Chez Albert will be 4th restaurant to close in Amherst in recent months

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-16-2018 12:38 PM

AMHERST — A bistro serving French-style comfort food for 13 years will end its run next month, another in a line of restaurants in Amherst that have closed in recent months that have largely catered to year-round residents, visitors and foodies.

“Everyone saw us as a nice place,” said Chez Albert owner and head chef Paul Hathaway, who opened the restaurant at a small storefront on South Pleasant Street in 2005 before moving to the current larger space at 178 North Pleasant St. in 2011. “Then we became the special occasion place.”

After May 25, Chez Albert will become the fourth Amherst sit-down eatery to depart the town’s dining scene, following the Lumber Yard on Main Street last summer, Fratelli’s Ristorante on Boltwood Walk last fall and Bread & Butter on Cowls Road this winter. What all four have in common is a perception of upscale menus with unique offerings.

Even though his business had been on the market for the past few years, Hathaway said he never had a sense closure was imminent because of the support he has received from the community. After this past Valentine’s Day, though, he noticed a dip in customers.

“Mostly the fact is that business has plateaued and we’re not making enough to sustain the business,” Hathaway said.

Like any restaurant in a college town, Hathaway said he’s had to walk a fine line between serving those who make their homes in town long term, other area residents and the families of students, and the thousands of undergraduates who are more likely to seek out meals that are inexpensive and quick.

“Right now it’s tough to rely on just one or the other,” Hathaway said, noting that professors and graduate students were among his most frequent patrons.

General Manager Emmanuel Proust said Chez Albert faced especially tough winters and summers, but even with the spring semester in progress, only a handful of people have been coming for recent lunch hours.

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Geoff Kravitz, economic development coordinator for Amherst, said one of his priorities is to understand the reasons businesses come and go. Though he has noticed that the town has lost restaurants that specialize in specific fare, he remains confident in the industry.

“I’m thinking it’s not indicative of a trend, but it is something I’m keeping an eye on,” Kravitz said. “There are still a lot of high quality restaurants in Amherst.”

Just in downtown, Kravitz points to Osteria Vespa, located next to the Amherst Cinema, Johnny’s Tavern on Boltwood Walk and 30 Boltwood at the Lord Jeffery Inn, as well as Judie’s and The Monkey Bar/Bistro 63, both on North Pleasant Street.

Jonathan Welch, whose Osteria Vespa opened in 2015 and specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, said operating a high-end restaurant in Amherst is the same as elsewhere.

“Restaurants are a challenge no matter what community you’re in,” Welch said.

Proust still has confidence in the dining scene. “There will be places to go, but it just won’t be Paul’s cooking,” Proust said.

Hathaway said Amherst has a small but ample restaurant community and that putting out a good product, no matter how large or small a space is, can be done, pointing to the tiny Lili’s Restaurant across the street as offering excellent Chinese food.

Kravitz said the restaurants that have closed have their own circumstances. Fratelli’s Ristorante on Botwood Walk for instance, was never able to get a buzz around it following the disruption caused by the natural gas moratorium, which forced its owners to install a propane tank on the site and delay its opening.

Lumber Yard Restaurant on Main Street, which had a unique, upscale menu, closed after six years, with the owners focusing on a seasonal restaurant on Nantucket.

Bread & Butter on Cowls Road shuttered after three years in a still developing Mill District in North Amherst.

Kravitz said not all is bad from closings, noting that vacancies give others opportunities.

“Sometimes for new restaurants to pop up others have to close,” Kravitz said.

In fact, the Chez Albert site, which was renovated several years ago and gave Hathaway a bar and an outdoor patio, will soon become home for Share Coffee, the former Rao’s, which will move from its longtime in the Oddfellows Building on Kellogg Avenue.

“It’s great we’re able to pass this space over to another small, local business,” Hathaway said.

Hathaway said he is pleased that announcing the closing provides customers ample time to use gift cards and to stop by.

“We’re giving the community one last time to come in,” Hathaway said. “We’re thankful for all our regulars.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>