Is the West Springfield restaurant scene dying? White Hut latest to close on Memorial Ave. –

Restaurant News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — White Hut and its sudden closure two weeks ago got all the attention.

But the Memorial Avenue neighborhood around the 80-year-old burger joint and the bustling Eastern States Exposition grounds has many other restaurant spaces — Monte Carlo, Hofbrauhaus, Debbie Wong — where once-successful businesses have held their own requiems in recent years.

“It’s me and the Storrowton Tavern now,” said Jeffrey Daigneau, the owner and chef at Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave.

Despite restaurant closings — or perhaps because of the lack of competition — Daigneau said his business is doing well, especially when there is a big event across the street at The Big E.

“We had our best January ever,” he said. “The weather helped.”

West Springfield restaurant
2/19/2020 -West Springfield- The building that housed the former Monte Carlo restaurant is still for lease. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

Memo’s Restaurant, 1272 Memorial Ave., a casual daytime place serving breakfast and lunch, also said it’s doing fine.

“We can’t be busier. It’s just crazy,” said Memo’s owner Dominic Pompi. “We are what we are. Steady. Solid. Always have been. We never fluctuate.”

He said Memo’s relies on fresh food, nothing “pre-fab,” in his words.

“We have a unique set of clients. They are not the chain-following people,” Pompi said.

Joe Stevens ran the former Hofbrauhaus, later called 1105 Main, which closed in November. Stevens blame chains for the struggles of other restaurants. For example, Memorial Avenue has a Chipotle now.

“Over the past 18, 20 years, when you have all these chain restaurants come to town, it makes the pie that much smaller,” Stevens said. “The population didn’t grow.”

And mom-and-pop restaurants can’t compete.

“We don’t have the marketing budget they do,” Stevens said.

The Hofbrauhaus dated back to 1935 and was the first building in West Springfield with air conditioning. Stevens closed it in April 2018 to much fanfare, selling off its German bric-a-brac. He and his wife, Liz, reopened it soon after as 1105 Main — a name taken from the building’s address on Main Street as it intersects with Memorial Avenue — with a more casual, barbecue-heavy menu.

Now that 1105 Main is closed, the building is up for sale with an asking price of $900,000. The Stevenses plan to keep running food-service operations at The Big E, but don’t anticipate running a day-to-day restaurant again.

“Time. It’s time to move on,” Joe Stevens said.

He said he’s had a few prospective purchasers start negotiations, but nothing has happened definitively.

A few blocks away, at 1020 Memorial Ave., the Monte Carlo Restaurant closed in 2017 after 83 years in business. The Monte Carlo auctioned off its goods and equipment, and while parts of the building are occupied by other businesses, the restaurant space is still for lease.

At the former Debbie Wong, 874 Memorial Ave., new owners had planned to renovate it into a new restaurant called the Rail Yard. But now, said owner Randy Rindels, the Rail Yard won’t happen, and he doesn’t know what will become of the location.

Daigneau said each restaurant that closed did so for its own reasons — whether it was changing consumer tastes, a building like the Monte Carlo or Hoffbrauhaus that was too big, or the real estate troubles that closed White Hut.

Partners Andy Yee and Peter Picknelly say they are close to finalizing deals that would see White Hut reopen with renovations and some updating that would make it more competitive in today’s crowded restaurant marketplace.

Picknelly said Thursday that he and Yee are close to finalizing agreements with White Hut owner Edward J. “E.J.” Barkett and with the Barkett family trust, which owns the real estate and building at 280 Memorial Ave.

The partners — who also saved the Student Prince Cafe and The Fort Dining Room in Springfield from closure six years ago — are still working out deals with the White Hut’s creditors. Picknelly said that part of the transaction will take more time.

“I think we can make a go of it,” he said. “The family-run restaurants are falling by the wayside. We were able to save the Fort and we are going to do the exact same thing for the White Hut.”

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