A live mariachi band will play when a new downtown Mexican restaurant opens. Steps away, a Lebanese restaurant offers another new alternative. Soon, a hip tapas restaurant and wine bar, perfect for those looking to relax after work, will open in the Musgrove Building.
Call it recession, Andover style. Even as some businesses continue to use the dreaded R-word, the downtown is about to welcome three new ethnic restaurants.
"It's very positive downtown, lots of momentum," said Planning Director Paul Materazzo. "We're very happy about this."
He said there are two key reasons for Andover's positive economic news happening downtown.
"First, Andover is a great place to be," he said. "And the Main Street reconstruction is complete. That's very important."
That caught the attention of Daniel Vargas who owns Casa Blanca restaurant, a Mexican restaurant on Route 125 in North Andover. He just signed a lease to open a Mexican restaurant on Main Street, in the second-floor location where Serene was located and Vincenzo's before it. He plans to open the restaurant in March and will not close his North Andover restaurant.
"I even like the sidewalks outside," Vargas said of his new space. "I just love the building...even my wife said I love it too much."
Vargas, whose father owned two restaurants in Mexico, said many of his current customers are from Andover. "Now, they won't have to leave Andover," he said. "I will get a mariachi band for my opening because everyone is happy."
Yella, the new Lebanese restaurant on Post Office Avenue, has already had its soft opening.
"We're excited," said Danielle Berdahn who owns the restaurant with her chef-husband, Carlo Berdahn, a native of North Lebanon. "Ample, simple and exciting," is how she described her Lebanese-inspired menu.
Carlo Berdahn formerly worked at the catering company, The Catered Affair, and says catering clients included Red Sox owner John Henry, former First Lady Laura Bush and state senators.
Yella is open for lunch, dinner and brunch on Sunday. The Berdahns donated 10 percent of every entree sold on their opening night on Tuesday, Nov. 17, to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank.
Across the street in the Musgrove building, Matthew Morello of Morello Hospitality is planning to open Bin 28, a wine bar and restaurant. He filed plans in the town's planning office last Wednesday, Nov. 12, to open a "tapas wine bar," or a small plate restaurant.
"In an economy like this, it's time to invest," said Morello, who was managing the restaurant at Andover Inn with his wife, Alison, until it closed for renovations earlier this year. "This will be a nice place to meet friends, gather and get a bite to eat."
Morello is hoping for a spring opening for Bin 28, which will use 3,000-square-feet and offer 28 different wines.
Musgrove landlord Rep. Barry Finegold said he is excited about the new restaurants coming downtown. "People in town really want this," he said, noting that both Yella and Bin 28 hope to offer outdoor seating in the good weather.
He proposed changing the street name for his new tenants from Post Office Avenue to Andover Place. The idea was presented to Selectmen this week.
"There's been no post office there for like 100 years," said Finegold.
Meanwhile, Materazzo said downtown business changes are just beginning.
"If you ask me, this is just a start," Materazzo said. "We want restaurants to play off each other and I think they will. It's starting to happen."
Re/Max realtor Kevin Baroni, who closed the Vargas deal, agreed that the completed Main Street reconstruction project is important to tenants. There's a new downtown momentum, he said.
"Now, we just need some office workers to fill vacant office space and walk to these places," Baroni said. "That would be great."