Canterbury’s sold, will be renovated and reopened

Canterbury’s Fine Food and Spirits is temporarily closed for renovations that will bring a new face – and a new owner – to the troubled Spring St. bar. Students returned from spring break to find the former hangout empty and gutted after it closed its doors on March 18.

William Caprari, owner of Canterbury’s, said on Friday that he is in the process of selling the business to Edward F. Smith, a local businessman, and Caprari’s daughter, Colleen Fisher. The two will each own a 50 percent stake in the new pub, which may go by a new name and will have a heavier focus on food.

Smith said on Sunday that he plans on “sprucing it up a bit,” making the downstairs a restaurant area, retaining the existing bar and turning the upstairs into a lounge with a pool table and comfortable seating. Smith intends to upgrade the food, while keeping a relaxed atmosphere. The price of a meal will average around $10, and the menu will remain fixed for both lunch and dinner.

Both Smith and Fisher described the menu as “eclectic,” though they refused to elaborate on what exactly would be offered. The details of the renovations are also being held back until the grand opening, which could be as soon as late May. “We want to keep some of the details as a surprise,” said Smith.

Smith did add that he and Fisher are “designing this place for the community,” citing the need for another sit-down restaurant on Spring St. Currently, only the Thai Garden offers a full-service restaurant on the street. Smith expressed his excitement over taking control of Canterbury’s, calling it a “little goldmine in a great location.”

Smith and Fisher are applying for an entertainment license, which will allow them to bring entertainers to the restaurant. Smith wants to change the image of the pub from one that acts as a club/hip-hop venue to one with a more relaxed mood. Smith listed blues and jazz players as well as live comedians as possibilities for a more upscale environment.

The renovation of Canterbury’s is one instance in the wave of new restaurants coming to Williamstown. Nancy Thompson plans on re-opening Mezze, the popular upscale restaurant and bar that burned down last summer, in the same location as the former Main St. Café on Route 43. Though details have yet to be established, there is a possibility of an Indian restaurant opening next to Arugula, also a recent addition Spring St.

Smith was a co-founder of Mezze with his then-sister-in-law Thompson, though he sees his business as complementing Thompson’s when they both open this summer.

“I think we would go hand in hand with our entertainment venues,” said Smith. “We offer two different things and now you have more choices.”

Canterbury’s, which has been in business for over six years, has changed owners several times, with Caprari operating the pub for the last four years. Caprari was elusive as to why he is leaving the business, citing “personal business,” though some suggested that his checkered history with the law could be a factor.

Following a January 2001 raid, Canterbury’s caught the attention of local law enforcement, state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) agents and the Williamstown Board of Selectmen after they discovered gambling and violations of the state’s cigarette tax law.

The Northern Berkshire District Court fined and placed Caprari on probation after a hearing last June. Caprari also paid a $2,500 fine in lieu of a 28-day license suspension imposed by the ABBC after a hearing on the raid.

Following a Nov. 30 brawl between patrons of Canterbury’s and students exiting the College-owned Log, the Williamstown Board of Selectmen stepped in. While they renewed the pub’s all-alcoholic-beverage license at the end of the year, disciplinary hearings held in January forced Caprari to shut down the popular “Club Canterbury’s,” where under-aged patrons were permitted in the bar and all patrons partied in a “club” atmosphere. The liquor license was placed on probation until December 2002.

The success of the renovated Canterbury’s hinges upon approval of the liquor license transfer from Caprari to Smith and Fisher, who are listed as co-owners of Walden Culinary Limited Liability Corp. The public hearing on the transfer has been scheduled for 7:35 p.m. on April 22 at the Williamstown Town Hall. Should the transfer of the license prove successful, Smith and Fisher plan on opening the restaurant as soon as possible, most likely around the time of graduation.

Smith is a co-owner of Gramercy Bistro in North Adams and was a partner in the former Wild Amber Grill in Williamstown, now under new ownership as 101 North. He has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years and is an experienced chef. Smith plans on being the head chef for Canterbury’s.

While an owner at Wild Amber Grill, Smith and his partners were slapped with a three-day liquor license suspension in 2000. An after-hours raid at the restaurant by police in September 2000 revealed alcoholic beverages on the bar and a naked 18- to 21-year-old woman in the company of two of the licensees and two other individuals. The identities of those involved have never been disclosed, and the restaurant was sold soon after the suspension was served in November of 2000.

While he will continue to operate Gramercy Bistro in a reduced role, Smith wanted to get back involved in the Williamstown market, calling the purchase of Canterbury’s a “great opportunity for everyone involved and the town.” Smith sees a need for restaurants on Spring St., saying, “there isn’t one place on Spring St. where you can sit down and have a good, American meal.”

This will not be the first time Fisher has been involved with Canterbury’s. Caprari is her father, and she managed the pub for a year when it first opened in on Spring St. in 1996.

Fisher, a North Adams resident, is currently an office administrator and is listed as the manager of Walden Culinary LCC, where she will oversee the establishment’s business operations while Smith operates the restaurant.

The renovations at Canterbury’s could turn over a new leaf for the pub, which has attracted trouble from the town police and Board of Selectmen over the years. Smith told the Berkshire Eagle that he and Caprari agree that it is time to change Canterbury’s negative image.

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