It’s difficult to think of the day Providence Coal Fired Pizza held it’s grand opening without remembering a more spectacular event less than a block away, where 38 Studios LLC laid off all its workers while the new restaurant was dishing out its first pies.
“Of course it was disappointing,” said Providence Coal Fired General Manager Michael Santos about the loss of nearly 300 potential customers at 38 Studios just as his restaurant was opening its doors. From the sparkling, but quiet, dining room in a newly renovated ground-floor space in the Conrad Building on Westminster Street, Santos acknowledged that having so many office workers nearby made the downtown location more attractive.
“It hurts with the lunch crowd, not having them,” Santos said. “We’re doing well, especially at night with the full bar. But we still have to find a way to fill this place at lunch.”
While much of Rhode Island is still feeling outrage at the potential loss of more than $100 million in state-backed principal and interest on loans made to 38 Studios, the pain around Empire Street is more acute.
The area’s lively restaurant and bar scene has grown in recent years and was buoyed by the arrival of so many well-paid, creative types to the former Blue Cross & Blue Shield building when Rhode Island lured Curt Schilling to town with a $75 million loan guarantee.
For most of them, the bankruptcy has brought the area back to the way it was three years ago when One Empire Plaza was vacant.
“It was good while it lasted,” said Robert Franco, owner of Café La France, the breakfast and lunch counter right across the street from One Empire Plaza. “Now it’s very slow. It’s back to the way it was when the building was empty.”
Franco has let go two workers since 38 Studios’ bankruptcy as business has dropped off 50 percent.
“It came at a bad time, when all the colleges are out,” Franco said. “We’ll survive. This place has been here for 20 years.”