By Rod Lee
The idea for a first-ever “Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week,” emulating one that has been a hit in Worcester for many years, is to introduce individuals who do not live in the immediate area to the many dining experiences available to them beyond the bounds of the city.
This is the word from Tom Merolli of Mendon, who is working with Paul Giorgio of Pagio Inc. in Worcester, the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and several other organizers on an inaugural edition of the event.
Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week is scheduled to occur over the first two weeks of June and will showcase restaurants from Bellingham to Webster and from Blackstone to Millbury, Mr. Merolli said. Blackstone Valley restaurants can sign on to be part of the promotion for one hundred dollars. Patrons of Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week will be offered a three-course meal for one price ($25.19).
Mr. Merolli chairs the town of Mendon’s Economic Development Committee. He is familiar with Restaurant Week in Worcester. “We were talking about it at a meeting a while ago and I thought ʽcould we do something like that in the Blackstone Valley as a way to show off our diverse cuisine options?” he said. “Since this is the first time for us, I will consider it a success if we bring in people who don’t yet know us.”
Mr. Merolli said fellow economic-development specialists from the towns of Douglas, Blackstone and Upton are helping him spread the word.
“Calabria is in,” Chamber President/CEO Jeannie Hebert said, in revealing to an initial inquiry that Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week has already attracted an important player. Given a slow response so far, however, a question remains about how many of the approximately forty restaurants across the region that Mr. Merolli has indicated are good fits for the event will agree to give it a try.
Mr. Giorgio, who publishes Pulse magazine, said he is optimistic. “We have four restaurants nailed down so far,” he said. “We are looking to get at least fifteen to start with. Worcester the first year, we had twenty and we have built that to forty-five. It’s always a challenge the first year. Restaurant people are hard to get ahold of. It takes us on average about five telephone calls and two emails to get people to agree. People are always nervous about doing something for the first time.”
Mr. Giorgio added that “we are working on sponsors. We have Pepsi and East Douglas Insurance Agency. We have a website and we’ll be on Facebook and we’ll be doing banners and ads.”
Calabria Restaurant, on S. Main St. in Millbury Center, features a delectable assortment of Southern Italian cuisine including pasta, chicken, steak, veal and seafood.
Brandon Elster who is the youthful new general manager of Calabria quickly made sure that the Ritacco and Romeo families’ establishment is included in the lineup for Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week. After showing off some paintings he had picked up to embellish the décor of Calabria before opening the restaurant for his dinner patrons on April 23rd, he said the benefit Calabria has derived from attaching itself to the Worcester restaurant scene gives him hope that a similar undertaking closer to home can gain a toehold.
“People rave about Restaurant Week in Worcester,” Mr. Elster said. “People are so set in stone with Worcester but there are a lot of restaurants in the Blackstone Valley.” As part of Worcester Restaurant Week in recent years, he said, Calabria has offered customers “four options” consisting of a choice of different appetizers (fried rice balls, for instance), entrees (Boston baked haddock is one of the most popular) and desserts. “We have included a bottle of wine with it for the same price,” he said, “and you have the option of [choosing from] our regular menu too.”
He agrees with Mr. Merolli that a Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week can bring in new clientele. Calabria is already accomplishing this. “We have a big crowd from Rhode Island that comes up 146 and a lot of people patronize the bar,” he said. “People come back for the food but also for the atmosphere. And everyone loves a three-course deal!”
Elaine Cowan, owner and chef de cuisine of The UXLocale, 510 Hartford Ave. West in Uxbridge, said she is “not sure” yet if Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week is a good idea for her restaurant. One concern she has, she said, is that The UXLocale is already “slammed” on weekends.
Like Calabria, The UXLocale has been “very fortunate,” she said, “to have people travel a bit to dine with us…from Worcester County, Rhode Island and as far as Connecticut.”
The concept of “sourcing local” is working out really well for her, she said. “In fact, better than I imagined. The challenges will always exist seasonally, but the rewards from building relationships with local businesses and farms have been twofold in both product and patronage. In the beginning, there were a few folks that would get upset if we ran out of a specific special, but the majority of my regulars understand that when we offer a special it’s a finite amount—limited and local.”
Indeed, The UXLocale emphasizes that its forte is “fresh and flavorful food made with seasonal, limited, local, high-quality ingredients at a reasonable price.”
Samuel Slater’s Restaurant at Indian Ranch in Webster is “definitely planning to participate in Blackstone Valley Restaurant Week,” Adam Klein of Callahan & Klein Communications said. “Samuel Slater’s will be a great place for people to enjoy Restaurant Week, while dining overlooking the lake.”
Also, Mr. Klein said, Mother’s Day will be extra special at Samuel Slater’s. “We’ll be offering a Mother’s Day Brunch from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and people who want to take a cruise on the Indian Princess that day can add that into their plans. Cruises are scheduled at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. There are brunch and cruise packages available and people can also choose to just purchase cruise tickets. We will also be offering a Mother’s Day dinner menu that day from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.”
Events-oriented Samuel Slater’s next Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m., will be a wine pairings dinner, featuring wines of iconic producers from Napa and the Sonoma Valley—each matched with flavors from the West Coast.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.