Latest Downtown Casualty: Boca Restaurant

Boca — the Main Street restaurant that, less than 2 years ago, took over the space previously occupied by Acqua — is closing its doors too.

The Mediterranean spot will serve its last meal this Saturday.

Patrick Jean — who was named manager 6 months ago — spoke frankly tonight about the owner’s decision to end operations.

“Downtown is dying,” he says. “The reason is simple: rents. Landlords want more and more money. It’s harder and harder for a small business today.”

Boca — with a commanding view of the river and a menu featuring food and wine from the coastal regions of France, Italy and Spain — is the latest in a string of Main Street casualties.

The Boca dining room and bar.

Nike, Ann Taylor and Allen Edmonds — all neighbors of Boca — have already announced plans to leave.

“A lot of people are very sad,” Jean says. “They like our food. And it’s very easy parking.” Fourteen employees — in the kitchen and dining room — will lose their jobs.

What will come next?

“Another empty space,” Jean says.

40 responses to “Latest Downtown Casualty: Boca Restaurant

  1. The destruction of Westport continues. But don’t worry, I’m sure subway or Starbucks will take over this space

  2. I’m so sad to hear this. My husband and I love Boca! I was downtown last week and was shocked by how deserted Main Street was. At 1 pm I had my pick of parking places, and every store I walked into was virtually empty. What’s to be done? I assume the root cause is a combination of sky-high rents and online competition, but are there other factors at play?

    • Mary Ann Neilson

      The P&Z take special care to preserve one of the ‘jewels’ of Westport…. downtown. Yet have allowed nearly unlimited new commercial construction on the Post Road outside of the downtown district. Soon Main Street will a Christo installation of brown paper.

      • Michael Calise

        There has been far more development in downtown than the rest of Westport. Bedford square alone added, I believe, added 90,000 +- sq. ft.
        Its February folks. Take the long view – the year is not over.

  3. name the landlords please

    • Did you go and dine there? How many times a year?

      Many times we went only to find the restaurant empty. Many can blame whoever they want, but many did not dine at Boca.

  4. Joan Tricarico

    Live music would draw people in and simple, better quality food. Perhaps a Pool Table near the bar area.

  5. It seems the Landlords know how to collect rent, but have no idea what it takes to sustain a small business. If this continues the landlords will be fighting it out for tenants and the rents will finally subside. However the rents will probably not cover the landlords leveraged position in trying to service the debt on the properties. The free market will remedy the situation but it will be painful until the solution becomes viable.

    • Really? Boca had mediocre food in an upstairs room that had such hard walls the sound was made it difficult to hear others at the table?. Then they stopped the wood burning oven that prepared great pizza.

      Why don’t you blame the restaurant owner and chef that could not attract a constant crowd? If a restaurant is empty is it the landlords fault? I don’t think so.

      No doubt the internet has hurt retail and themes that cannot attract customers will close. The GAP announced disappointing results but Athleta (owned by GAP) prospers. Yet Nike failed. Is that a landlord issue or Nike’s lack of product that customers want? Same for Boca.

      • Elina Lublinsky

        Great point.
        We loved going to Aqua regularly as a family, and were committed to give Boca a fair chance. Went there over the course of their 2 year existence many many times, and saw a steady decline of service (firstly), followed by a noticeable decline in food quality. Even my kids, who are foodies and would go out 3 times a day, given a chance, predicted this.
        Still, It’s very sad.

  6. Dorothy Giannone

    Greedy landlords
    Boca should come to Wilton….

  7. Why is this a surprise? The Old Remarkable Books has been vacant for how many decades? This is a town of landlords who, with few exceptions, simply do not care about the town or the needs of the people and stores they lease their space to. And, foolishly, it is perpetuated by lessees who believe they can pay the exorbitant rent. It is, as usual, all about money … and more money. So one restaurant after another fails.

  8. The restaurant serves good food by able staff, in a pleasant surrounding. We joke about the number of banks and nail salons but there are simply too many restaurants and they all cannot survive. Is it rent or too many choices….I suggest the former doesn’t help and the latter is the biggest reason for closing.

