Restaurants hope openings sync with return to normal

  • Nigel Leeming outside the location where he will be opening a new restaurant, Murphy’s on the Green, in Hanover.

  • Tony Barnett works in the former Salt hill Pub space in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Barnett who also owns Molly's in Hanover will be opening Dunk's, a new sports bar and grill. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Alex LaCroix takes measurements for a stainless steel window in the former Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Feb. 16. LaCroix will be the general manager of Dunk’s, a new sports bar and grill. Jennifer Hauck / Valley News

  • Dunk's, a new sports bar and grill owned by Tony Barnett, will move into the former Salt hill Pub space in Hanover, N.H. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News
Published: 2/23/2021 6:16:13 PM

The options for going out to get something to eat — or for eating in — will increase sharply come spring in Hanover.

Nigel Leeming and Tony Barnett, owners, respectively, of mainstay Hanover restaurants Murphy’s on the Green and Molly’s, are each planning to open new restaurants downtown in spaces vacated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two restaurants are the first palpable signs that business operators are now turning their attention toward a post-pandemic Hanover, when foot traffic and customers return with widespread vaccination and the Dartmouth campus fully populated.

Barnett has submitted plans for a building permit to renovate the former Salt hill Pub space on Lebanon Street for a sports bar and grill to be named Dunk’s, which will seat 110 inside and 30 outside and display images from Dartmouth sports history and a “regulation-size basketball hoop” hung behind the bar.

Leeming has entered into a letter of intent with the owner of 44 S. Main St., Kurt Schleicher, to lease the space previously occupied by Market Table, which closed in October after eight years in business. To be named impasto, the approximately 100-seat indoor restaurant with an outdoor patio will feature “traditional Italian food with a culinary twist,” Leeming said.

Both restaurants have targeted May openings.

“We could have done it earlier, but we’re trying to be safe,” Leeming said.

Leeming, who has operated Murphy’s since 1992 and is in discussion with the owners of Lou’s and Boloco to launch a meal-delivery cooperative, said the pandemic has had a permanent impact on how restaurants will be conducting business in the future.

“We’ll be doing flatbreads because that’s a natural to-go item,” he said, teasing the menu item as a gourmet-style pizza. “We’ll be packaging dinners and family meals to go. Meals to go is the new normal for restaurants now. It has to be part of your business plan.”

If it seems risky to open a new restaurant in Hanover when half of Dartmouth’s students are not on campus and the college’s facilities remain mostly closed, Barnett said the challenge nonetheless has a silver lining.

“It feels like a gamble, but we’re good at what we do,” Barnett said. (In October, Barnett’s Blue Sky Restaurant Group, which also owns Jesse’s outside of downtown Hanover on Route 120, opened Snax in the former Margaritas at Centerra in Lebanon.)

“In some ways, it’s good timing. The restaurant business has never been slower and I hope will never be slower. We’re operating our restaurants with fewer team members, have gone from five managers to three,” Barnett said. “I’m not sure it’s going to bounce back like it was 2019, but I think people will want to get out, want to socialize and be with other people.”

Whether or not the Dartmouth campus will be able to fully reopen and all students return by the fall — a key factor in supporting downtown restaurants — is an open question at this time.

“Because our decisions are data-driven, we can’t definitively say when it will be safe and practical to bring back a greater number of students to campus,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said via email.

But earlier this month, Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble, in reporting that Dartmouth has received a record number of applications this year, said during a college “community conversation” webcast that while masks may still be required to be worn, “hopefully, if trends continue, we’ll again be fully open as a residential community.”

That would be good news for a restaurant that will rely on the Dartmouth community for business.

Barnett promises that the Dunk’s menu — the restaurant is named after his 10-year old son, Duncan, a sports fan whose nickname is “Dunk” — will go beyond typical sports bar fare of buffalo chicken wings and platters of nachos smothered in cheese and include a line of flat-top griddle burgers, a chilled lobster salad, mussels and a Cajun chicken sandwich “borrowed” from Barry’s Bar & Grill in Lincoln, Neb.

“We want to be the Dartmouth sports bar, the place you go after a game,” Barnett said.

The space Leeming is occupying is in a central building in Hanover’s retail economy.

Schleicher, a partner with Hanover commercial real estate owner and property manager Jay Campion, acquired Campion’s stake in 44 S. Main St. in 2019 and now owns the building at the corner of South Main and Lebanon streets. At the site, he also leases space to Starbucks as well as a Citizens Bank branch, a flower shop and barber shop in the lower level and business offices.

Schleicher noted that while there have been fewer inquiries for retail and office space during the pandemic, there has also been steady interest from parties “looking to start restaurants post-pandemic.” Despite proposals from others, “we liked what Nigel put before us. We just wanted to keep it sit-down and casual but serving good quality and accessible food.”

There were inquiries for the former Market Table space that “were more franchise, but we didn’t want to go that route,” Schleicher said.

Despite the closings of several longtime restaurants during the pandemic over the past year, “some really good things have come out of this,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said.

She noted that new retailers such as Still North Books and apparel store J.McLaughlin have hung in despite massive interruptions in their business, and new stores such as clothier FatFace and Red Kite Candy have opened in the teeth of the pandemic. Others such as chocolatier My Brigadeiro, Main Street Kitchens and Verizon retailer Amcomm Wireless either significantly expanded their space or relocated into smaller space along South Main Street to better align themselves with the harsh retail environment.

Griffin said the pandemic has fostered a “new sense of buy local, support local” among the public that has helped prop up restaurants and small businesses, which had already been losing sales to chains and online shopping.

(Going a long way toward helping these businesses, of course, has been relief or even forgone rents for a period of time by landlord Dartmouth College, which owns several of the commercial properties in downtown Hanover where stores lease space.)

“When COVID subsides and we’re back to normal, I think there will be a huge push to experience freedom again,” Leeming said. “I really believe that.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.




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