And then it was nine.
Five months after the Erie Downtown Development Corp. announced the first eight restaurant concepts for the Flagship City Food Hall, the ninth and final supplier was named.
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Noodlelove, an Asian fusion concept, doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for the 150-seat food hall under construction along State Street and North Park Row on the site of the former Sherlock’s and Park Place taverns.
Noodlelove opened two years ago on Mott Street in Manhattan and was followed last summer by a COVID-inspired outdoor dining popup called Umma.
The restaurant was well received in the New York Times. One of the dishes in Umma, Seoul Alle Vongole, was named one of the best new dishes of 2020 by Gothamist, an online publication on New York Public Radio.
How does this New York restaurant concept – itself described as “a culinary lifestyle devoted to delicious, healthy Asian food and an obligation to serve love every day” – find its way into Erie?
Noodlelove native Erie Christopher Potter, director of business development at Noodlelove, came home to visit.
Potter, 47, is a graduate of Cathedral Preparatory School and moved to New York City after 10 years in Pittsburgh, starting at the University of Pittsburgh when he was four. He recently returned to Erie to spend some time with his sick father.
During that visit, he began to look out for changes in his hometown, including the EDDC-led redevelopment effort in the inner city.
“I love the place, the things that they do,” he said. “The vision goes way beyond what I expected. You think outside the box.”
He sent an email to the EDDC that sparked a conversation last summer.
John Persinger, CEO of EDDC, said the development group’s staff are excited to see input from Potter, a former business student who also co-founded GRK Fresh Greek, a casual Greek restaurant with five locations in New York City and Washington, DC
“You immediately get the feeling that he knows his way around and knows how to run a great food and restaurant concept,” said Persinger.
Potter also offered some feedback to the EDDC after reviewing plans for the food hall, a concept first announced in May 2019.
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“He said you are on the right track,” said Persinger. “Having someone with this background and experience to give us an intestinal check was a good feeling personally.”
When the EDDC announced the first eight providers in the fall, they left a place open and encouraged Noodlelove to apply.
Describing the decision as a no-brainer, Potter said he had no problem selling the idea to managing director and founder Natalie Camerino, who grew up in Lancaster to parents with Korean and Italian heritage.
Camerino has its own Erie connections. Her brother, a doctor, had completed a residency at UPMC Hamot.
Whatever led to the decision, Persinger said he was glad it happened.
“We were very interested in an Asian-themed restaurant,” he said. “We believe Noodlelove will be a huge success. It makes up for the diversity of the dining room.”
Potter said he felt good about the decision.
“I had thought about it,” he said. “I even went to some other (Erie) places.”
The presence of thousands of employees in the city center, many of whom were within walking distance, helped make the food hall, which is expected to open at the end of the summer, popular.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people,” said Potter. “A lot of these people – they want to go out and go for a walk. The dining rooms are great for that. I might want one thing and you might want another, but we can go for a walk together.”
Customers who choose Noodlelove can choose between a bowl or wok selection. You start by choosing a base like romaine lettuce, zucchini noodles, ramen noodles or rice, adding from a long list of vegetables, adding flavors like Thai chilli or sesame soy and then topping them with chicken if you want, Tofu or seafood.
Many of these items, at least in New York City, start at around $ 10. Both the menu and prices could be a little different in Erie, Potter said.
He wants to keep other things the same, including the practice of sourcing groceries locally. His business partner buys some products from her hometown of Lancaster County. Potter hopes to add the Erie farmers to their supplier list.
Potter, who watched the early stages of Pittsburgh’s transformation as a student, sees Erie in the early stages of a similar journey.
And he says he strives to be a part of it.
“It’s very interesting to see,” he said. “I see a lot of opportunities here. It can really happen. You can have an excellent quality of life here.”
Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ETNMartin.