NEWBURYPORT - Residents and visitors who may have worried about the fate of the venerable Fowle’s location at 17 State St. can take this much to heart: You can’t get much more local than the new tenant in the space.
Cathy Moulton lives in East Kingston, N.H., and runs Cathy’s Country Kitchen restaurant on Route 1 in Rowley. But she grew up on Plum Island, and her mother is Kay Moulton, proprietor and resident angling oracle at Surfland Bait and Tackle, a family business serving fishermen there for half a century. (Memo to newcomers: When you see a bumper sticker or T-shirt boasting “I’m a Kay customer,’’ that’s who they’re talking about.) The Riverside Dairy and Webster’s ice cream stand were other well-known family businesses in Newburyport. Riverfront Marine Sports in Salisbury remains in the family today.
Cathy Moulton said this week that she will lease the 3,000-square-foot Fowle’s space beginning in April, once the newsstand that occupies half the space has closed down. Fowle’s coffee shop closed a few weeks ago. Moulton will renovate and hopes to open her own restaurant, 17 State Street Café, in May, although the exact timing will depend on contractors and permits. She declined to say how much she’ll spend on renovations.
Moulton said she plans to preserve the historic neon Fowle’s sign over the door. The faded Art Deco façade will be redone to bear the new name, but she said she’ll preserve the marble counter inside and as much of the mid-20th-century décor as she can. She knows what it means to people.
“I’m a local girl,’’ Moulton said.
“If anyone is going to live up to the space, it’s going to be her,’’ said Heather Paterson, who is working as a consultant to Moulton on the transition. “There’s a respect there.’’
Moulton, who plans to serve breakfast, lunch, and early-evening meals as well as takeout, intends to expand seating capacity from the current 50 or so to about 80, she said, and to install a kitchen in the rear. (What about the current, upstairs kitchen? We’ll get to that in a minute.)
A liquor license is still an open question, she said. At first the menu will be largely the same as in the Rowley restaurant, which will close on a date she says is yet to be decided.
She expects to be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., closing earlier on Sundays, when she’ll serve breakfast only. Rowley employees will likely fill some of the 20-plus jobs at the Newburyport location.
Locals have been anxiously trading rumors for months about what would happen to the space. It is owned by mega-developer Stephen R. Karp’s Newburyport Development, which owns numerous other downtown properties and has major, long-term plans for development on the waterfront.
Sitting at another nearby coffee shop between City Hall appointments on Wednesday, Moulton was clearly surprised by the fuss.
“I knew it was important to people in Newburyport, and I like the fact that as a local person I am able to come in there,’’ she said. But “it’s a little unnerving, the amount of attention it’s gotten. . . . I hope I can live up to expectations.’’
Even though she’s a Newburyport High School grad, she said she wasn’t one of the kids who hung around Fowle’s all the time because she was probably working at one of her family’s businesses instead.
Although . . . “I remember the phone booth [in Fowle’s] as a teenager, probably calling my mother to say I was going to be home late,’’ she said.
If you’re a more recent arrival to Newburyport, you may remember the Webster’s ice cream site on Merrimac Street as the location for a time of Kathy Ann’s Bakery, run by Don LaBonte and named for another Kathy.
Kathy Ann’s is gone now, like Webster’s and the Riverside Dairy, but what goes around comes around. Cathy Moulton is a longtime friend of LaBonte, and once worked for him. She says that he will be using the upstairs kitchen in the Fowle’s building to bake pastries that will be sold in 17 State Street Café.