When you’re opening up a bar or restaurant, getting to know your neighborhood and making sure your establishment is a good fit is absolutely essential. I spoke with the owners of two of Providence’s newer spots to find out which approaches they took for navigating and researching their new turf.
Set to officially launch within the next month, Troop is the brainchild of Laughing Gorilla Catering‘s Jason Timothy and Leigh Vincola, Revival Brewery owner Sean Larkin, and their friend Chris Simonelli. With retro 90’s Hip Hop-meets-Panamanian-skate-and-surf-inspired décor from Kyla Coburn Designs, and offering healthy options like smoothies alongside alcohol and made-from-scratch eclectic street food fare, Troop is expected to bring a completely unique vibe to Providence’s bar and restaurant scene.
Olneyville can be characterized as an up-and-coming part of the city, and when the former Bacado space became available, the team saw their chance to finally realize the dream of having their own restaurant and bar. As long-time Providence residents, they were already familiar with the neighborhood and knew that it could be hit-or-miss as far as a restaurant destination. While looking into the reasons their two predecessors vacated, they learned that it wasn’t because of the neighborhood, but rather because both operations were larger chains whose owners were more focused on growing locations in other states.
They even did face-to-face research. “I met the owner of Bacado,” Chris says. “We had a great discussion that dove deep into what was working and what wasn’t in that space. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses were all valuable insights that we factored into our strategy and helped to bridge the gaps in our offerings.”
Another one of Troop’s owners came up with a different method to learn more about the neighborhood and understand neighboring business’s needs.“We would attend a once-a-month beer garden social for all tenants,” says Chris. “Through casual conversation, we were enlightened as to what they were hoping for in our new restaurant. This insight was extremely valuable when building our business model and service program.” Troop’s plans for smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices, for example, were partially inspired by a neighboring yoga studio.
Chris’s advice? “Get out there and meet people!”
Fortnight Wine Bar took a somewhat different approach. Its three original founders Liz McDonnell, Chris Norris-LeBlanc, and Mike da Cruz had also lived in Providence for many years and knew its neighborhoods well. They initially never dreamed of opening up downtown, because rents and stresses are higher than in residential areas like the West End. They were also hoping to cater to familiar regulars versus a high-energy late night crowd. But, when they toured the vacant space left behind by Aruba Steve’s and saw how little work it required to do over they became convinced that downtown was right.
During construction, neighborhood residents would pop in and asked questions. ”I didn’t even know so many people lived downtown!” says Liz. “As the owners, we were there and we were engaging with people. We don’t advertise at all, our only marketing is our own Instagram and Facebook for events coming up, so really the neighborhood advertising is just being present and talking to people—it goes a long way.”
Downtown Providence is populated by several upscale cocktail bars, which some might view as competition, but Fortnight knows that they are catering to a unique and otherwise unrepresented niche in the area—natural wine bars—and will often send patrons to neighboring establishments if they are looking for something different. Lately, they’ve been doubling down on this collaborative rapport by hosting occasional industry nights and serving as a go-to stop for other bar and restaurant industry professionals looking for a relaxed, unpretentious yet high-quality glass of wine or beer when their shift is over.
“We’re trying to build a community of industry people who get along. I think one thing it’s important to understand is that the more critical mass of people we can get downtown who are into this sort of thing, the better off all of us will be,” Liz says. This mentality has allowed the bar to feel very much at home in a neighborhood they had initially avoided.
“It’s a perfect spot now. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”