Inside Outside: The restaurant business is tough but enduring
Lots of people enjoy eating out, when and if they can afford it. Some people have minimal standards and are mostly interested in low-cost, standard-menu items and fast service. Others, sometimes called "foodies," are very particular about what they eat and are willing to pay more for aspects such as locally-sourced ingredients, expert service, ambience and décor, and gourmet cuisine.
Those of us who live in the North Quabbin Region have our local favorites but many of us also drive 20 or 30 miles to places we like. In our nine-town region, there are some restaurants with a long history and some that have just recently opened. Today's column is provoked by some restaurant news, and I apologize to the hard-working owners and staff of many eateries that are not mentioned here. I know it's a tough and competitive business.
Restaurants "in the middle of nowhere" can be very successful. Good examples of this are Pete and Henry's in South Royalston and the former Fox Run in Phillipston. Also in this category is the Deja Brew in the center of Wendell, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary with a big party.
Deja Brew was the vision of the late Vic Scutari, who came to Wendell with his wife Patti a decade ago. The couple bought the country store and proceeded to carve out a piece of it into Deja Brew. Patti has continued the business with the help of her daughter and son, Charlsie (Baleno) Gorski and Kevin Baleno. The restaurant offers live music and microbrewed beers on tap, and has become something of a community gathering place. It is open every day but Monday.
The latest news from Patti is a plan to expand the kitchen which is "tiny" and especially inadequate for preparation of pizza, one of the most popular menu items. Patti's plan is to float a loan from area residents who love the place.
She explained, "Instead of going to banks, part of my funding in the past has come from community support." People can buy $200 or more in "Deja Dollars," which never expire but can be used, as timed gift certificates, for future meals and drinks.
Patti assures her sponsors that "something good will happen." She can be reached by potential lenders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bon Appetit, 460 South St., in Athol, owned by Michelle Labelle and her son James Carr, is a reincarnation of a smaller Bon Appetit on Main Street. It has three main rooms that have been given theme names, and the New York room has an inviting soup and salad bar.
Bon Appétit has been open for lunch since mid-September, and is now serving dinners. One fan, Mitch Grosky of Athol, noted many positive reviews have come in on social media and said, "That's a fabulous start for this new restaurant. Hoping people will give Bon Appetit a try and become regulars!"
Soup on the Fly, 1493 Main St., in uptown Athol, is the creation of chef-owner Rob Sacco of Orange, who formerly worked at the Blue Heron in Sunderland, which I would describe as the fanciest restaurant in the entire Pioneer Valley (expensive and very good).
Soup on the Fly is open for breakfast and lunch, with specialty soups and sandwiches offered daily. The roux gumbo could compete with New Orleans fare. Although the restaurant has a diner-style setting, the menu does not include ordinary sandwiches such as tuna salad and burgers. Slowly but surely, this unique eatery has attracted a following, as has The Blind Pig on Exchange Street with its chef-owner Susan Welch.
The Twohey family's King Phillip Restaurant in Phillipston is probably the region's busiest and most well-established restaurant and lounge. Its success is due to a menu that works for the region's populace, as well as a good marketing program. I have noticed full-page ads in the Athol Daily News for the King Phillip, and this must help their business or they wouldn't spend the money. I also like seeing the ads because the money helps keep this newspaper alive as a community resource.
All eateries, new and old, might be wise to find a line in their budget for such advertising in addition to what they are doing for free on social media. If the region is to be successful as an ecotourism destination, then restaurants, lodging and perhaps night life will add to the attraction.