Two months after its grand opening, The Mercantile is already becoming an iconic restaurant in downtown Worcester.
Since the restaurant opened on April 4, it has been constantly busy, filling up within 30 minutes of letting customers through the doors, even on weekdays, according to staff. Employees have even overheard conversations among strangers about their meals there as far away as Cape Cod, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“It’s nice to see even people this far away hearing about who we are and what we do,” said Adam Dorey, chief operating officer of Broadway Hospitality Group, owner of the Mercantile, and who took such a conversation in West Hartford, Connecticut. while two weeks ago. “The only place I can think of in New England where you’ll see something of that ability is Boston. It’s not Hartford and it’s not Providence. I think we’ve made a very bold statement as a brand. and as a business putting this here.
The Mercantile has been a long time coming, with BHG first announcing the restaurant in 2019. It’s the largest restaurant owned by the company, which also operates the Tavern in the Square chain and several other independent brands.
The 13,000-square-foot, two-story space seats 500 people and features two bars and a rooftop terrace right in downtown Mercantile Center. Huge indoor windows that open in good weather give the whole restaurant an al fresco dining feel.
“We have created an environment that is accessible to everyone,” Dorey said. “From the first floor dining room where guests can focus on a quieter atmosphere and intimate dining experience; to the people in the bar on the first floor who want to be part of this dynamic, fun and energetic environment; until when you go upstairs you have a separate part of the restaurant for events and private functions; to the patio of the roof terrace.
This atmosphere has lent a hand to a more expected customer experience in big cities.
“The first thing every guest says to me when they sit down at the bar is, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m in New York or Boston,'” said bartender and marketing assistant Brooke Ames . “Worcester haven’t had anything like that, so it’s cool to be a part of it.”
The menu is designed around a modern American tavern theme, according to chef Michael Morway, who heads menus for all of BHG’s independent brands. Trending items range from bar snacks, pizzas and burgers to upscale dinner dishes like steak.
“We’re still trying to find our bearings,” Morway said. “We basically adjust every week here to understand what people in Worcester want. … We want it to be accessible from 21 to 65 or 75 years old. Especially if you come here on weekends, sometimes the crowd is different from top to bottom, and we just have to try to stick to that high quality, freshly prepared, but not pretentious food.
Popular items so far have included the double patty burger and pizza selection, including the Detroit-style gluten-free pizza, which Morway says is one of the best gluten-free pizzas he’s tried.
The drinks menu also has something for everyone, with craft cocktails, international wines and local draft beers. Those coming with friends can enjoy an 80-ounce margarita tower, which has proven popular on the Mercantile’s social media pages.
The central location of the restaurant helped attract customers. Just steps away are the DCU Center and the Palladium, while the Worcester Red Sox bring in hungry sports fans before and after games.
“The WooSox was a surprise. It seems a bit far, but it’s not that far, so you have to look at the timetables. Before the game it’s really busy, and right after the game we have another rush,” Morway said. “We have to keep an eye on all the concerts and comedy shows. They massively affect our business.
Meanwhile, private events have also proven popular. While most restaurants take a few months to start receiving buyout requests, the Mercantile already has a few on the books, including for the Democratic state convention this weekend, according to the director of the BHG Marketing, Bethany Rioux.
“If we had allowed it, we could have booked private events for six months before we opened,” Rioux said.
The future looks bright for the Mercantile. They launched a full brunch menu a few weeks ago to great customer reviews. They also have city approval to open an outdoor patio in front of the restaurant doors and may branch out to serve lunch in the future, but Dorey said they are focusing on acclimatization for now before to diversify further.
“Whatever we do, we want to do it very well,” he said.
- Harpoon Worcester Beer Garden will open in Mercantile Plaza on Thursday, serving Harpoon drafts and local beers
- Chip Norton is selling the 2 Mercantile St. property, home to new ‘The Mercantile’ restaurant, for $5.5 million