Rise in Claremont eateries positive sign for local economy

Though known for its trees and PhDs, could Claremont be turning into the City of Eats? The recent addition of various cuisines to the city’s restaurant repertoire may suggest that Claremont has a growing appeal for eateries, but also they indicate that perhaps the small-town economy is beginning to rebuild.

“The weekends are reflective of what’s going on. It’s really crowded here,” Claremont’s Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik said in an interview earlier this year.

Amid the reemerging hustle and bustle of business, unique local dining destinations have cropped up quickly over the past year. Union on Yale moved its international fare and bocce ball court next door to Bert & Rocky’s Cream Company, a taco stand is set for construction in one of the city’s oldest buildings and Crepes De Paris will become one of the latest enterprises to fire up the stoves in Village West with a grand opening taking place sometime in the next couple weeks, according to owner Jenny Liu.

From coffee shops to pizzerias, the Claremont Village alone has a selection of 44 places to chow down and drink up.

The city’s seeming overabundance of eateries is really not that unusual, according to Mr. Desatnik. It’s all a part of the economic pickup and Claremont, like other metropolitan areas, is becoming a food-fueled gathering place.

“They feed off each other,” Mr. Desatnik said. “You become known for a good place to go for lunch and people are then able to see the other places available in town. You become a destination place.”

Take for example Eureka Burger, a cornerstone of the Packing House, says Mr. Desatnik. With its gourmet burgers and brews, Eureka Burger has been a non-stop buzzing food hub since it first opened its doors in 2010.

“Eureka Burger really brought a lot of people over to that area. It’s busy all the time and because there is a lot of spillover, it helps other businesses in that area.”

New eateries crowding into areas that used to be primarily retail, like once was the case at the Packing House, do especially well, according to Mr. Desatnik.

“There is not as much foot traffic over there, so the eateries tend to do better than street retail,” he noted.

In addition, the crowds continue to be drawn to the city’s well-established, unique food destinations like Some Crust and Pizza N’Such, bringing the foot traffic to shops along downtown streets. They provide Village business with a necessary anchor.

“People are drawn to town because they want a particular cookie from Some Crust, or a bear claw, and while they are here they notice Espiau’s next door and decide to grab some lunch or walk up to Union on Yale,” said Scott Feemster, manager of the popular Claremont bakery. “People crave choice, which helps enhance Claremont as a destination point.”

A surge in similar businesses, in this case those that “wine and dine,” benefits the downtown business community as a whole, says Mr. Feemster, who quotes the old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

“Granted, there might be more competition, but in the long run it benefits everybody,” Mr. Feemster said. “For a long time, there were a bunch of little shops that didn’t necessarily draw a lot of foot traffic. Now we have a good balance.”

However, as food joints continue to flourish, some have concerns about the possible surplus. George Hernandez, local business owner and lifelong Claremont resident, worries that it takes away from the close-knit climate that is the Claremont Village.

“When I was young, it was a vibrant, small little community. Now it’s just spas and restaurants,” he said in a recent interview.

Though understanding that the city needs to generate tax dollars, he wonders how it might affect Claremont’s character. He poses, “What makes our community special?”

Unique, one-of-a-kind shops, food or otherwise, are part of what helps foster Claremont’s sense of identity, according to Michelle Flint, who established ZPizza, a “healthy pizza” place in the Claremont Village 6 months ago. It was unique establishments like Dr. Grubbs and Loving Hut, with specialized menus, that drew her to Claremont.

“The [ZPizza] corporation was specifically looking for areas that catered to gluten-free, diet-conscious consumers and Claremont was highlighted as a good place for business,” Ms. Flint said. “We were looking for an area that would be supportive of cuisine like ours, and Claremont was it.”

Not all restaurants here have been able to weather changes in the economy, despite the local boom in food establishments. Even some of Claremont’s long-running businesses have been affected.

After more than 20 years feeding Village visitors, Harvard Square Cafe closed up shop last spring, as did beverage favorite WineStyles, and La Picoletta faces an ownership change, according to new signage affixed to the outside of the longtime Italian eatery. Escalating prices, along with other troubles, are what forced Harvard Square’s general manager Cap Peck to seek new food ventures elsewhere.

“It became incredibly difficult to stay in business,” Mr. Peck said in a previous interview, also admitting difficulty with the building’s owner.

Businesses may come and go as challenges and risks of business will continue to crop up, local restaurant owners note. But the diverse taste of Claremont consumers is part of the beauty of the town, and the wide variety of cuisine now available to them continues to fuel the downtown area, says John Solana, co-owner of The Back Abbey and Union on Yale and a third Village food venture in the works.

“Claremont residents are well-traveled and well-educated, and desire quality and sincerity in their choices,” Mr. Solana acknowledged.

Whether or not it is a sign of the tides of the local economy recovery, it is one of the reasons Claremont mainstays like Walter’s Restaurant continue to thrive, he suspects.

“People are sick of the Applebee’s and Chili’s of the world. They are looking for places with character and heart, and Claremont has that.”

—Beth Hartnett




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