BY PAUL LEIGHTON
BEVERLY — Nikita Paras admits it looks like a trend. In the last few months, three of downtown Beverly’s most familiar restaurants have shut down and will open under new names and new ownership.
But in the Darwinian world of the restaurant business, the owner of Soma on Cabot Street has another explanation for the changeover in the city’s restaurant scene.
“It’s just natural selection, maybe,” he said.
Tryst, Mandrake and Harry’s 240, which had all been open for at least six years, have closed their doors. Tryst reopened two weeks ago as EJ Cabots. Mandrake and Harry’s 240 are scheduled to reopen as Barrel House American Bar and Prides Bar & Grille, respectively, in the fall.
Paras, in fact, bought Mandrake when it went out of business in April and will run Barrel House just two doors down Cabot Street from Soma.
Paras said the sudden turnover could be explained in part by the economic downtown of 2008, which he said forced restaurants to change or face extinction.
“We added pizza and sandwiches and opened for lunch,” he said. “We added less expensive options so you’re not spending $30 on an entree.”
Paras said his two restaurants will offer different fare — he described Barrel House as an American bistro, while Soma specializes in Mediterranean food — so they won’t compete with each other.
“I would rather open something myself than have somebody who can come in and compete with Soma two doors down,” he said.
Farther down Cabot Street from Soma and Barrel House, Tryst has reopened as EJ Cabots under the ownership of Joseph Deisley and Emilie Grant.
Deisley ran Brodie’s Pub in Peabody for 15 years but said he decided to sell due to the constant flooding in Peabody Square.
“I wanted to get into more of the eclectic-with-an-upscale-edge-to-it type of food,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a pub anymore. I think Beverly is a great restaurant scene. We have a lot of specialty restaurants in this area, so we complement each other.”
Harry’s 240, which is on Rantoul Street, has been bought by Michael Magner, the owner of Prides Pizza in Beverly Farms.
Magner bought Prides Pizza three years ago after patronizing the shop when he was a student at Endicott College. His new restaurant, Prides Bar & Grille, will open on Rantoul Street on Labor Day. He’ll also open another Prides Pizza right behind the restaurant on Park Street.
Magner said he’s excited about coming to Rantoul Street, an area the city has targeted for development of apartments and retail.
“They’re redoing the whole street,” he said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
Jennifer Lynch, who owned Mandrake with her husband for seven years before they sold it to Paras, said the ownership turnover does not mean there has been a downturn in the city’s restaurant business.
Lynch said she and husband decided to sell because Paras approached them and “it just turned out to be the right time for us.”
“I think it’s a coincidence that everyone was selling at the same time,” she said. “(The restaurant scene) will be right back where it used to be. It’s just in transition.”
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, said it’s sad to see restaurants go out of business, but she considers it encouraging for the city that none of the three locations is going to stay empty for long.
“People were in the wings waiting to open a place in Beverly,” she said.
The closing of Tryst and Mandrake does mean the loss of two of the city’s upscale restaurants, Wallace said. She described their replacements as more “mid-priced range.”
“We still have Chianti and Wild Horse at the upper price point downtown,” she said. “These new places are going to be very popular.”
Wallace said the downtown restaurant scene is still thriving at night. Beverly Main Streets and the Beverly Chamber of Commerce will attempt to promote the business even more by hosting their first Restaurant Week in October, modeled after a program in Salem. Participating restaurants will offer three courses for $25 or two courses for $15 from Oct. 7 through 11 and Oct. 14 through 18.
Main Streets is assisting EJ Cabots and Prides Bar & Grille with grants through its facade improvement program.
Paras, who in addition to Soma and Barrel House owns Wrapture on Cabot Street, said it remains to be seen how the new configuration of restaurants will work out.
“It’ll be different,” he said. “Whether it will be better or worse, who knows?”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.