October 1, 2018

Let’s get creative

In the last decade, Central Massachusetts has become a hot spot for creative restaurateurs, brewers and distillers growing their locally owned establishments. Who knew that's where we'd find a niche that's really building the region's brand.

While established leaders like the Worcester Restaurant Group – owners of the legendary Sole Proprietor, 111 Chop House and VIA Italian Table – and Westminster's Wachusett Brewing have been doing their thing for more than 25 years, today's vibrant scene is being fed by a whole new generation of artisans and entrepreneurs. Attractive rents, nearby agricultural resources and an overall high quality of life have combined to make the region's food & drink industry boom – and the word is getting out.

Making it in the restaurant business has always been a dicey proposition, with many starting with a penchant for cooking but little acumen for running a business. Industry leader Michael Covino and his Niche Hospitality Group in Worcester have proven you can be creative and run a successful multi-location business. Now entrepreneurs like Jared Forman, the co-owner and chef behind Worcester restaurants deadhorse hill and simjang, are teaming with local farmers to create unique cuisine hitting the refresh button on a daily basis.

While everyone's competing for customers, stories of collaboration among local brewers is almost legendary, and even in the restaurant business, leaders like B.T.'s Smokehouse's Brian Treitman of Sturbridge are becoming known for coaching and advising other small business owners on how to manage a sustainable enterprise. The stories go on throughout Worcester County: Rick Walton opened the Gardner Ale House to satisfy his passion for beer-making and now has developed his own retail brand in Moon Hill Brewing; power foodies Robert Fecteau and Avra Hoffman turned a passion of selling fresh-baked bread out of their car into the Canal District's cornerstone eatery BirchTree Bread Co.; and the owners of Charlton's Tree House Brewing continue to work eight days a week riding the magic wave of their national reputation for award-winning brews. The list goes on and on, and the sustained momentum has been impressive and unexpected.

Is Central Massachusetts going to have restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide and compete with larger foodie cities? It's hard to say how wide the draw for Central Mass. gastronomical offerings can expand to, but already the region has made the pie bigger, attracted excitement, brought added media attention.

There are several elements to the success here, but affordability cannot be underestimated. Central Massachusetts is able to embrace young creatives like Forman and Fecteau where in a larger market they might be still paying their dues or running smaller, less influential operations. Being in the middle of Massachusetts farm country doesn't hurt either. Having ready access to fresh food and a built-in network to seek out more means these entrepreneurs can continue to experiment without having to stretch their supply chain too thin.

Much as been made of Worcester's cultural resurgence in the past decade, and the underpinnings of its success are in no small part due to the strength of new restaurants and breweries. Indeed, this is a moment we all ought to appreciate in how the creative economy is thriving in Central Massachusetts. We are having our cake, and a good beer to boot.


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