Last week, I decided to make a rare healthy decision for myself and head to Saha Med Grill in College Town for one of its bangin' Greek salads. I paid the $1.50 to park on Mt. Hope Avenue, only to find a sign indicating that Saha's College Town location was closed (the University Avenue business is still open, though). As I made the profanity-laden trek back to my car, a tumbleweed blew across my path, and I wondered: What food and drink businesses are still open in College Town?
Along with Saha Med Grill, Corner Bakery Cafe, Constantino's Market, and Bar 145 have all closed over the last two years. I spoke with Cass McCrory, director of marketing and events for College Town, about why these businesses aren't succeeding in what by all accounts is a prime location, considering its proximity to the University of Rochester and the up-and-coming neighborhoods surrounding it.
College Town, which opened in 2015, does put a lot of thought into what goes into the retail space based on viability, McCrory says, but despite best efforts, there's always a mix of things that can dictate whether or not a business will work. "Unfortunately, the perception is that people think we just ask companies to come to College Town, and that's not how retail works," McCrory says. "The business has to be seen as viable — and our leasing agents are looking at market research for things like foot traffic and to see if College Town is supported enough locally. The decision is not made on a whim."
Part of the issue could be slow foot traffic. McCrory's office is in College Town and, she says, she sees a daily lack of people walking over from the University of Rochester (both from the River Campus and the medical center). Consumers have expressed interest in businesses like Urban Outfitters or an Apple store, but it could be risky for those shops if there's a lack of foot traffic in the area.
Still, there are businesses slated to go into the vacant storefronts. A to-be-announced bar and restaurant will take over the Bar 145 space on Celebration Drive. Tai Chi Bubble Tea will open another location in early 2018 where Corner Bakery Café once was and will debut ramen on the location's menu. The University of Rochester will expand its patient care services next year into the space where Constantino's Market was located.
So what is still open in College Town? With a built-in clientele from the Hilton Garden Inn and the University of Rochester, it's no surprise that Grappa (30 Celebration Drive) is still going strong. The restaurant and event space, which opened June 2015, is run by the Del Monte Hotel Group, and has an upscale, modern Italian menu. The restaurant has also added a brunch on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If there's a business that has been fueled mostly by stoned college students and neighborhood folk, it's Insomnia Cookies (1333 Mt. Hope Avenue). The cookie and ice cream delivery service has a (way too) convenient mobile app and the delivery is typically super-fast.
The Beer Market (1401 Mt. Hope Avenue) has continued to be a popular happy hour destination for University of Rochester employees and students. With craft beer still all the rage in Rochester, and the Beer Market having more than 500 different selections, it hopefully won't be going anywhere for a while.
Mexican chain Moe's Southwest Grill (1377 Mt. Hope Avenue) is still open, despite being directly across the street from a Chipotle. Two other national chains, Texas de Brazil and Jimmy John's Sandwiches, both have locations on Celebration Drive.
If you want to stay on top of the comings and goings of College Town, the location's website is collegetownrochester.com, and there is a newsletter that goes out to subscribers about new places opening as well as special events.
Boxcar (127 Railroad Street) and Three Heads Brewing have teamed up to present "A Night of Southern Hospitality" on Monday, November 13, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Boxcar. The event includes a four-course Southern cuisine dinner and beverage pairing. Only 30 tickets will be sold for this event and can be purchased for $50 on eventbrite.com.
Hart's Local Grocers (10 Winthrop Street) will host a Thanksgiving Showcase on Saturday, November 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Recipes using local ingredients from Schutt's Apple Mill, Guglielmo's, and others will be available for sample as well as a tasting of holiday beers and ciders. The first 50 guests will receive gift bag with holiday coupons and samples.
Blu Wolf Bistro (657 Park Avenue) will be celebrating its fourth anniversary on Friday, November 24. The restaurant will open at 9 a.m. on Black Friday and celebrate with a tap takeover of most of its 34 lines — new beers will be announced gradually on the days leading up to the event. Blu Wolf's brunch menu will be also be available. RSVP to the event on Facebook.
Also on Black Friday, Mullers Cider House (1344 University Avenue) will be serving Thanksgiving Leftover panini and $5 Kaneb Cranberry cider draughts.
Morton's Steakhouse (125 East Main Street) has opened downtown.
Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.