Changing spaces: New owners invest in Manchester's Elm Street restaurants

·4 min read

Jun. 13—THE owner of an Irish pub on Elm Street in Manchester might be seen wearing cowboy boots at his new restaurant across the street.

Jim Pliakos, co-owner of Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant, now owns part of Bonfire Country Bar. The bar is known for its rustic decor and whimsical outdoor bar stools, which appear to give customers the rear-end of a cowboy, horse or a woman wearing polka-dot Daisy Dukes. The pictures are often shared on social media for kicks.

Pliakos joined longtime friend Patrick Mills, who has been general manager since it opened, in the partnership. Herget Hospitality Group in Maine previously owned the restaurant.

"We have always wanted to do something together," Pliakos wrote in an email to the Union Leader. "The opportunity presented itself and we dove in."

Many popular spots downtown now have new owners. Unlike Bonfire, many are changing names.

Penuche's Music Hall is now 603 Bar & Grill.

Seasons on Elm closed and will become Cheers & Beers.

Eight 66 Bar & Grill will open in the spot of the former Matbah Mediterranean Cuisine, which was famously the Elm House of Pizza back in the day, among other restaurants.

Sara Beaudry, executive director of nonprofit Intown Manchester, isn't surprised by the interest in the downtown restaurants. Business is only expected to pick up with more people wanting to get out, she said. Expanded outdoor dining also gives people more options.

Since the pandemic started, Diz's, Thai Food Connection and Industry East have all opened downtown. A new take on the Elm House of Pizza opened in the former Theo's on Elm.

"I think Manchester is a foodie city, so it makes sense," Beaudry said of the investment on Elm Street and surrounding streets.

Eight 66 Bar & Grill will bring a rock & roll theme to Elm Street, said Joshua Breth, a partner in the new restaurant. The name comes from the address 866 Elm St., and its logo will include the famous Route 66 sign. An opening is planned for next month.

"We are going for real Americana. There is nothing like that on Elm — a blue-collar place with blue-collar prices, but fancy fixtures," he said.

Breth, who owns New England Partition across the street, says there is a demand for lunchtime options. The menu will feature pizza and burgers.

Pliakos said the restaurant industry is not out of the woods from the COVID-19 pandemic yet.

"There is a desperate staffing shortage in the restaurant industry," he wrote in the email. "That alone can change the landscape. I am hopeful for a return to 'normalcy' or perhaps an even better booming downtown."

Many restaurants have faced similar challenges of hiring.

Cheers & Beers at 1055 Elm St. is being described as a bar and tapas lounge. The restaurant advertised a job fair last month. The positions included craft cocktail bartenders, bar backs, bottle service, VIP hostess, security, cooks, kitchen manager, bar manager, promoters and nightlife.

A grand opening will be announced soon, according to its Instagram account. No one at the lounge could be reached for comment.

Penuche's took on a new name after Chuck Kalantzis, one of the owners, decided to retire. The concept and menu remains similar.

"Times have changed and new concepts are sometimes not what I like or I agree to," Kalantzis wrote on Facebook.

Kevin Stevens now operates the space known as 603 Bar & Grill. He previously ran a bar with that name in Nashua.

"We are still doing the live music outside during the spring, summer and fall," Stevens said. "We are having DJs and some live music inside."

Noodz, an Asian fusion restaurant at 968 Elm St., remains closed. Red Beard's Kitchen is operating out of the kitchen space, a model known as a ghost kitchen. The meals are designed to be reheated. The meals are distributed through farm stands and directly to consumers.

Red Beard's has offered pop-up "Fried Chicken Fridays" out of the restaurant. The nights are promoted on social media. The menu includes country-fried chicken, cole slaw, cornbread and bread-and-butter pickles.

The nights have been popular, according to owner Matt Provencher.

"I've worked on the recipe for the chicken for probably three years to get it right," he said.

Another country-style bar, The Goat, is set to open on Old Granite Street this summer. The brand also has locations in Hampton and Portsmouth. The restaurant replaces Club ManchVegas.

The Goat is known for its burgers, BBQ fare and whiskey drinks. Owner Al Fleury did not return a request for comment.

While many staple restaurants remain, the new restaurant concepts bring a new atmosphere to Elm Street, Beaudry said.

"Coming downtown on a Saturday night, it is very vibrant," she said.

Pliakos and Mills also own Torched Pizza next door. The restaurant remains temporarily closed.

"We would love to reopen and be able to serve the downtown business community with lunch, but unfortunately with the lack of offices open, the business isn't there," he said. "Fingers crossed for that to change."

Pliakos agreed with Beaudry that there is a diversity of options along Elm and surrounding streets.

"The business community is really close despite being 'competitors.' For the most part, we look out for one another like a family," he said.

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