Mercato owners to open French cafe, expand business

An empty space opens at 110 North Aurora St. in Ithaca, N.Y. Currently, it is nothing more than an unoccupied commercial location taking up space downtown. But that is scheduled to change in a few months as the spot will be home to Café Cent-Dix, the newest French restaurant to hit Ithaca. Eric Trichon, co-owner of Mercato Bar and Kitchen, decided to take advantage of the opening in real estate to expand his business to a second unique venue.

Mercato was established by Trichon and three others in November of 2010, offering fine Italian cuisine. The new café will be next door to Mercato and will feature a French inspired menu and wine list. The construction of the Hotel Marriott nearby combined with the prime location, encouraged Trichon to move forward.

“What we’re planning to do is to get a different clientele,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to have some of the same clientele that we have here, but we’re trying to get a different demographic. We’re going with a little bit of a price point down, more selections on the menu, more vegetarian options and more sharing options. We definitely want to create a separation between the two spaces. We are our own competition now.”

Although Café Cent-Dix will be run by the same owners as Mercato, it will have its own features that will separate it from its sister restaurant next door. The café joins several established venues on Restaurant Row including Viva Taqueria & Cantina, Ithaca Ale House, Mahogany Grill and Simeon’s on the Commons, which have all been established for at least seven years. The owners of Mercado jumped at the opening of real estate to establish a second eatery.

Greg Norkus, main chef and co-owner of Mercato, said his job will focus around menu design and planning, food production and training of hired chefs. Norkus has no formal culinary training, but his family owned a restaurant in Eastern Long Island when he was a child. Prior to co-owning Mercato, he taught restaurant management for 28 years at Cornell’s Hotel Administration School. Norkus said he was excited to take advantage of a great location that would allow both restaurants to thrive.

“You couldn’t ask for a better location, especially given all of the development downtown and the Marriott Hotel going up down the block,” he said. “I mean this is Restaurant Row, it’s like going to Disneyland on the weekend down here.”

The Marriott Hotel will be built at 120 South Aurora St., located on a small triangular lot off of Green Street, adjacent to the Green Street Parking Garage and the Rothschild’s Building.

The hotel will increase the number of possible customers that are looking for a meal in Ithaca while they are in town. Lindsey Norkus, co-owner of Mercato and Greg’s son, said he thinks opening a new venue will allow them to increase their capacity as a whole without having to expand Mercato.

“It’s basically the idea of almost doubling our seating on a busy street that should only get busier with the development that’s going on in the area with new hotels going in and things along those lines,” he said. “It just seems to make sense. Instead of doubling the seating of our current concept, we’re doubling our seating from a restaurant group’s perspective and having a separate concept built on the same block.”

Trichon said he thinks Café Cent-Dix will also fill a demand for European cooking that exists in Ithaca.

“There’s no French cuisine in town,” he said. “ There have been French restaurants in the past, but there’s nothing right now. Italian cuisine is really hip right now, everyone is doing it – but French still has a longevity. It never really goes out of style if you do it well.”

Currently the kitchen layout needs to be verified by the Health Department before the electrical, plumbing and interior of the cafe can be arranged. While there is no set date for the venue to open, the owners hope to cut the ribbon within two or three months.

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