We were saddened to learn that Hutch & Harris, a longtime staple of downtown Winston-Salem’s restaurant scene, has closed permanently. The popular restaurant — especially appealing during nice weather, when diners could sit on the sidewalk in front — will be missed.
At first it seemed the closing would be temporary, while the head chef revamped the menu. But more was going on behind the scenes, as owner Greg Richardson struggled with the decision to re-open. “There’s really several factors,” Richardson told the Journal’s Michael Hastings last week. “There’s a lot of new competition. There’s the (Business 40) closing. Everybody’s struggling,” he said.
“I left my hands off and wasn’t as involved with the restaurant as I should have been,” he also said.
Hutch & Harris first opened in 2008, an early pioneer in the city’s push to revitalize our downtown. The restaurant sat at perhaps the most attractive location downtown: the corner of Fourth and Spruce streets, the very heart of the city. Its neighbors included bars and theaters, making it a near-perfect dining spot.
It’s not easy to run a restaurant. Estimates suggest that between 60% and 90% of restaurants fail within their first year of operation. Success requires attention to detail, long hours of sometimes grueling work and the support of reliable employees, from the dishwasher to the cook and wait staffs. Hundreds of factors, from menu to décor, must work together to create an atmosphere that will bring customers through the door again and again. Keeping Hutch & Harris open for so long was better than many could have done.
“When a restaurant closes, people often conclude there is a virus going around that will be the death of all restaurants in town,” Carroll Leggett, a local writer who follows the local food-service industry closely, told the Journal editorial board in an email. “I don’t believe that is true at all. We have a robust culinary community and there will always be adjustments and comings and goings.”
That’s good to know. Yet downtown businesses are facing additional pressure now, with the temporary but lengthy closing of Business 40. An antique shop on South Liberty Street, Repeat Offenders, closed last month, citing a drop-off in business that coincided with the highway closing. It’s difficult to accept that residents and visitors may be avoiding our vibrant downtown because of the detours that must be navigated to get there. But it happens.
It shouldn’t. Winston-Salem regularly scores high in city rankings, and that’s largely thanks to our downtown, with its restaurants, festivals, arts and music. Offering our support now guarantees that something substantial will be here when the highway reopens in 2020.
We wish Richardson success in the future, and we hope the next occupant of that space will find the perfect formula to overcome the challenges and keep things going for many years into the future.