by Alexa Milan and Laura Smith, February 9, 2010
Upon return to campus following Christmas break, many Elon University students were surprised to hear Brown and Co. had shut its doors for good.
On Dec. 31, the university announced Brown and Co. would be replaced with The Town Table, a new restaurant owned by Elon alumnus Chris Russell of B. Christopher’s, B’s Bistro and Benjamin’s Seafood in Burlington.
According to Russell, The Town Table will feature French brasserie style cuisine as well as American tavern dishes. Some entrees include coq au vin, croque-monsieur, fish and chips and entrée salads.
Lunch prices will range from $8-$10 a person and dinner will range from $14-$18 a person, Russell said. Phoenix cash and meal dollars will both be accepted.
“I’m hoping that my background, culinary-wise, will bring in some more diversity of menu items than was here before,” Russell said. “I think the quality of our kitchen … will be received well.”
The Town Table will feature a street café Parisian atmosphere, new aesthetics and weekly entertainment.
“It’ll be a little bit airier,” Russell said. “It felt like it was very dark (before). It’ll be a happier space.”In addition to a Saturday brunch, the restaurant will have the first Friday musical entertainment.
The first Friday night of each month, there will be live music from both regional and national acts, Russell said.
Russell is signed to a 10-year lease. He said he hopes to open The Town Table at the end of March and is currently searching for student employees.
“I’m very excited about this … getting to know the Town of Elon, the students the faculty,” Russell said. “I’m looking forward to being a member of the Elon community.”
The building on Williamson Avenue where The Town Table will be located housed the original Brown and Co. for more than 20 years. Cantina Roble replaced it in 2002 before the new Brown and Co. opened in fall 2008.
According to Gerald Whittington, vice president for business, finance and technology, the decision to close Brown and Co. and open The Town Table stems from the university’s strategic plan.
“The institution’s new strategic plan has in it, as did the previous strategic plan, a goal to enrich the retail development of Elon for our students, faculty, staff and the townspeople,” Whittington said.
The plan involves an increased presence of retail venues such as restaurants, drug stores and clothing stores not owned and operated by the university.
When the original Brown and Co. closed, Whittington said the university tried to sell the space to local vendors but no one bought it, so the university ultimately decided to purchase the property.
During the summer, the university met with local vendors and asked why they were not interested in opening venues in the Town of Elon. Whittington said most of the vendors were interested but didn’t want the university to perceive them as competition.
“What we would rather do is have them provide all those things (like Russell presented the university with a proposal for a new restaurant in the Brown and Co. space, which would require little renovation and had a prime main street location.
Whittington said the product Russell has established through his other restaurants is “top-rate,” and he hopes The Town Table will be the first of many new businesses in the Town of Elon.
“I think if there’s anybody who could be successful at this, I think he could be,” Whittington said.
According to Whittington, the entire university community has been involved in the process of bringing more retail development to the town. The Board of Trustees approved it in the strategic plan, and Whittington said the Student Government Association was in favor of the idea when the university discussed it with the organization last summer.
Whittington said the students were surveyed a couple of years ago and the university gave their feedback to local entrepreneurs. He said the university generally surveys students every two to three years.
“This is something everybody wants, because you don’t want to go to the same places,” Whittington said. “You want to go out and have a community, your own version of Franklin Street.”
While some students may be excited about the new restaurant, others are sorry to see Brown and Co. go. A Facebook group called “I want my killer cookie!” currently has 278 members.
“I think the closing of Brown and Co. was handled fairly poorly,” said freshman Dan Koch, creator of the killer cookie Facebook group. “I was shocked that the university never sent out an e-mail to let the student body know that Brown and Co. wasn’t coming back.”
Senior Jeff Thurm had a similar reaction.
“I just think it’s ridiculous to close Brown and Co. in the middle of the year,” Thurm said. “I obviously don’t know how business was doing but I know my friends and I went on a weekly, almost religious, basis. Brown and Co. was an Elon college staple and they just brought it back and are now changing it again.”
According to Jeff Gazda, resident district manager for ARAMARK, business was doing well at Brown and Co.
“Actually, the restaurant continued to show improved performance after the renovation last year,” he said.
The change will not affect ARAMARK, the service provider for Brown and Co.
“There will be no significant impact, as this is only one of many locations in which we serve you, the student community,” Gazda said.
According to Vickie Somers, director of auxiliary services, there was no reason why students were not told about the closing before it happened. She said once the decision was made to lease the space to Russell, plans immediately moved forward.
“There was nothing that was discussed or talked about,” Somers said in reference to telling the students.
Somers also said students missing Brown and Co.’s popular killer cookie and artichoke dip can soon find those items at 1889 Grill Room in the Colonnades.