From the Daily News-Record
|First Of Five Restaurants Scheduled For ‘09 Opens|
|By Andrew Jenner|
HARRISONBURG – Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint led the charge. Its opening this past weekend, just in time to catch the crowds at the MACRoCk music festival, made it the first of five new restaurants scheduled to open downtown sometime in 2009.
“This is something that my business partner and I have always wanted to do,” said Aaron Ludwig, a co-owner of Jack Brown’s. “We definitely think there’s a niche here.”
The new restaurant’s menu lives up to its name, and also includes fries and some specialty hot dogs, he said.
Ludwig, who also owns Function 4 Sports, said he and a childhood friend, Mike Sabin, created the Jack Brown’s concept in 1985. Now, 25 years later, the pair decided to dust off the idea.
They tapped their wide experience in different restaurants and bars for inspiration, and decided the time and location was right.
“We figured if we like this place, everyone else will too. There’s a lot of cool, unique stuff in there,” said Ludwig, whose beer can collection is part of the small restaurant’s décor.
The next scheduled downtown restaurant opening will be Union Station in the old Wetsel Seed building on West Market Street. General Manager Cassandra Baker said she plans to open the restaurant, which will serve traditional and original dishes, by the end of July.
Within a month after that, two more openings – Beyond and Pennybackers – are planned.
Beyond will be located in the old Spanky’s building on West Water Street and is currently scheduled for an August opening, said owner Prasert Saesow. The restaurant will serve Asian and other international cuisine.
Tammy Brown, owner of Pennybackers, is also planning on an August opening for her new eatery on East Water Street. Named after an original owner of the building, Pennybackers will serve soups, salads, sandwiches and other entrees on weekends.
The final restaurant planned for downtown is a Caribbean eatery on South Mason Street. It will open within the next few months, said Rene Chavez, whose wife will be the primary operator.
Add to that several other eateries that have opened downtown in the last year or so – Franklin’s Wine Bar & Café & Wine Bar at East Market and Mason streets, and Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine on North Main Street – and you have the makings of an honest-to-goodness trend.
‘”The downtown area is increasingly being viewed as a dining destination,” said Eddie Bumbaugh, the executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.
Bumbaugh called the 22 food establishments (a figure that includes places like Kline’s Dairy Bar and Shank’s Bakery) now in operation downtown “a significant number” that will soon be significantly larger.
He said that one of the biggest benefits of a busy downtown restaurant scene is its power to attract people – and their dollars – to the area.
More people downtown means a friendlier climate for a diverse group of retailers, said Bumbaugh, who considers a busy retail economy a final link to creating a livable, vibrant downtown. With the number of downtown dining options growing, Bumbaugh expects new retailers to soon follow in the restauranteurs’ footsteps.
“Having that many more restaurants downtown is a very good thing because it makes downtown a dining destination for Harrisonburg,” said Betty Hoge, an assistant professor of business administration at Bridgewater College.
“Clustering” of similar businesses is a good thing for the restaurant industry, Hoge said.
When lots of restaurants open in the same general area, said, their synergetic draw tends to be good for each individual establishment.
Still, the proliferation of restaurants isn’t necessarily unqualified good news for a revitalizing downtown, Hoge said, as restaurants can have a higher failure rate than other businesses. Estimates on this figure vary considerably, but industry officials say about 10 to 15 percent of American restaurants fail each year – the majority of which have been open less than three years.
A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Business Assistance said his agency estimates that about one-third of new restaurants in the state fail within their first two years.
‘Right Step’ For Area
Hoge characterized the proliferation of restaurants downtown as generally good for the workforce. She said they create a variety of jobs, from well-paid management jobs to service jobs that, once tips are accounted for, can provide a decent income. She also said restaurants create good job opportunities for people looking for part-time work or supplemental income.
Owners at several of the new downtown restaurants said they’re glad to be part of a crowd.
“I think that this is just the right step for downtown … It’s exciting,” said Baker, the Union Station manager.
Ludwig, the owner of Jack Brown’s, said he appreciates the camaraderie he’s found between restaurant owners downtown.
“It’s a good feeling to be a part of,” he said. “They always say, ‘The more the merrier down here.'”