevelopment district's relaxed rules might even jeopardize the historic district's designation.
Edwards and Berry have signed a five-year lease, with an additional five-year option, and are interested in buying the property.
The property is owned by Bob and Carole Freeman of Hampton. Carole Freeman's father, J.M. Koth, and his brother ran Koth's Grocery. Her brother took it over but closed it in 2005.
It was open for more than 50 years. The original building was damaged by fire in 1962, but the Koths rebuilt in the same location, Bob Freeman said. Although the original building would have been considered historical, the current one is not, he said.
After Koth's closed, Kissin Cousins interior design and consignment store briefly operated out of the building. It has been vacant for several years.
"We want to move to Beaufort ... and we wouldn't want to do anything that would hurt the historical aspect," Bob Freeman said of the renovations.
Plans for Olè Cantina include outdoor seating to take advantage of what Gail Edwards, who also owns Boondoggles gift and clothing store in downtown, called "the best view in Beaufort."
Interior demolition is under way. She hopes to open by the end of June.