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Getting to Downtown restaurants these days often requires a hop, skip and a jump ... and nothing more, if you’re lucky. With ongoing construction from Project 180, construction of the Devon World Headquarters and work on SandRidge Energy’s campus, hungry Downtown denizens have had to work for their food.
Despite numerous street closures, safety cones, and rerouted and often confusing pedestrian paths, only one casualty has emerged. In late March, Trattoria il Centro closed its doors. As one of the pioneers in Downtown dining, the eatery at 500 W. Main weathered many years alone in that corner of Downtown, but with the streets around it ripped up, diners had trouble even finding how to get inside. Signs set up to direct pedestrians were placed, but with meal-seekers at times required to leap over a work area, many found it hardly worthwhile.
Owners Maggie Howell and Christine Dowd say Project 180 led to their doors closing.
In the weeks leading up to the closure, the restaurant still drew a crowd on nights the Oklahoma City Thunder played, and available tables were scarce before the game, but it still wasn’t enough to keep them afloat. The pair will continue to run their catering business, Aunt Pittypat’s.
Jane Jenkins, executive director of Downtown OKC, has listened to business owners’ concerns, and at times, she’s been a shoulder to cry on. She says construction projects came as no surprise, and most business owners adjusted their business models to accommodate the upheavals.
“We’re trying to do everything we can possibly do to help the businesses through the construction,” she says. “It is what it is, and businesses just have to plow through it.”
Those efforts have included its “Eat Constructively Downtown” promotional campaign to encourage diners to frequent restaurants impacted by construction, employee appreciation weeks with free coffee promotions at businesses, and handing out parking vouchers for merchants to give to their customers for parking in cityowned garages.
Some restaurants, such as Dimitri’s Peacock Greek America Restaurant, have been Downtown staples for years. For Dimitri’s, it’s been 37 years, the last 25 of which have been at 517 W. Reno.
Owner Michael Komis says he saw a major slowdown when construction began in 2010. Fortunately, the area in front of his eatery was one of the first finished last April, and business picked back up to meet and often exceed preconstruction levels.
Others have decided to set up shop Downtown because of the construction. Devon opened Nebu at its corporate campus in March. Hardly immune to construction, Devon employees and members of the community were welcomed inside, if they could navigate their way. As streets and sidewalks are gradually finished, diners have found it easier to get to Nebu.
Another new eatery, Flint, opened in May on the Colcord Hotel’s first floor, in a space previously occupied by La Baguette. After an extensive renovation, the upscale American restaurant opened under the watch of Williams and Associates Hospitality and Chef Kyle Cowan.
Just up the street to the north of Flint, in the First National Building, a branch of Cafe 7 is set to open this summer, serving lunch five days a week. The original Cafe 7 opened in 2008 at 14101 N. May. The highly visible space at the corner of Robinson and Park avenues was occupied for many years by the Buzz coffee shop, Wood’s Floral and Copelin’s Office Center.
Cafe 7 owners J. Mays and Chris Kana leased 3,331 square feet on the ground floor of the historic tower. With Robinson literally destroyed when they first looked at the space, Mays didn’t see a ditch, he saw opportunity.
“All that construction is aimed at growth, and so are we,” he says. “That’s why we wanted to be part of Downtown.”
–Photos by Shannon Cornman