  9. Please make this a very good Indian, Vietnamese or Chinese (like hakasan)… something fun and different!

  10. David A. Waldman

    This has nothing to do with the Landlord or crazy rents and everything to do with sales not being strong enough to support the overhead. From what I was told the Landlord was allowing this Tenant to only pay a fraction of the scheduled rent in order to help but in the end they could not make it work. It is true that downtown Westport is home to a number of great restaurants but there is always room for more and the better they are the better it is for all of them. The trick is figuring out what is missing and trying to fill that void. Great food with great service in a great location is a recipe for success. The same old things the same old ways won’t work anymore.

    As for the slew of vacancies plaguing our downtown now, it is not all doom and gloom. The landlords are using this “down time” to make much needed structural and capital improvement. All of these vacancies are in the flood zone and have not been flood proofed. Chico’s is currently doing this work and Nike, Allen Edmunds, Ann Taylor and now Boca will follow suit.

    And yes, all these vacancies are upsetting but new stores and businesses are still opening downtown and existing Tenants are expanding. Companies like William Sonoma and Anthropoligie & Co, Savanna bee, M-eat, Whip Salon, Barbour, Wafu, Jesup Hall, Brian Lewis’s new restaurant next to bar Taco, Rye Ridge Deli, Savvy & Grace, WEST, Aux Delice and Serena & Lily, just to name a few.

    Add to that our great library which, once completed, will be a shining asset for downtown, the new offices adjacent to Bar Taco, the residences at Bedford Square, the Napa Sceens residential development adjacent to TD Bank, the condominiums being built at the old Save the Children site, the renovation of the old Klein’s building on Elm, the SWAP on Elm, the new building where Bobby Q’s was (and I hear will have a great new restaurant on the top floor) and it is clear to me that Westport will again be be the envy of other towns and will come thru this transition period better and stronger then before.

    So, please stop with all the doom and gloom. Downtown will not turn into a Christo installation. Have some confidence that the Landlords are not all morons and that rents did not cause this current cycle. They want their spaces occupied more then you do.

    • Great points. I was getting caught up in the doom and gloom above and forgot about all the other places that are opening up. Instead of complaining, people need to go out and spend money downtown. If the restaurants are empty, they can’t afford their costs — not just rent, but employee salaries, etc.

      Personally, I’d like to see more food options — things people buy regularly. Main St is a strip mall that I go to if I need some clothes, but that’s rare. On the other hand, I’m buying groceries every few days, so it’s great to see a new butcher in town. Now let’s see a fish market too. Or a cheese shop, or wine shop. And we need a movie theater! Let’s make downtown vibrant at night.

    • Good points David. While we all yearn for Westport of the past, it’s a memory now. Need to remember it’s not 1967 anymore and times change. The reality is that downtown will not fill EVERY need, but maybe picking two or three places that you could consistently shop or dine at will create a nice wave of more activity.

    • Great points David, I agree with you on all of them, although a downward reset of the av rent in the downtown area might be inevitable. This bandwagon that everyone seems happy to jump on – pronouncing downtown dead – is quite premature indeed. As for Boca, I don’t mean to trample on a business that just suffered a deafeat but we gave it a few tries and while they provided good food and service this location demands great.

  11. Fairfield has a lively and vibrant downtown with many restaurants. Some of them have been there for years. What is their secret? I would say reasonable rents.

  12. World of Cheese, Achorn Phrmacy, Klein’s, Sport Mart, Oscar’s, Remarkable Book Shop, the Ships Lantern, Westlake Chinese Restaurant, country Girl, Max’s, the Selective Eye, Gristede’s, Westport Pizza, Pack Roads, the YMCA, Welch’s Hardware, Westport Bank and Trust. A sampling of the stores and attractions that consistently drew Wesporters downtown.

    • David A. Waldman

      Westport Pizza is still downtown and doing well and I am sure they would appriciate your continued patronage. And Achorns, while not downtown is doing well at Playhouse Squre. As for the other tenants on your list, the majority closed because new big box businesses (Klein’s fell to Staples and Office Depot and The Remarkable Bookstore to Barnes & Noble and Boarders, Sport Mart fell to Dicks and Sports Authority, all of which could now fall to Amazon) and since Stanley Klien, Sidney Kramer and Dan Couglin all owned their properties, It clearly was not the rent that caused their demise. And yes, the Y is out of the downtown and missed but the library is still here and getting stronger as is the Levitt. Sadly my good friend Lee Papageorge passed away but his family brought in a new deli which helped fill that void and is thriving.

