Thayer St. departures continue over break

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Two more Thayer Street mainstays РCaf̩ Java and The Gap Рended their leases near the end of last year, continuing a series of store closures that began with the departure of In Your Ear Records last April.

Café Java, a restaurant and coffee shop located on the corner of Thayer and Meeting streets, closed its doors Nov. 30 and is being converted into a Chinese restaurant.

The new owners, Michel Boutros and Ray Hugh, took over the space Dec. 1. Boutros’ father, Iksandar Boutros, told The Herald in December that the new restaurant, Shanghai, would likely open by mid-January.

But the process has been pushed back “by about a month” as the owners wait for permits from the Providence Fire Department, Michel Boutros said. Boutros’ family has been operating East Side Pockets at 278 Thayer St. for eight years.

Shanghai’s owners said competition from nearby restaurants offering similar food and coffee options, such as Paragon and Starbucks, may have caused Café Java to close.

Paul Anjoorian, owner of Café Java’s space at 272 Thayer St., said he was not aware of the factors that caused the coffee shop and restaurant to close.

“They just transferred the lease to the new owner,” he said.

Café Java’s owners could not be reached for comment. The restaurant’s telephone number has been disconnected.

Hugh said he believes there is sufficient demand for a restaurant that only serves Chinese food. Other Asian restaurants, such as Asian Paradise at 165 Angell St., offer many different varieties, but none of them specialize in Chinese dishes, he said.

Shanghai’s owners want to “supply the students and this whole area with Chinese food the way it should be cooked.”

Boutros said the restaurant’s price range would be “reasonable.”

The restaurant should also appeal to Brown students because “there’s really almost no healthy food on this street,” Hugh said.

The owners plan to feature an open kitchen “so everyone can see what’s going on” while customers’ meals are prepared, Boutros said.

The owners also hope to obtain a liquor license from the city by the end of February, Boutros said.

Christen Decker ’07 expressed disappointment that Café Java had closed.

“Shanghai’s got a lot to live up to,” Decker said. “The Java Burger will be sorely missed.”

Across from Shanghai, The Gap recently vacated its location at 271 Thayer St. City Sports, a chain with stores in Boston and Chestnut Hill, Mass., began moving into the space in January.

A spokesperson for The Gap, Inc. declined to comment for this article, saying the corporation has a policy of not speaking to the media regarding store openings and closings. Gene Goldstein, the building’s owner, did not return telephone messages.

Estelle Barada, a shift supervisor at Spike’s Junkyard Dogs at 723 Thayer St., said she remembers seeing notices of the impending closing go up in store windows at The Gap before Dec. 24.

City Sports could not be reached for comment. A flier on the building’s window requested job applicants, though the posted phone number did not have an activated voicemail box. The company’s Web site said the Thayer Street location would be “opening soon,” though a date was not specified.

The closings of The Gap and Café Java come amid a string of closings on Thayer Street last year, which included Esta’s, The College Hill Bookstore and In Your Ear Records.

Barada said the December closings seemed to be part of a larger trend.

“That was about the same date as all the other stores were closing in the area,” she said.

Despite this recent trend, Anjoorian said he believes Thayer Street businesses still have the opportunity to succeed because of the district’s “captive audience,” comprised primarily of college students.

But the business district also suffers from other problems that may hinder stores’ success, he said.

“I think a lot of people are afraid to go (to Thayer Street) because of the elements that hang around there,” he said.

Anjoorian would not elaborate on which “elements” he believes may drive customers away.

Hugh said he wanted Shanghai’s location because of its potential for views of Thayer Street. The owners plan to install glass windows along the entire length of the wall facing Meeting Street, he said.

Boutros said the business district has many advantages, though “parking is a problem.”

Anjoorian also said he believes a lack of parking spaces limits business opportunities.