Gourmet Heaven on Weybosset Street in downtown Providence looks like a Manhattan deli, from the giant salad bar and steam table, to the tiny seating area perched above the shelves and wide array of chicken cutlets piled in the refrigerated counter.
Unlike delis in the Big Apple, however, Gourmet Heaven can’t stay open all night, a source of frustration for owner Chung Cho and other Providence food-business proprietors who want to serve the late-night crowd.
While Providence’s entertainment sector has grown with its downtown and student populations in recent years, the city has kept strict limits on businesses staying open after 2 a.m.
“I don’t know how Providence can advance as a city when we treat our businesses like they are in elementary school,” said Rep. John J. DeSimone, D-Providence, an attorney who represented Gourmet Heaven in its unsuccessful bid this summer to stay open all night. “They should be granting these licenses and allowing these businesses to flourish and then if something happens take them away.”
The city’s aversion to 24-hour eateries stems in part from past epidemics of nightclub-related violence, an issue city and industry leaders are still wrestling with.
Yet business owners wonder what makes Providence different from other cities that have allowed 24-hour businesses for years and avoided lawlessness and crime.
And as the city increasingly leverages its cultural assets to attract new residents and businesses, restrictions on additional amenities for those residents have come under scrutiny.
DeSimone said Gourmet Heaven would “most likely” appeal the decision on grounds that there are some establishments allowed to operate around the clock and the Providence Board of Licenses’ denial was arbitrary.
Even among neutral parties in the Gourmet Heaven debate, there is a sense that a 24-hour live-work environment is in the city’s not-too-distant future.
“We want to be where young, entrepreneurial professionals are and the old model of 9-to-5 work hours is changing – someday that won’t be the majority,” said Frank LaTorre, director of the Providence Downtown Improvement District and member of the Hospitality Resource Partnership, a group of nightclub industry, institutional and community leaders working to clean up downtown nightlife. “They are up later because it’s a cosmopolitan scene. We are getting very close to that point because of all the progress we have made as a coalition to get a handle on public safety.”