      There is so much to draw people downtown and so much more to come. Instead of focusing on what has left or who is closing, let’s focus more on who is here and who is coming to town.

  13. We ate at Boca often- and didn’t think the food was mediocre, Mr. Shuldman. It seems that Westport has an abundance of clothing stores for trendy teens, and very few clothing stores for men. Westport could use a movie theater ! Whatever happened to that idea???

    • Susan. Despite our feelings about the food we ate at the restaurant at least once a month. We believe we MUST support our restaurants so they stay in Westport.

      Some restaurants in town are always busy and it appears to me it is because people find them more appealing. Boca during the week was never busy the nights we stopped in. It has to be difficult to stay in business if few dine there.

  14. Boca knew damned well what the rent was when they moved in…had stars in their eyes that their silly, “European” menu would rope the young, newly “rich” in town. When their silly food and stupid decor, in a second floor walk up space failed to haul in the crowds, they lay the blame on the landlord…screw ’em and good riddance.

  15. I live in Fairfield County and own and operate several business operations in Middletown, CT since 1991. Main Street in Middletown is almost constantly at 100% occupancy and the street in 3-4 times as long as Main St Westport. You mean to tell me, everyone in America exclusively shops on Amazon and nothing will be bring them to Main Street in Westport? So, how is Middletown doing it decade after decade?? ( and towns like New Caanan) For those who say it’s not the rents, are mistaken. IT’S TOTALLY THE RENT!! I inquired about the Allen Edmonds location and was quoted 130/foot for 2,000 square feet. Do the math folks; that is outrageous. No one can pay that and the rest of the overhead and even think of surviving. People will still come to Main Street to shop, but the rent is keeping everyday entrepreneurs like myself from even thinking about it. To the landlords out there, half a loaf is better than nothing.

    • I worked on Main Street Westport during their hayday.. 1996-2003… recently just left my position for a store on Main St I loved working for. because you guessed it, the store is closing. The existing stores on Main Street are not compelling. The only reason I go down there is to get the ginger honey lemon tea at aux delices…it’s very depressing seeing the empty store fronts with boarded up windows. It doesn’t even resemble the Main St I grew up with and loved. The thrill is gone.

  16. Boca was in a decline for several months. The place was empty on many nights and their decision to stop serving the famous pizzas from the pizza oven was a huge mistake. People always packed the upstairs bar when it was Acqua. Sad to see them leave.

  17. So much effort spent on pointing fingers and blaming, very little on positive brainstorming solutions. I’m a “youngster” to Westport (only 20 years) but I can tell you Westport is the victim of its own brand. Most people know Westport, CT by perception. All the famous people that called and call Westport home, all the super rich residents, the arts history, etc., etc. The incomes, wealth, etc. Problem is, unlike some towns along the shore, people of means choose Westport because they aren’t interested in being flashy and throwing money around to show how wealthy they are. They want to live under the radar. But retailers and business owners make the mistake of seeing Westport as their ticket to success…wrong. Big super regional retailers and national retailers make this mistake as well, but then stay as long as they can, more as a brand play than profitable play. This false perception keeps the hopeful lined up to fill space and that artificially keeps the asking rents high and going higher all the time. What is the underlying problem? Demographically Westport skews much older than surrounding towns with vibrant downtown districts. We’ve made it our life’s mission to prevent cluster development, work force housing and residential initiatives to bring and keep younger families to and in Westport. This younger population is what drives successful downtown districts….we don’t have that segment in a density to support what everyone wants. Ok, so the solution? I’m not that smart as it would take multiple avenues to get to the result. I can say that we need to stop the NIMBY knee-jerk to any condo, work force or cluster development within reason, give incentives for downtown redevelopment to apartments above retail and yes….a parking garage. Right away we should look for senior condo or apt development so as not to overly stress the school system (even though its been proven that it adds little actual school population), but that gives our older folks options to stay in the town they love while opening housing stock to younger, growing families. Hey, why not Baron’s south……LOL, yeah, right! I don’t envision anything changing, but realize the “blame” rests with us as residents and “banana” people: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody”. BTW, just for information, I spent 20 years as a corporate real estate manager for retailers and the last 15 as a commercial broker specializing in retail. Even though many of my customers and clients ask about Westport, I have not and cannot, in good conscious, recommend Westport to them as a potential new market as long as the occupancy cost remains as high as it is. The great news is, we could change this if we wanted.

