NASHUA — More than 25 years after Martha’s Exchange renovated and enlarged its diner into a modern restaurant and function hall, the popular downtown eatery is planning another expansion.
This time, the owners hope to add a second-story deck and canopy to provide additional outdoor dining for patrons.
If approved, it would be the first of its kind in downtown Nashua. Although several restaurants offer sidewalk seating on Main Street — Martha’s Exchange included — none have second-story decks to accommodate even more customers.
“It is a big project,” said Chris Fokas, who owns the business with his brother, William Fokas.
Last week, the brothers presented informal plans to the aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee. The project is expected to cost about $300,000 and provide seating for an estimated 65 to 75 patrons, according to Chris Fokas.
While there are still some empty storefronts along Main Street, he hopes the renovation will create additional excitement in the downtown area and encourage others businesses to follow suit.
“It will be very visible,” said Chris Fokas. The deck will be about 80 feet long, and hang about 13 feet over the sidewalk, he said, adding it will provide shade to the patrons dining on the sidewalk below.
Preliminary plans include using balusters as columns to support the canopy, and to incorporate upcoming sidewalk renovations into the expansion project. The owners have been considering a second-level deck for the past four or five years, but said now is the best time to move forward with the plans because of the city’s ongoing downtown sidewalk improvements.
Outdoor dining has been very successful in downtown Nashua, according to William Fokas, who said Martha’s existing outdoor seating is at full capacity. In addition to providing more outside dining, the new facade will match the 1870s style of the building, said William Fokas.
“I am so excited to see this,” said Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan. “I think this is super.”
Sheehan said she enjoys eating outdoors, and is thrilled the sidewalk will now have some shade while also maintaining the historic flavor of downtown.
In 1988, a major renovation of the Merchant’s Exchange building was completed, and the former luncheonette and sweet shop was converted into a much larger restaurant, bar and function hall dubbed Martha’s Exchange. Eventually, the restaurant incorporated Nashua’s first downtown microbrewery.
“People thought we were a little crazy,” Chris Fokas said of the prior makeover. The newest expansion, he said, will be just as beautiful with a great atmosphere for lunch and dinner options.
“It is going to be done very well,” he added.
The plans need to be reviewed by the local zoning and planning boards; however, the Fokas’ are optimistic that any potential hurdles will be overcome.
The construction will likely begin in the fall, meaning the second-story deck may be open for business in the spring of 2015.
Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said there could be some leasing of air rights over the sidewalk that will need to be studied. But he said he supports the project.
The Fokas’ great aunt, Martha, founded Martha’s Sweet Shoppe in 1932, which eventually snowballed into what is now Martha’s Exchange Restaurant and Brewing Co. at 185 Main St.