More than half a dozen new restaurants have opened in Jamestown over the past 18 months, as well as the acquisition by new owners of Village Hearth Bakery & Cafe, an island institution of two decades. “Renaissance,” is how Kevin Goudreau, the original Jamestown restaurateur, calls it.
“When I was a kid, it was a blue-collar society,” he said. Gaudreau was cooking in New York City when he and his wife decided they wanted to move back to Conanicut Island to raise a family. He led the kitchen at the now-closed Trattoria Simpatico for five years. He tried to buy the famous restaurant more than once, but moved on to other restaurants in Rhode Island when the deal never materialized.
“About a year and a half ago, a group of Jamestowners approached me and asked if I wanted to come in as a partner, buy some stock in the place, and be the operator,” he explained. The Beech, a 238-seat restaurant named after the massive 150-year-old American Copper Beech tree that covers much of its outdoor dining space, opened in July this year. (The “Ruth,” as the tree is called, is named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is as carefully maintained as the restaurant itself.)
“It’s been a long time,” said Gaudo, describing Jamestown’s dining scene after the 2008 financial crisis.
Demographically, the island has clearly changed quite a bit. Maybe COVID was part of that. “We’ve had a lot of these seasonal residents who have decided to spend their winters here rather than having to go back to New York or Philly or Washington,” Godeau said. “Everyone has been working from home anyway, so we’ve seen people transition to full-time residents this year, and I think that’s really helped all of these local businesses.”
For Romash and Alexander, the pandemic provided an opportunity to test the market as they patiently waited for suitable restaurant space to become available. They started a weekly dinner delivery business in Jamestown during the pandemic that also served as a research project.
“I became a brooder to find out what people here really want and like,” Alexander said. The couple was introduced to a local developer who bought a building that used to be a family-run pharmacy on Narragansett Street to create “Our Table”, an upscale comfort food restaurant that opened in May. Today, blackened grilled tuna on butter nibs, braised beef short ribs, fried chicken and biscuits drizzled with maple butter, honey mustard and BBQ sauce are just some of the dishes that drive midweek bookings—even at this time of year, on the island of Its population is 5,536 full-time residents.
“We started out desperately wanting a neighborhood spot; a place for Jamestowners,” Romash explained, though she was excited to see so many diners from Newport, East Greenwich and beyond. “We live here, we’re part of this community, we’re committed to this community, and I love looking around the restaurant knowing that 90 percent of our seats are occupied by our neighbors.”
Evan Smith, a Jamestown resident of more than 25 years (“It makes me rugs,” he says with a chuckle) who is CEO and president of Discover Newport, the area’s visitor bureau, said local support is critical to the sustainability of a restaurant here.
“There’s this feeling, and that’s more of me speaking as a resident right now, you say to yourself, ‘Do I feel like getting off the island tonight?'” “Honestly, it’s an island thing,” Smith explains. He points to JB’s on the Water, which opened last summer at the location many residents know as The Bay Voyage. Its new owner, John Brito, opened Wickford on the Water in North Kingstown in 2019, and when he learned of the Jamestown vacancy - and its offer - he pounced.
“I didn’t even know this place existed,” Brito said. “I didn’t know there were views left for restaurants like this in Rhode Island.” Seeing an opportunity to bring a business-casual restaurant with a relaxed nautical vibe to Narragansett Bay, Brito invested in an extensive renovation.
We try to cover all the city fit bases. Thats all about it; “Involving the community, being a part of it,” said Brito, who is committed to keeping JB open seven days a week.
But Smith says tapping into the Wakeford restaurant’s existing audience allows JB to connect “on both levels.”
“Whether with the islanders or with the people on the western shore; north and south of Kingstown, Narragansett, east of Greenwich. They are bringing a whole new audience to Jamestown.”
Jake Rojas already garnered his brand recognition and loyal following when he opened Taqueria at Tallulah in Jamestown in May 2021. He ran a seasonal little shack of Dutch Harbor shoreline along Conanicut Island’s West Passage from 2013 to 2019, serving tacos, platters Burritos and burritos. When 35 Narragansett Street became available, he took the opportunity to acquire a brick-and-mortar location. “We thought it would be really cool to have a restaurant in our city,” said Rojas.
The fast food restaurant serves lunch and dinner from Friday to Sunday. Rojas plans to stay open through the second weekend of December, later than last year, and will reopen in March. Food from high-quality sources that is affordable, consistent, and convenient is Rojas’ niche.
“Where people can feed their families for $20 or $30, or you can have it [a meal] “To yourself for $12 or $15, and it’s kind of hard to do that right now,” Rojas said.
High quality was also a priority for Stephanie and Lindsey Hay, who both left high-profile jobs in Atlanta to carry on the legacy of Jamestown’s beloved Hearth Village Bakery and Café. The couple began their search for a restaurant in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and had never considered Rhode Island until a real estate agent brought Village Hearth to their attention.
Since it was in the middle of COVID, decisions were made quickly. The two soon renovated the enviable neighborhood bakery. When Haighs opened in March 2021, they didn’t know a soul on the island. That changed quickly. Our second week we’ve been open, [a neighbor] She stuck her head in the window and said, “I live around the corner. My name is Kim and we’ll be best friends.” Sure, she was right.
“Jamestown welcomed us with open arms,” said Lindsey Haig. “It couldn’t be a better or more suitable place for us. Society appeared to us in every way.”
While they’ve remained true to the integrity of the bakery café, they’ve also made changes, expanding the breakfast and lunch menu and adding pastries, breads, soups, and some gluten-free and vegan dishes. Since many of their offerings sell out, they’ve clearly made an impression.
“I can say that this is where we will live forever,” said Stephanie Hay. “It’s a very special place with very special people.”