State College residents have likely noticed some significant changes to the downtown dining scene over the last few months and the landscape is only slated to change even more. Snap Custom Pizza took over the Herwig’s Austrian Bistro space. Eat’n Park’s Hello Bistro brand is in the process of taking over the Ye Olde College Diner’s old spot. And Pittsburgh’s BRGR will soon make its State College debut in the former Citizens Bank building.
Despite the loss of some favorite eateries, the downtown dining scene’s evolution is exciting and there’s room for more growth, according to those who know the area best.
“We ... have a more diverse restaurant scene than ever before. There are many ethnic food offerings, a variety of regional chains, as well as restaurants that have been around for decades. The Tavern, The Corner Room and The Deli are three that immediately come to mind. I love what the Zangrilli family has done with Liberty Craft and Inferno. They both have a big city feel. Spat’s may have closed, but Spats at the Grill combines the best of both restaurants,” said Rob Schmidt, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District. “The comment I often hear is the lack of upscale fine dining. I would love to see that, but the trend is more toward casual and upscale casual.”
Andy Rupert, director of marketing at the Central Pa. Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that losing iconic restaurants in the area can be difficult, especially for alumni that like things to be how they left it when they graduated.
“What we’re lucky to have, and you can’t say this for all destinations, is that our restaurant venues don’t go unoccupied for very long. You have new chefs or owners eager to bring their menu and experience to the State College audience,” he said.
Some locals lament the loss of favorite restaurants that are being replaced by brands perceived as yet more student-geared offerings, but those who haven’t been downtown in a while may be surprised at the mix of locals and students these new eateries are attracting.
“What we are seeing now with some of these regional chains is a nice mix of college kids, young professionals and the older crowd,” said Schmidt, mentioning brands such as Primanti Brothers, Federal Taphouse and Local Whiskey. “Snap Custom Pizza has been a big hit, when many worried about ‘another pizza joint.’ I think you’ll find that when BRGR opens that it’s not another burger joint.”
Brian Pekarcik, owner of the BRGR brand, agrees. If you’ve visited a BRGR location in Pittsburgh, he says you’ll find the State College outpost to be “a little more casual, approachable and friendly,” with “affordable and approachable gourmet burgers and spiked shakes ... with a fun and unique late-night bar to visit.”
Originality is a big focus for Snap Custom Pizza as well. It offers pizza options you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere in downtown, including gluten-free and cauliflower crusts and the option to create your own custom pizza with more than 40 available ingredients.
When Hello Bistro comes on the scene, it will add a family- and budget-friendly option to downtown, a combination of qualities that is currently not easy to find.
Downtown’s expanding dining options are definitely a plus for incoming visitors and those considering a move to the area, especially young professionals.
“(Visitors are) surprised with the large variety of nationalities of food presented in (State College’s) small city setting. It is something they’d more expect to see in a much larger and more expensive destination,” Rupert said. “When visitors go to a destination they’re looking for unique food experiences that they can’t get at home. Having so many options in a walkable downtown setting is a great asset to promote.”
“I think visitors love (the downtown dining scene) and it can have a positive effect on potential new residents, particularly young adults,” he said. “The more choices we have, the more downtown becomes a destination.”