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The ongoing changes to downtown Columbus have seen a fixture restaurant close its doors.
Papa’s Deli, 412 Washington St., has operated the downtown restaurant for 15 years. But unsatisfactory earnings, a lack of parking and deteriorating infrastructure prompted its closure Saturday, owners Harry and Patsy Hill said.
One of the most significant factors that led to the closure was the increasing number of competitors.
“There are too many restaurants that are smothering everybody out. There are still more coming, on top of what has already opened this year,” Patsy Hill said.
Year Papa’s Downtown Deli opened
Years it operated before closing Saturday
Value of the property according to county property records
Number of employees at the downtown deli
Number of other Papa’s restaurants operated in Columbus by owners Harry and Patsy Hill
So, the Hills will focus on their other two Columbus restaurants: Papa’s Third Street Deli, 228 Chestnut St., and Papa’s Grill, 3780 W. Jonathan Moore Pike. The eight employees of the downtown location have been offered positions at the other stores.
“We’re trimming the fat in order to make the other two locations stronger,” said Dustin Craig, who oversees operations at all the restaurants owned by the Hills in Columbus.
The downtown location needs a considerable monetary investment to get it into shape, Harry Hill said. Since he and Patsy lease the property, it didn’t make financial sense to invest further in the building, he said.
“We are under no contract. We’re just going to clean it up, take our stuff and go,” said Patsy Hill.
The 6,900-square-foot building, owned by the Hilger-Fox family trust, is valued at $199,100, according to a Bartholomew County property records. Nunn and Associates manages the property, Harry Hill said.
Unlike the other two Papa’s locations, the Washington Street deli primarily catered to walk-in customers, mostly downtown workers, for breakfast and lunch only.
The Hills said limited parking prevented them from expanding their hours past 2:30 p.m. to allow the downtown facility to become a destination restaurant.
Downtown eateries that rely on walk-in traffic suffer especially during the winter months, said J.T. Mobley, manager of Papa’s Downtown Deli.
“A restaurant has to run a certain amount of money, and (the downtown deli) hasn’t for over a year,” Harry Hill said.
Columbus caterer Gethin Thomas, who plans to open a bar and restaurant across the street from the downtown deli this fall, said every restaurant has a life span, and that 15 years at the same location is commendable.
“There’s a point where you invest and a point when you get your money out of it,” Thomas said. “Then you make some money — and it’s over. I think (the Hills) saw the writing on the wall. They either had to reinvest or they were going to get swallowed by their competition.”
Thomas cited recent exterior renovations at the 4th Street Bar and Grill, which has been open since 1981, as a good example of necessary reinvestment.
Mike Dell, of Dell Brothers men’s clothing store, located next to Papa’s Downtown Deli, said that besides providing him good meals, the restaurant also brought a lot of foot traffic to his store.
“Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times,” Dell said. “You’ve got new places opening up that appeal to a certain clientele. And, overall, there’s more options now than when (Papa’s Downtown Deli) first opened in 1998.”
While the eatery was largely known for its vegetarian menu, many customers were loyal because they knew the staff and the staff knew them, Mobley said.
“We had people who literally came here every day for lunch,” Mobley said. “And when you’ve come to the same place for several years, you are going to be a little upset.”
Patsy Hill said she was especially touched by comments left on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
“We have a lot of good friends and loyal customers,” she said. “We hated to close it down, but it was purely a business decision.”
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