    • In my humble opinion (I see you smiling), Westport should be and strive for what Westport should be-the best town for families. The twenty crowd will migrate to NYC for jobs and the nightlife. Most of us did exactly that. Then when we wanted to start a family we looked to move and give our children a chance to learn and grow in an environment and school system that made us proud.

      Westport should look at Darien and New Canaan and Fairfield and the other towns as competitors. We should manage our budgets closely while making sure our schools and beaches and parks are the best. The migration out of the cities will happen as the millennials find it very expensive to raise a family in NYC. Eventually they will want to move out. It will happen. It always does.

      NYC has attracted many tech companies such as Google. They have the largest square feet in NYC now. Some of these young technologists will want to move out if NYC to give their children a great education in a town that is attractive. We should do everything possible to make Westport THE place.

      Westport is exactly what it should be, and something it is not. Westport will not compete with NYC for a young person to live. It’s not what our town is all about. Hopefully we stay away from thinking anything different. Those that lived in NYC when you were in your 20’s and 30’s know. NYC was fun and the place to be.

      Then Westport became the next stop, when the family was the focus.

      Again, my humble opinion, but Westport should stay focused on being the Town to move to, the place that young families want to begin. Then our Main Street will be busy. Our restaurants that serve what people like, crowded.

      • Bart: Thank you for your insights and you make great points, however you missed my point entirely. The goal is not competing with NYC for “nightlife” that a single 20-25 year old is interested in. It IS, however, the young family contemplating a first child. Doing well but not able to afford a single family home in Westport. They want local, convenient service-type retail, restaurants that are reasonable and kid-friendly, convenient parking or better yet, within walking distance. Opportunities for entertainment but past the desire to “party into the night”. They progress in their careers and lives in Westport and find they can afford a home. Meanwhile our older population love the Town but find they can not, or do not want, to maintain a largely empty home and the cost associated therewith. They’d like to maintain their lifestyle but travel and pursue interests long put off. Guess what they want and need? Local, convenient service-type retail, restaurants that are reasonable and kid-friendly (yes, they actually enjoy seeing young people with kids), and opportunities for entertainment as well. Yeah and driving isn’t so much fun anymore so walking distance would be great. So they look for an affordable (relatively speaking) condo or apartment alternative in Town but find that our myopic view of reasonable development has not given them a choice. But what happens if they do find our planners foresaw the soon-to be largest segment of the population’s needs in time to react? The older Westporters move out of that house to a wonderful solution in Town and guess who backfills that house? The younger couple now able to afford it. As I said the solution to a healthy downtown isn’t as easy as lower the rents and they will come. The “Y” development? Other than the apartments being at a price point I believe should be lower…..outstanding! We’re only starting to see the benefits from that adaptive redevelopment. I would have to guess that if an “outside” developer proposed the exact same plan to the Town it would have been resoundingly trashed and left on the Town Hall floor, but that’s only my perception. We can do this Westport….but do you really want it? That’s the question.

  18. Yes to making Westport downtown more useful to young families and stop trying to make it so ‘fancy.’ The restaurant that I think is sorely missing is a Bare Burger or Smash Burger – high end quick healthy fast food. Mom can get a good salad with grilled chicken or salmon, dad can get a burger and kids can have hot dog and fires with some apple slices and crayons. Limited menu but consistent, quick, fun and inexpensive. Throw up some reclaimed barn siding and industrial lighting and pop in the multi colored Emco chairs. Local art on the walls. Tv for sports. Cozy and intimate. And the home run is a pinball machine/fuss ball table or anything to lure the kids in with their parents and then teen-agers for late night on weekends. The restaurants that are successful – Bar Taco, Little Barn, Shake Shack, Brick & Wood Pizza in Fairfield – all serve simple, healthy inexpensive food and you can bring your wild animal kids there and it works, and they are always packed.

    And Yes to a movie theater!!!! The Westport Cinema Initiative has been trying to do this for years but they need funding! This can transform downtown. A cafe that serves lunch, small theaters with drinks, film series, kids events, screenings, a party space… a way to attract more artists and the occasional celeb to town. Let’s make it happen!

  19. To quote Bill C,it’s the economy…..
    Welll.. $130sf??? It’s the rent…

    • Agree, it’s the rent. It’s the largest fixed cost of any retailer. All the landlords on this blog are really in denial on this issue.

  20. Well said