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3 longtime Columbia-area restaurants closing amid struggles in COVID-19 economy

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Blue Flour

The Blue Flour Bakery that was part of the First Citizens Building on Main Street will not reopen. Mike Fitts/Staff

Three long-established restaurants in downtown Columbia are closing, another sign that the coronavirus and its economic slowdown are prompting turnover among longtime businesses.

On Monday, Solstice Kitchen in Northeast Richland announced that it will not reopen. The restaurant, a project of Ricky Mollohan who also owns Mr. Friendly's, had been in business for 14 years, according to its Facebook page.

Mr. Friendly's, located in Five Points, has launched a soft reopening and begun accepting reservations, according to its Facebook page.

In a Facebook post, Mollohan wrote that Solstice had been preparing to reopen this week after being closed since the spring. Food even had been ordered, Mollohan wrote. 

The numbers, however, would not work. For restaurants limited to 50 percent capacity and not well set-up for carryout, the numbers are very difficult, he wrote.

"Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, we simply cannot overcome numerous issues. Most of which concern money," he wrote.

That math will make it difficult for many independents in the restaurant business because they need to invest in drive-thru facilities and other modifications at a time when cash is short.

"To do that without help on the other side, without a wealthy owner to foot the bill — or without some kind/s of guarantees of help/aid going forward, its not hard math," Mollohan wrote. 

Two other Columbia eateries already had announced plans to shut down.

The Happy Cafe will close at the end of the year after 17 years in business in Forest Acres, including time as the in-store cafe at independent bookstore The Happy Bookseller. 

Owners Sue Hodges and her daughter, Anne Reynolds, are calling their plans "a sweet ending" for Happy Cafe. In a blog post announcing the closure, they invited customers to visit this fall before restaurant closes its doors.

They plan to close the restaurant at 4525 Forest Drive after Christmas and concentrate on their signature sweet with a business called Sue's Caramel. Caramel cakes were a longtime favorite order at the Happy Cafe and will be offered by their new business. 

The other closure is at Blue Flour Bakery, the cafe that is part of the historic Brennen Building at 1210 Main St. The bakery opened as an offshoot of its first location at 7703 St. Andrews Road, which remains open. 

A note posted on the business' Instagram page cited the COVID-19 slowdown as a reason to not reopen the Main Street cafe.

"It's been a fantastic 4 years on Main Street and we're so thankful to have had the chance to expand the business, meet new people and share our love of cookies," the message said.

New Mexican eatery near the Statehouse

While these longtime businesses are closing during a tough time for the industry, another restaurant business is taking a shot at a space just around the corner from one of them.

Family Fresh Mex has opened at Main and Gervais, just down Main from the Blue Flour location and across Gervais from the Statehouse. It will serve tacos, burritos and some occasional specials such as birria, a Mexican stew.

The business had been serving customers as part of Soda City Market, but it now has a location for breakfast and lunch five days a week.

Family Fresh Mex will continue to brings its food truck to Soda City on Saturdays.

Spectrum on the move

Spectrum is readying the first space in the revamped strip of Harden Street for its walk-in location.

The internet, cable and mobile service provider currently has an office just up the street, but a move into 950 Harden Street is planned tentatively for October, an employee said. 

The project to renovate many of the buildings along the 900 block of Harden continues, with added parking to be added above the retail strip. Mashburn Construction is overseeing the renovation of the historic spaces.

Crosland Barnes Group is handling leasing of the redevelopment project, which will create a half-dozen or more retail sites, depending on how the spaces are split.

Green's gets half-open

The new Green's at the Landmark Square shopping center on Garners Ferry Road has opened, or at least one side of it has.

The wine and liquor side of Green's opened last weekend, offering a wide array of products. It's the third Midlands location for Green's, adding to its stores on Assembly Street in Columbia and Fernandina Road near the Harbison shopping district. It also has a Myrtle Beach store.

Green's still needs license approval to open its adjoining beer space in its new Columbia location, a store official said.

New townhomes for the Northeast

A developer is planning to build about 24 townhomes with garages for Richland Northeast, in the Jacobs Mill Pond Road area.

Executive Construction Inc., has submitted project plans to the Columbia Planning Commission for the development, which is within city limits and close to Spears Creek Church Road.

The project is planned for a 1.5 acre site that is vacant, according to the planning application.

Peruvian cuisine on the way

Javier Uriarte, a 29-year-old Peruvian chef, is the owner of his own new restaurant, Ratio, in Northeast Columbia. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he is launching his first eatery.

It’s an unusual and difficult time to open a restaurant, especially with balking investors, but besides standard opening-week jitters, Uriarte is focused on controlling only what he can.

He’s taken a learn-on-the-fly approach to designing and planning out the entire restaurant, from kitchen to dining rooms, and that spirit extends to his outlook on the difficulties Ratio will face.

Uriarte is opening the Peruvian-influenced tapas restaurant with a tight knit crew of about 10 total employees. He hired Grant McCloskey, formerly the bar manager at Vista cocktail spot The Aristocrat, to lead the bar program, a move that he says has since eased most of his concerns with the opening.

David Clarey contributed to this report.

Have any Midlands business news to share? Reach Mike Fitts at mfitts@postandcourier.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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