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East End, downtown restarauteurs find recipe for success

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston's downtown and East End have seen a few new restaurants pop up recently, with more on the horizon.

BBL Hospitality plans to open the Recovery Sports Grill inside the Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston (the former Charleston House hotel), which the company bought last year and is renovating.

The sports-themed restaurant will have complete a patio for outdoor dining and 40 to 50 flat screen televisions so patrons can catch their favorite team's games, said Carrie Hillenbrandt, director of sales and marketing for BBL.

"When you look around the city, there really isn't anything like that," Hillenbrandt said. "I think there are plenty of sports fans in Charleston."

The hospitality chain owns 14 hotels and 12 Recovery Sports Grill restaurants. They hope to open their Charleston restaurant next month.

On the East End, the I Rise Soul Food Café is now open in the 1500 block of Washington Street. The restaurant, which serves a variety of foods including Cajun and Creole, Jamaican foods and ribs, joins nearby restaurants The Blue Grass Kitchen, Little India, Tricky Fish, and Fruit Cake.

Also on the East End, the family of Main Kwong owner Carina Kwok plans to open a Hibachi-style grill soon in a former pawnshop next to the Washington Street eatery.

In downtown Charleston, Mission Savvy owner Jennifer Miller has opened a vegan food café and juice bar, moving the eco-friendly clothing boutique that used to occupy the space online.

Noah's Eclectic Bistro opened in April on McFarland Street. And Taylor Books owner Ann Saville plans to open the city's first brewpub in a Quarrier Street storefront.

The apparent uptick in the number of restaurants has not gone unnoticed by the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, executive director Carol Fulks said.

"I think that's very accurate," Fulks said. "There are a lot more restaurants opening."

Last year's projections were that restaurants in West Virginia would bring in $2 billion, compared to $2.1 billion projected for this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. Actual figures for last year were not available.

Restaurants employ 72,900 or 10 percent, of the workforce in West Virginia this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. By 2022, that number is expected to be 77,400, a job growth of 6.2 percent or 4,500 more jobs.

Eateries are a big part of the state's economy, Fulks said. For every million dollars spent in the state's restaurants, around 28 jobs are generated, she said.

But it's one thing for a restaurant to open - and another for it to stay open.

The Blossom restaurant on Quarrier Street closed earlier this summer; the downtown landmark was sold to new owners in 2010. Noah's, the McFarland Street bistro, stopped serving lunch last week and is now concentrating on dinner, according to the restaurant's website.

So can the capital city sustain the new restaurants and those already in business?

"No one can tell," said Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitor's Bureau, adding that restaurants tend to be fruitful when they're run well.

What is sure is that restaurants are big drivers in the area's economy, Bailey said.

Of the $47 million spent last year by overnight visitors in the Charleston metro area of Kanawha, Putnam, Mason and Cabell counties, 22 percent was spent in restaurants, Bailey said.

The more restaurants the city can sustain, the better it will be at attracting tourists, Bailey said.

"We're excited about any new restaurants," she said.

Success depends upon the restaurant, not just the community around it, economic development leaders said.

"For restaurants to be highly successful, some important factors include, high level customer service, quality food and diverse menu," said Matt Ballard, executive director of the Charleston Area Alliance. "It also helps to be a 'destination.'"

He cited neighboring restaurants Pies and Pints and Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille on Capitol Street. Pies and Pints is a destination in itself because many people first visit the Fayetteville location while on whitewater rafting trips, he said.

Ballard said in order for the city to be vibrant, it must have areas to live, work and play.

"We have the work part down," Ballard said of Charleston. "There are many businesses and jobs in the core of our downtown, though we're always developing more. 

"What needs improvement now is the live and play parts," he said. "More of the right type of house and right type of "play" opportunities, like destination eateries can absolutely thrive in Charleston and the surrounding regions.

"This is the state's capital city. We need as many retail opportunities as we can get."

As far as the East End is concerned, as long as restaurant owners work hard, the community can sustain them, said Ric Cavender, executive director of East End Main Street.

"If you as a restaurant owner [operate] a professional establishment and provide good customer service and create a destination in that particular district, you're going to do well," Cavender said. "The hardest working business owners experience success."

Luckily, he said, the East End is home to several successful restaurants/bars.

The Red Carpet Lounge (which serves lunch), Tricky Fish, Bluegrass Kitchen, Little India and Fruitcake are all located in the same area at Washington and Elizabeth streets.

"They've created a destination," Cavender said. "Not just among East Enders, not just Charleston. People are driving from outside of the county to have a beer."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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