Restaurant Roundup: Island Eateries Cautiously Optimistic for Season

With peak season just weeks away, St. John restaurant owners have their plates full preparing, renovating and adding new dynamics to their staple Cruz Bay eateries in hopes of a more successful year.

“I am being optimistic and looking forward to a stronger season this year,” said Walter Hinds, owner of Hinds Restaurant, which opened its doors in August 2008.

Hinds admitted his restaurant was affected by the economy last year but acknowledged that it could have been a lot worse.

In an effort to cater to the another season entering a slower-than-average economy, Hinds has lowered some of his menu prices and established a prix fix menu that will be offered daily from 5:30 to 7 p.m. featuring a three course meal for $38.

“My whole concept for this season is, ‘Wow,’” Hinds said. “We are also introducing our bar menu in two weeks and will have some fun prices so people can come in, have a salad or oysters on the half shell and a glass of wine in a much more fun and casual atmosphere.”

Hinds said he wants to cater to the locals and create a fun, kinetic energy at the property where people will want to come and relax ­­— perhaps during half-priced martini Wednesdays or champagne cocktail Fridays.

“I do understand the economy is very poor right now, but I want to dilute the illusion that we are only a high-end restaurant for special occasions,” Hinds said. “I want to create a cool little spot and bring some energy to the bar — there will be much lower prices than in the restaurant for sure.”

While the welfare of three island restaurants — Asolare, Paradiso and Chloe and Bernard’s — remain in question, others remained focused on improving their own establishments and are working hard to prepare for season.

Chris Meyer, owner of The Lime Inn, said there is no arguing that when a restaurant closes or opens on this island, it affects the entire community. But she said in the past few years, she has noticed that business always evens out, and when one restaurant goes, another usually comes.

“I think the key is not to count on anything to change the course of what will happen,” Meyer said. “We are just going to work really hard to be as busy as we can.”

The Lime Inn, celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, is adding a few exciting twists to its landmark establishment in preparation of its reopening November 16.

New renovations like the front courtyard’s columns and the arbor above the entrance — all built by Meyer’s handy hubby — set the scene for what promises to be an even more charming dining ambiance.

Although business was slightly down last year, Meyer said she is trying her best to be optimistic about the upcoming season and making a few changes that will give the restaurant a new dynamic.

“We are going to serve food all day instead of stopping between lunch and dinner, and we will really promote our happy hour between 3 and 5 p.m.,” said Meyer, adding that she will be back in the kitchen.

With selected drinks half-price and a bar menu featuring five to six daily specials including Meyer’s delicious homemade  pizzas, the owner said she is hoping to fill a void at the restaurant, giving it another perspective besides lunch and dinner.

Despite widespread economic woes, some island restaurants were able to dodge them altogether last year and are expecting another profitable season this time around.

“If October is any indication, we are going to do great this season,” said John Ferrigno, proprietor of ZoZo’s Ristorante perched above Gallows Bay Resort.

Unlike many of the island’s restaurants which felt the recession’s crunch, Ferrigno said last season was ZoZo’s most profitable yet.

With the same team in place this year and a new menu coming out November 4, Ferrigno is bringing in another element guaranteed to garner rave reviews this season.

“This year, we are making all of our pastas in house,” he said. “All of our pastas will be homemade — linguini, gnocchi, ravioli, parpadelle — and they are out of this world!”

La Tapa also remained profitable last year despite the economy. For the 13-year-old Spanish-inspired Cruz Bay hot spot, everything seems to get better with age — a fact owner Alex Ewald attributes to living, learning and continuously improving.

“Last year our business was actually up by 10 percent,” Ewald said. “But it just shows that we put effort into every aspect of the business.”

One of Ewald’s main focuses is retraining her old staff — she says it’s a continual learning experience and in order to get better, one needs to set higher goals.

“If you were good, that is not good enough — you have to be better,” she said. “I think especially right now, with the whole world in an economic crisis, there is no room for mediocrity.”

“Now is the time, under these circumstances, to try to push even harder because if you don’t, you are going to fall on your face,” said Ewald.

Although tourist season is not yet underway, La Tapa’s warm eatery, which has become a local’s haven for coming together for good times and even better food, has been packed with diners nightly.

“Thanks to the local support, we have remained busy,” Ewald said. “The locals are your bread and butter and if they come on a regular basis, that means you are doing something right.”

“You have to continuously impress the locals so they don’t get bored — if you can keep the locals happy and satisfy them, everything else will come automatically,” said Ewald.