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Thayer expands food, service options

New virtual reality locale allows students to play video games, use Google Earth technology

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As students return from summer recess, they’ll find Thayer Street slightly altered from when they last left it. With a selection of new businesses both operational and impending, the hub of traffic and commerce continues to change its face.

UMelt, the aptly named grilled cheese establishment, opened its doors on Thayer Aug. 28, taking over the space formerly occupied by Nice Slice Pizzeria. The restaurant had a quiet opening, preferring a modest approach as opposed to great fanfare, said co-owner Jonathan Kaufman.

“So far, reception has been good, people seem to like the space and really like the food,” Kaufman said, adding that the store’s commitment to composting just about all waste created on the premises has been a popular facet of the establishment.

UMelt’s menu is identical to the menu at its downtown restaurant, but both were changed slightly to celebrate the opening of the Thayer Street outpost. The “Pepperjack” for instance — comprising pepperjack cheese and homemade tomato jam — is already giving the chain’s most popular offering, the “White Trash” sandwich, a run for its money.

Next door to UMelt is now b.good, a Northeast chain that prides itself on offering food with “roots.” Operating out of the space once held by Thayer staple Johnny Rockets, the business offers a menu that changes seasonally based on the availability of certain produce.

The Elizel Burger — seared asparagus, grilled red onion, red pepper aioli, sharp cheddar and toasted breadcrumbs — for instance, has given way this fall to the Sal Bacado, a seasonal offering which includes local corn salsa, bacon and avocado.

There is also work underway on some district additions that have yet to come to fruition. Heng, a Thai cuisine restaurant, has obtained a license to open in the English Cellar Alehouse space on Angell Street. While signage for the restaurant can be seen outside its slated location, its exact opening date remains unclear.

In a business plan submitted to the Providence Board of Licenses, the business owners laid out a plan to offer Thai food — and liquor — to residents of the East Side. The menu submitted to the board includes Thai staples like chicken satay, pad Thai and a variety of curries, as well as wok and other noodle offerings.

Heng will have to carve out a niche of its own on a street populated with unique Asian cuisine — such as Soban, Den Den Korean Fried Chicken and Shanghai — but the addition of a Thai establishment is something of a novelty for the area.

Work is also moving forward to open Vivi Bubble Tea in the small space located underneath Ben & Jerry’s. The fledgling business will have to compete with Kung Fu Tea and other Thayer Street restaurants already offering the Taiwanese treat.

Not all developments on Thayer are culinary in nature. An eyebrow threader has set up shop above the former Nice Slice location, offering a new service for Thayer.

In addition, a virtual reality lounge has also gone into business on Thayer. Base Station VR Lounge operates five VR stations at its location above Kartabar, each offering a number of games and experiences for users, said owner Nidal Battikha. From Google Earth to games like Solus and Fruit Ninja, patrons can reserve a spot or walk in for an experience that defies reality.

While Thayer has seen turnover in some of its storefronts in recent years, the benefits of the location continue to draw businesses there year after year, Thayer business owners said.

“We’re close to the colleges and residents of the East Side,” Battikha said, adding that “the people in the Thayer Street district seem to be good at building a community among merchants as well as connecting to the broader community.”

“I walk my dog on Thayer almost every night,” Kaufman said, “Seeing all the businesses on the street, being a business owner myself and having it be a part of my backyard; it’s been a dream of mine to open up a store here.”


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