BRATTLEBORO -- A downtown Brattleboro restaurant is expanding its operations across the river into Keene, N.H.
Fireworks Restaurant, an award-winning eatery located on Main Street since February 2008, is bringing its upscale menu to Keene in a calculated move to provide Granite State residents with the same homemade meals currently enjoyed in Brattleboro.
Owner Matthew Blau, a James Beard award-winning chef, said he has long wanted to open a second location in Keene because it is a viable market within the region.
"I've always been surprised that Keene doesn't have a restaurant like Fireworks with the demographic and the size of the town. It seems like it's just a very ripe market," he said on Wednesday morning. "Restaurants like Fireworks, which serve a sophisticated gourmet food experience in a casual setting, which is family friendly at affordable prices, are popping up in most major areas. And Keene has for a long time been conspicuously absent of this."
The Fireworks franchise hopes to become operational at 22 Main St. in Keene by November. The business will move into the same property as the Lane Hotel, a city landmark built in 1891.
Colwen Hotel Management of Nashua, N.H., purchased the building in 2010 and put more than $1 million into renovating its interior, reopening it on May 5.
Blau said he has had his eye on the space for some time now.
"I had made several unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with them and find out what the situation was there," he said.
"For the last couple of years, I've pretty much had my ear to the ground in Keene trying to find a suitable spot," Blau continued. "Nothing was good enough to take the plunge until, almost by chance, I connected with the people who own the building and found out that another restaurant project had fallen through."
Since opening negotiations with the hotel in April, Blau has planned to pack up his recipe book and bring the same menu to his second location.
"There are going to be some changes in Keene in terms of what I serve to drink, how I'm laying it out. It's a very different space, it's a bigger space and it's entirely open space," he said. "Aside from that, we're absolutely not reinventing the wheel with the Keene project.'
When completely booked, the Brattleboro site can accommodate 120 patrons. He is estimating 170 customers in New Hampshire, quite a large number of seats to fill in a saturated restaurant market like Keene's Main Street.
"If you do really good food and you do it in a casual, non-stuffy environment and you make it affordable, people will support you," Blau said, optimistic his brick oven style pizza will set him apart. "My background is in much more cutting edge fine dining stuff, so I've tried to translate my experience and my area of expertise on the canvas of pizza and pasta in order to make it an affordable dining experience."
Much like his operation in Brattleboro, the chef plans on using wholesale foods from nearby farmers for what he calls his "grown-up" pizza. His brick oven pizzas, all between $11-$15, come in a variety of flavors with fresh tomatoes, herbs and specialized toppings that can pair with a chef-driven signature cocktail or fine wine.
"We're really after customers who will come back to us again and again, which I think is the cornerstone for successful restaurants. Customers feel like you're not looking to fleece them, they feel like you're looking to keep them happy," Blau said.
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Chris Garofolo can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.