Not enough business to keep doors open; second downtown restaurant to close since Christmas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SALISBURY — The owners of Cooper’s have poured their last beer and served their final plate of Anthony’s Pink Pasta.
Leslie and Joseph Cataldo closed their downtown restaurant Saturday at 122 E. Fisher St. Leslie Cataldo said there simply was not enough business to sustain the large restaurant and bar.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said Monday as customers came to claim their refillable ceramic mugs from hooks above the bar.
The Cataldos owned and operated the restaurant in Salisbury’s entertainment district for two and a half years.
“It is with great sadness that we announce our closing,” they announced on Facebook. “… The many events, private parties and just chatting with you at your table are memories we hold dear and will always be cherished and remembered.”
Long-time restaurateurs and caterers, the Cataldos thanked old friends “for sticking with us through your love, prayers and support” and told new friends, “we wish to continue our friendships into the future.”
The news of the closing came as a surprise to many, including employees and loyal customers who posted more than 100 heartsick messages on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Dubbed “The Gathering Place” and decorated with the logo of a dancing dog, Cooper’s was known for craft hamburgers, gourmet mac and cheese and specialties named for sons Anthony and Dante, as well as their friends.
Cooper’s regularly offered a venue for live music and open mic night, and the Cataldos embraced the gay Pride movement and hosted several fundraisers that featured performances for a packed house.
But business was inconsistent, and weeknights often did not draw the customers needed to meet the bottom line.
Cooper’s is the second downtown restaurant to close within a month. Ethos closed in January, about a year and a half after opening at 118 N. Main St.
“I’m very sad that Cooper’s has closed, as well as Ethos,” said Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc.
The restaurant business is tough, said Lewis, a banker.
“I have seen many, many income statements of restaurants, and it’s hard to find good ones,” he said. “Restaurants that have been around for 20 years have figured out the secret.”
Las Palmas knew the secret. The Tex-Mex restaurant operated in the location for 21 years, closing in 2008. Brick Street Tavern had a short run in the space, and then the Cataldos took over. Many thought Cooper’s would be the next Las Palmas.
Other downtown restaurant owners also say business has been slow.
“The move went pretty well and we were busy up until Christmas, but from then to now there has been a huge drop,” said Judy Howard, co-owner of Uncle Buck’s. “It has really been down.”
Uncle Buck’s moved in September from a location on East Innes Street to a bigger space on South Main Street. The cold weather has kept people at home, Howard said.
Allen Terry said the weather also has had an impact on his new restaurant, Emma’s of Salisbury on South Lee Street. He recently tweaked his hours and now offers lunch six days a week but cut dinner service back to Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“I didn’t expect too much the first year, and I’m still trying to build the business,” Terry said. “I’m not too far off from my projections, and I feel like if we can make it through the winter, the spring will be good for everybody.”
Go Burrito owner Mikey Wetzel, also in his first year of business on West Fisher Street, said wintertime sales have been about half of what he was bringing in during the summer. Go Burrito has a rooftop bar, so Wetzel said he expected a drop in revenue during colder months.
Wetzel said many people in Salisbury don’t realize how many dining options they have downtown, like Cooper’s.
When people want to dine out, “just start driving downtown and then decide when you get there,” Wetzel suggested. “Downtown is the obvious destination for going out to eat.”
Go Burrito also has made adjustments to lure more customers, Wetzel said, including cutting food prices to better fit with Salisbury’s expectations. Local diners do not want to pay more than $10 a person after tax, he said, even though they would pay significantly more per meal at a chain burrito restaurant.
“Our food costs are more than 40 percent of our price,” Wetzel said. “Most chains are 20 to 25 percent.”
The loss of Cooper’s leaves brick Fisher Street and the city’s entertainment district with two fewer restaurants. Cartucci’s is still closed after suffering a fire in July, although owner Ted Aurora has said he plans to reopen in early 2014.
The Salty Caper, a bar and restaurant on South Lee Street across from Cooper’s parking lot, is still going strong, owner Gian Moscardini said.
“We’re doing great,” he said.
Restaurants are expensive to open because of the upfit cost, Lewis said. Now, with Ethos and Cooper’s closed, there are two vacant downtown buildings with new commercial kitchens including hoods, grease traps and more.
“Something will take both spots,” Lewis said. “… I’ve already heard rumblings today about a couple folks who would love to go look at (Cooper’s) space.”
The Wallace family owns the building, and Leslie Cataldo said they were generous and caring landlords.
She said as much as it hurts to leave, she hopes another restaurant will move in and find success for years and years.
“This is a wonderful place,” Leslie Cataldo said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.