Jacinthia Stephen doesn’t usually visit Hyde Park, but in the past few weeks the Dorchester resident has found herself gravitating toward the neighborhood, mainly to a new eatery on River Street, Zaz Restaurant.
Waiting for her lunch Saturday, the retired 60-year-old let out a hearty chuckle and admitted this was her third visit in a week to taste the restaurant's fusion of Asian, Spanish, and Caribbean flavors.
“Its not just great,” she said, pausing for a moment in the sleek, modern restaurant with gray walls. “What I’m saying is, it feels like home.”
The local business owners, civic boosters, and Hyde Park residents who joined Mayor Thomas M. Menino for ribbon-cuttings at two neighborhood restaurants Saturday hope to see more people like Stephen.
In recent months, civic and business leaders have unveiled new initiatives intended to breathe life in to the neighborhood’s economy as well as others along the Fairmount Corridor Commuter Rail Line.
Menino swung by the Zaz restaurant Saturday morning to cut the ceremonial ribbon, then turned the corner for a stop at the Fairmount Grille.
Menino said the city invested $75,000 in the Fairmount Grille, which sits across the street from the Fairmount commuter rail T stop.
The MBTA has recently reduced fares and added more trains along the commuter line in an effort to increase ridership and boost local businesses.
“We have to continue to create economic opportunities next to these train stations along the Indigo Line,” Menino said in an interview. “These are the heart and soul of our city, these small businesses.”
It may be too early to see the effects of the MBTA changes said Jeanne DuBois, the executive director of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp., but the neighborhoods will get a boost soon.
Her organization has given $498,000 in loans to four businesses along the Fairmount corridor in the past six weeks: the Fairmount Grille, a laundromat in Mattapan Square, an arts collective in Four Corners, and a technology company in Newmarket.
Two restaurants in the Hyde Park neighborhood closed recently due to personal reasons, DuBois said, but the neighborhood is poised for a comeback with the expanded T service.
The Fairmount Grille, with a full service kitchen, bar, and a family friendly-atmosphere, will stand out in the neighborhood, said owner Chris Rassias.
“I’ve lived in Roslindale for 35 years and I’ve watched these neighborhoods, like Roslindale and Hyde Park, kind of ebb and flow,” she said. “But when you get the trains really serving the neighborhood now, I think there is really an opportunity to grow.”
When Olrie Roberts was looking for a location for Zaz he knew he needed to find the right place to sell his unique blend of global flavors.
The 33-year-old trained chef from Dorchester also calls Grenada and Trinidad home, but he is also influenced by nine months he spent training in Spain as well as an Asian chef he used to work with.
The diversity of Hyde Park proved a perfect fit and his business is growing.
“Everyone here is open to different people,” he said after the ribbon-cutting. “I am trying to start something small, with great flavors. Something I can put my mark on.”
Across the street from Fairmount station, Franklin Winklaar stood in the doorway of his barbershop, Los Magicos, and welcomed the two new neighbors.
He opened his third barbershop last year in Hyde Park, and has enjoyed the neighborhood. He said he hasn’t noticed an increase in business from the new rail line, but he said anything helps.
“If you get more businesses in the neighborhood it’s better, period,” he said.
On Saturday, the chairs in his barbershop were packed.