Old kids on the block: Calhoun cornerstones offer alternatives
Outside, cranes and jackhammers set steady percussion as passersby walk along Calhoun Street in Clifton. Inside, diners at Floyd’s Mediterranean Restaurant
enjoy fresh-made falafel and the widely-celebrated grilled chicken, as they have for almost 25 years.
As one of three remaining restaurants along the mammoth U Square at the Loop
development—along with Myra’s Dionysus and Uncle Woody’s
—Floyd’s stands as a reminder of the neighborhood’s past, present and, if owners have their way, brighter future.
A big part of that future begins this month, with businesses in the rapidly ascending multi-story buildings between Calhoun and West McMillan streets nearing completion.
Emile Salti and his daughter Lara Salti—along with other family members—own Floyd’s. They’ve seen plenty of changes along Calhoun, including the demolition of blocks of fast-food restaurants and neighboring buildings that started in 2004, as well as the barren wasteland left in the demolition’s wake.
They have also suffered from the aftermath. “Our business over the last 10 years has been down 80 percent,” Emile says.
Nearby, Myra’s Dionysus
, where the cozy, seven-table dining room defines meal-sharing intimacy, lost 50 percent of its business for three years, immediately following the demolition in 2004, according to owner Myra Griffin. “It was almost an immediate drop,” she says.
The opening of University Park Apartments
across the street in 2005 didn’t offset those losses, but it did bring a new generation of chain restaurants to the neighborhood.
“We survived it because of our clientele and loyal customers that kept coming,” Lara says. “Our food is consistent—we’re loyal to our customers. We didn’t try to use cheaper ingredients, and the prices…we didn’t raise them. When you come and eat here, it’s like eating in our family dining room.”
Now those long-time neighbors brace for the opening of U Square this spring with a mixture of optimism and weariness.
The optimism stems in part from the addition of more than 700 new parking spaces in U Square’s two garages, 161 apartments and a growing number of restaurants and entertainment businesses, which contribute to the sense of critical mass along the street that has seen more than its share of construction cranes and work crews in the past decade.
Lara welcomes the new neighbors. “I think that with other ethnic restaurants opening, it would bring interest to students to try something different, something healthier,” she says.
Floyd’s is planning to expand the restaurant by improving its patio area. Depending on the restaurant’s traffic following U Square's completion, the owners might enclose the space so diners can still enjoy the patio during the winter.
Uncle Woody’s owner Lori Levy hopes that U Square’s new line of businesses will help build the feeling of community around Clifton Heights. The addition of Hwy 55 and Keystone Bar & Grill
, along with Five Guys Burgers and Fries
across the street, might even fuel a hamburger competition. “Sometimes people don’t even know we serve burgers,” Levy says.
She cautions that rent for U Square’s spaces could make it difficult for small business owners to afford. “The only negative that I see is that it’s more commercial type restaurants and bars,” Levy says. “We know what the kids like.”
But more than "kids" are being targeted by the new development. U Square’s apartments, which are market rate, will house both students and families. This will make Clifton’s housing dynamic even more eminent.
While some U Square apartments are advertised online as “income qualified available” and are not available to full-time students, the apartments are not government subsidized—or Section 8—according to Matt Bourgeois, director of the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation
. The goal was to make the apartments more affordable for people of limited incomes, says Bourgeois.
“One of the major goals when designing [U Square] was to ask the question, 'How many people can benefit from this as possible?'" Bourgeois says. “The hopes are to make people cross paths with Floyd’s or Myra’s, something they otherwise wouldn’t have heard of.”
The long-time neighbors hope the same.
“I have no plans to change anything—I’ve been here 36 years,” Griffin says. “All you can do is wait and see what happens.”
By Kyle Stone