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Eateries adapt to new economy

By Staff | Jun 26, 2009

Maria Allen, center, owner of Maria’s Taquiera on German St., hopes low prices will attract customers to her new restaurant. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

As spring turns into summer, a new portrait of the Shepherdstown restaurant scene is beginning to emerge. Shepherdstown, traditionally known for its upscale eateries, is slowly becoming a destination for cheap-eats, too. It’s one of many strategies local restauranteurs are trying as the figure out how to lure in a penny-pinching public that still wants to eat out.

One new restaurant taking this philosophy to heart is Maria’s Taqueria, at 111 W. German St.

Owner Maria Allen, 24, says her mission is to provide quick, fresh, Mexican inspired, “cheap” food, with prices for a taco starting at $2.50. Allen hopes the low prices will attract families and college students looking for inexpensive food. She points out other restaurants, like Mellow Moods and Alli Kats Moon Dogs – both also on German Street – as evidence of a growing “affordable food” movement in Shepherdstown.

Liz Gallery’s Stone Soup Bistro could also be considered a part of that movement. she has been trying to get the word out about her Thursday Tappas night, with menu items from $3 to $8. For Gallery, it’s been a struggle since the start of the year at her West German Street establishment.

“When the tourists come, between Friday and Sunday, business is good.” Says Gallery. “I’ts not what it used to be. The first two years we were open, it was like driving on automatic, but now weekday traffic is so slow.”

She has also been working with local farmers. In some cases she gets deals where farmers sell her extra produce at a deep discount.

Gallery says it’s hard for independent restaurants to get the word out about their stores, as their advertising budgets are usually small to non-existent. Facing a similar problem, the Bavarian Inn has shifted its advertisting strategy, spending less on print media, and focusing more on direct mail and e-mailing. “We’ve found that print media is just less effective than a simple e-mail list,” says Bavarian Inn Vice President David Asam.

The Bavarian Inn, probably the most well known of Shepherdstown restaurants, has been hit hard by the recession, with David Asam describing the start of the year as “terrible,” and noticing a decrease in the frequence of visits from restaurant regulars. He reports the restaurant is working with thinner profit margins, and while they haven’t had to lay anyone off, he notes that they haven’t replaced many vacancies. “Management and [the owners] family have been working a lot more” says Asam.

George Moody, owner of the Mecklenburg Inn, puts specific numbers on his business’ performance. He says that the first few months of the year, his business was only off by about $1,000 per month. But April and May were brutal for him. He reports that business was off roughly $10,000 in May, and $8,000 in April. Is he blaming the recession for this? No, not exactly. “It’s been one of the rainiest springs we’ve had in a long time. I guarantee every place in town suffers when it rains,” says Moody. “But the economy doesn’t help things.”