By: Jonathan Phelps, New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER - When the pandemic forced Cheddar & Rye whiskey bar to temporarily close in March, owners Chaz Mitchell and Liu Vaine brainstormed ways to reinvent a small space on the corner of Elm and Hanover streets.
The two came up with the Peacock Tails Lounge, which includes hip furniture for about 25 people to sip craft cocktails. The space is decked out with peacock feathers and other brightly colored decor throughout.
“We tried to find opportunity in the ashes. We took advantage of the downtime to reinvent this front space,” Mitchell said. The main Cheddar & Rye space remains the same.
Other changes along Elm Street include Republic, the first certified farm-to-restaurant in New Hampshire, moving into shared space with its sister restaurant Campo Enoteca. The Gyro Spot launched a food truck, and The Bookery’s cafe now serves prepared foods in partnership with Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop.
These moves come as business owners work to persevere during the pandemic as the restaurant industry as a whole continues to suffer. Much of the foot traffic downtown has declined with many employees still working from home and limited entertainment options in the evening.
“Our downtown restaurants are incredibly resilient for dealing with COVID-19 and other challenges of being downtown,” said Sara Beaudry, executive director of nonprofit Intown Manchester.
“It is a scary time, and even though restaurants are allowed to open to 100% capacity, they still have to adhere to the six-feet distance rule,” she said.
The creativity seems endless on how restaurants adapted to changing restrictions, she said.
Dancing Lion Chocolate has boosted online sales, Cafe la Reine added a take-out window and one of the newest restaurants downtown, Diz’s, hosts theme nights on Fridays with the next one, “ManchVegas Night,” is scheduled for Sept. 11.
Making it workRepublic opened 10 years ago at 1069 Elm St. in a small rectangular space designed to replicate a European bistro.
“The whole concept that made Republic successful and attractive made it completely incompatible with the rules,” said owner Ed Aloise. “We could never distance our guests according to the regulations and stay in business at all profitably. The math just did not work.”
The direct-from-farmer products required a high volume of business to sustain it, he said. Most of his staff worked at both eateries, so combining the two restaurants seemed to be the best plan — for now.
Aloise committed to serve the full menus of both restaurants.
“With the amount of seats we are allowed to use, both inside and outside, we are pretty much filled,” he said. “We are seeing a really good response. There were a lot of people that wanted Republic to open.”
The pandemic has shown how “industrious” business owners have been with the challenges they face, Mitchell said.
“They are entrepreneurs for a reason, right?” he said. “They’re going to find a way to be successful and even if it means their business just survives.”
New conceptsThe grand opening for Peacock Tails Lounge last Thursday was delayed, but the venue will likely be open this week. The unique triangle-shaped space at 889 Elm St. had gone through a lot of different uses, including a sandwich shop and, most recently, as Greenhouse, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant.
“We decided that after COVID we would take advantage of trying to turn this into a space that takes advantage of the glass,” Mitchell said. The 60-foot wall of windows from the inside has views of City Hall, City Hall Plaza and the Citizens Bank building.
“We want people to come in here and see the beauty of the city,” Mitchell said.
The Gyro Spot at 1073 Elm St. had planned to add a food truck for years, said owner Alex Lambroulis. It ended up being a blessing during the pandemic to add a calendar of outdoor and private events.
“We’ve actually booked out three weddings in the month of September, to bring the truck to their venue,” he said. “They have had to adjust their wedding plans. That has been super helpful for them and us.”
The truck will spend time at local breweries and events between the Queen City and Seacoast. The menu is similar to the shop.
“I don’t want to just park somewhere and just hope people come. I want planned events,” he said.
The Bookery at 844 Elm St. now serves gourmet “quick bites and sweet treats” from Angela’s Pasta & Cheese Shop on Chestnut Street. The store is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday — Saturday.
The shop worked with the city to block off parking spaces to create an outdoor seating area.
“We noticed some foot traffic picking up,” said Marlana Trombley, who does marketing for the store and its parent company Orbit Group. Angela’s drops off fresh prepackaged sandwiches and other food items like cheese, antipasto and desserts.
“We were looking to drive additional traffic and have something where we could provide a different experience that other people weren’t necessarily doing downtown,” Trombley said.
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