July 5, 2017

Main Street Bistro & Bar Leaves Many Memories For Owners and Patrons

END OF AN ERA: Original Main Street owners Sue Simpkins and her son John Marshall outside the Coffeehouse and Bakery in Kingston in the 1980s. The Main Street Bistro in the Princeton Shopping Center will be closing this fall. (Photo Courtesy of John Marshall)

When Main Street Bistro in the Princeton Shopping Center closes its doors some time this fall, it will leave many fond memories for its owners, employees, and thousands of patrons over the past 25 years.

“I think we left a mark in Princeton,” said original owner Sue Simpkins. “And we had a good time doing it. We had a great Main Street family that stayed with us for many years.”

Main Street started in Kingston in 1984 with a catering business, quickly expanded to take-out, then a coffee house, bakery, and lunch restaurant. “It was her brain child,” said Ms. Simpkins’ son John Marshall, who came on board in 1986.

They opened Main Street Commissary in Rocky Hill in 1989 to house the catering division, and then looked forward to opening a restaurant in Palmer Square.

But a Palmer Square lease agreement fell through and they had to look elsewhere. Mr. Marshall said he got the news on the July 4 weekend in 1991 that Great Tastes, a restaurant which had been in the shopping center, had suddenly packed up and left.

In October 1991 Main Street opened the section where the bar is, then, in February 1992, they opened the bistro side.

The next major development, delayed by the 2008 recession, was the Clocktower Cabana, which opened in 2010. “That space always looked like a bar to me,” Mr. Marshall commented. “Opening night was August 1 and it was 98 degrees, and my wife and I were the only people there,“ Mr. Marshall recalled.

In April of 2016 Fenwick Hospitality Group (FHG) purchased the Main Street Restaurant Group, and last week Jim Nawn, owner of FHG announced that Main Street Bistro will close, probably this fall.

“I was a customer and a fan of the bistro long before we purchased it,” Mr. Nawn said. “However, despite attempts to upgrade many aspects of the experience there С the menu, the energy, the well-worn space С we did not see an impact on guest counts and became less optimistic that it would attract new customers. As we approach the end of the lease, we have opted not to renew. Sadly, we have decided to close.”

There is a plan to retain staff by placing them in the group’s other restaurants, and, according to a press release, FHG remains committed to Main Street Catering and Events, which continues to be a thriving business.

FHG also announced that it has signed a lease at 277 Witherspoon Street to create a new 5,000-square-foot restaurant called Two Sevens in the rebuilt former medical professional building next to the Avalon apartment complex. FHG will also be opening the Cargot brasserie later this month next to the Dinky Bar and Kitchen in the new Arts and Transit neighborhood.

As Mr. Marshall reflected back on his ownership of the Main Street Bistro, he noted, “We had something for everyone. We always felt we were delivering food for food’s sake. We didn’t want to be just a special occasion place. We did an excellent job of doing what we intended to do.”

But he added that it was time to pass the baton. “Main Street was too big to be a small business but too small to be a big business,” he said. “The opportunities are still there, but it was time to move ahead.”

Ms. Simpkins, who has retired and now lives in Point Pleasant, concluded, “We miss it. We made good friends through the business, and I don’t regret a minute of it.”