Selling like hot cakes

Eateries seeing uptick in business

July 27, 2012

WARREN - From "landmen" poring over property deeds in the Trumbull County courthouse to educators training workers to weld pipe and run machinery, the growing natural gas shale industry is creating the first wave of jobs.

Of course, they have to eat, which has restaurant owners, well, salivating over new business. The result is extra sales tax dollars for local county coffers and new taste treats for customers from the likes of Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, coming to the Eastwood Mall in Niles later this year.

"A lot of people who work for shale companies are helping restaurants, particularly downtown restaurants, because they're doing a lot of work at the courthouse," Nick Liakaris, an owner of the Mocha House on High Street N.E., said about the steady rise in business out of the Great Recession.

Mocha House, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 29, has averaged 10 percent more business in the last two years from 2009, when the recession struck, Liakaris said.

''We're investors in downtown Warren. We wouldn't be if we didn't have a good feeling. We think it's poised for a comeback,'' he said.

Improved restaurant, retail and other sales produced $1.85 million in sales tax dollars for Trumbull County, which in May received 1 percent of February sales. The Ohio Department of Taxation collected the money in March.

The tax dollars pushed the county ahead of its pace for the same period of 2011 - $3.52 million to $3.33 million.

Other economic indicators tracked by the Tribune Chronicle echoed the sales tax uptrend.

The jobless rate in Warren improved to 8.3 percent in May from 10.1 percent in May 2011, while the county's rate improved to 7.2 percent from 9.2 percent.

New-vehicle sales in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties in May rose 13.4 percent from the year-ago month to 2,088 from 1,837 in May 2011.

Even the long-time laggard - home sales - continued to show signs of awakening. Unit sales rose to 165 from 152 a year ago, while the median selling price improved to $75,000 from $61,750.

The Eastwood Mall, where the Rocky Mountain-themed Firebirds is scheduled to make its Ohio debut later this year in front of the Dillard's concourse, is benefiting from the improving economy, a spokesman said.

"It's so different from a couple of years ago, when we always had two or three tenants clinging by their fingernails because of the recession," Joe Bell said.

Firebirds' opening later this year will bring a Colorado Rocky Mountain feel to the mall, complete with steaks sizzling on a hardwood fire in an open kitchen, a wood and stone decor and a large stone fireplace.

The menu offers such flavor-popping dishes as pepper crusted sirloin steak, Parmesan encrusted flounder and cilantro grilled chicken breast, along with a distinctive "wall of wine" display.

The chain, which also is building an outdoor dining area next to the Dillard entrance, began in Charlotte, N.C., in 2000 and now has 21 locations, including the Cafaro mall in Erie, Pa.

The manager will be Brian Moore, who grew up in New Waterford, south of Youngstown, and graduated from Crestview High School.

Bell said one encouraging trend is increasing interest from national tenants, including Books-A-Million, Charming Charlie and Buckles, which is interviewing job candidates for its scheduled opening July 17.

He said the mall's occupancy rate has stabilized is in the low 90 percent, which is "well over average occupancy. During the recession, there was a lot of trepidation by companies. We don't see that anymore."

Work started about two weeks for two of the mall's biggest additions a 103 all-suites hotel and banquet center on the back side of the Dillard concourse, along with the Firebirds restaurant.

The hotel is expected to open in late 2013, with the banquet center following soon afterward.



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