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Metro, News

Chinatown and Metro Mart expand amid pandemic financial troubles

The two businesses plan to open additional space in coming months

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2020

Chinatown’s owners have acquired the storefront formerly home to Durk’s Bar-B-Q. In addition to expanding the physical space, Chinatown also plans on expanding its menu to include sushi and rice bowls.

Despite financial difficulties stemming from the pandemic, two businesses on Thayer Street are expanding their physical spaces. 

Chinatown on Thayer and Metro Mart, located at 277 Thayer St. and 221 Thayer St., respectively, have both leased the storefronts adjacent to them and are expanding their businesses. The restaurant and convenience store are undergoing renovations that will likely finish within several months, according to their owners.

Chinatown will move into the space formerly occupied by Durk’s Bar-B-Q at 275 Thayer St. after renovations to the space are completed, which owner Mike Boutros estimates will be in January 2021. The restaurant’s square footage will double, from 1,200 to 2,400 square feet, in its new space next door, Boutros said. 

Boutros plans to start a new restaurant in Chinatown’s current space, though he has not decided yet what it will be. 

Chinatown will add sushi and rice bowls to its menu once it moves into the new space, Boutros said. The new space will have 40 seats, compared to 15 in the current restaurant, and have a larger kitchen area.

Renovations began in May, but Boutros initially leased the additional space in late February before pandemic restrictions took effect in Rhode Island. The pandemic made it difficult to obtain proper permits for construction, Boutros said, and the site is restricted to only two workers at a time. 

“Nobody goes inside (the site) without wearing a mask,” Boutros said.

The pandemic has also caused financial strain for Chinatown, like most restaurants on Thayer Street and beyond.

Boutros said earlier on in the pandemic, the ingredient costs increased — for example, the price of beef and pork doubled. Plus, he added, many of his staff did not feel safe working during the pandemic. 

Still, Boutros believes that the additional space will be financially viable for Chinatown in the long run, and he is confident that customers will continue to come no matter what.

“People like our food,” Boutros said. “We buy the top quality.”

Rath Rith, who has worked at Chinatown since it opened in 2018, said he believes that “branching out will be better for business.” Rith added that there is often a line stretching outside of the restaurant down the street, and he does not believe that will change with more space.

In fact, he said that the additional options like sushi and rice bowls might bring in even more customers.

Down the street, Metro Mart is also increasing its offerings with a larger space. Owner Roshan Baral said he plans to use the space for pre-prepared food, a deli counter and some fresh produce. He also wants to stock new products like kimchi and dried noodles. 

“We want to be a little grocery store where you can find a little bit of everything,” said Baral, who has owned Metro Mart for nearly a decade. 

Baral leased the space next door at 219 Thayer St. after Seven Creamery closed. He started renovating the space two months ago, and hopes to open the expanded store by Nov. 1. 

Metro Mart is currently cramped, Baral said, and additional space and new options will help business.

The pandemic brought hard times for Metro Mart — Baral said that business is down nearly 50 percent since March, and he’s had to cut hours for employees. Like Boutros with Chinatown, Baral also had trouble securing permits for his renovation.

“Since the pandemic started, we have made no money,” he said.

He has had to dig into his personal savings to keep the business running and to afford the renovation. Still, he is confident that his investment will pay off. 

“We’re hoping the hard times are over,” Baral said.

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