Downtown vegan and gluten-free restaurant Maize ’n’ Manna to close down in December

Downtown vegan and gluten-free restaurant Maize ’n’ Manna to close down in December


Owner Susan Champouillon opened Maize 'n Manna Wholefoods and Juice Bar in October of 2012, but is closing the business on Dec. 24, citing its lack of profitability. Sun file photo

WESTERLY — In the end, Susan Champouillon could wait no longer for a greater influx of customers to Maize ’n’ Manna, her High Street vegan and gluten-free restaurant. On Wednesday, five years to the day since she opened the eatery, she announced plans to close it for good on Dec. 24.

“It was not a hasty decision. I knew I had to do a certain level of business this summer in order to survive through the winter, but I didn’t get there,” Champouillon said.

Initially, Champouillon said, she expected the market portion of her business to be a greater draw. She sells organic dried beans and fruits, pasta, flours, grains, spices and herbs in bulk. Instead, there has been a greater demand for the mostly take-out restaurant, smoothies, and Dave’s Coffee. While her market business has picked up in recent weeks since the closure of the South County Food Co-op in August, it hasn’t been enough.

“It’s been month-to-month and year-to-year. I opened with a lot of possibilities not knowing what direction it would take,” Champouillon said while seated in her office at the back of the restaurant, with its view of the Pawcatuck River.

A dream of expanding the restaurant seating to a patio that overlooks the river will not come to fruition, Champouillon said.

An advocate for a new municipal traffic and parking study, Champouillon said many downtown businesses, including her own, face a public perception that parking is in short supply in the downtown area.

“There is parking, but sometimes you have to be willing to walk a block,” Champouillon said.

Oddly, she said, the success of new restaurants and bars that draw flocks of customers at night seems to have caused some to avoid downtown in the daytime for fear of a lack of parking, she said.

“But what you see at night is not how it is all the time,” she said.

A move from one-hour to three-hour parking limits on High Street, which she pushed town leaders for, has benefited local businesses by giving visitors more time to linger, particularly those who are from out of town, she said.

Overall, Champouillon said she is optimistic concerning the future of downtown.

“I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years,” she said. “I will still do all of my shopping and most of my socializing here because I do love it.”

In addition to the parking challenge, Champouillon said she has faced new competition from similar businesses.

At times the restaurant and shop have been more than a business. Customers with dietary restrictions made regular stops, as did those recovering from or fighting illnesses. Moving on from those relationships will be difficult, Champouillon said.

“For those people who really needed what I’m doing, I’m sad,” Champouillon said, pushing back tears.

Champouillon, who ran for a seat on the Town Council in November, said she plans to stay involved in community affairs.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

The business will be fully operational through Dec. 24, Champouillon said.

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