2014 ‘Best New Restaurant’ makes waves, sinks

AMHERST – The blu­Aqua restaurant and bar opened with a splash three years ago, prompting rave reviews on food websites.

Located at Salzburg Square, it was named Best New Restaurant in the 2014 Best of the Souhegan Region contest, sponsored by The Cabinet and the Souhegan Valley Cham­ber of Commerce. In May, the Boston CBS’s Phantom Gourmet called the food "truly mesmerizing."

Last week, however, the restaurant closed abruptly, with chef/owner Chris Noble reporting on Facebook that he hopes to reopen nearby soon and indicating that the site didn’t work out.

"As some of you know and many of you have heard, we have been in some rough negotiations over the last few months. Unfortunately, bluAqua is no longer viable at this lo­cation and we have made the hard decision to close the doors. We have accom­plished so much and are so grateful to all of you for your love and support through our years here. We hope to remain near­by and promise to let you know as soon as we find our new home."

Mike Spyridakis, Salz­burg Square’s owner, how­ever, said Tuesday he had gone to court to have the restaurant evicted for vio­lating the lease with late rent payments and by not opening at lunch time as the lease required.

"It’s too bad," said Spyr­idakis, who has owned the complex for 11 years. "I’m looking for a good restau­rant" that can be open in the middle of the day to benefit the other shops.

Noble could not be reached for comment, and Scott Forrester, the res­taurant’s original owner, said he is in New Orleans dealing with family issues.

Forrester,who said he is now a major investor, said they chose to leave Salz­burg Square for several reasons, including the fact that Spyridakis "was forcing the chef to open for lunch … It was lunch or you’re out of here."

"We tried that, and we lost a ton of money," he said. "Very few people are coming through here for lunch."

The small Bavarian-style shopping center on Route 101 has about 15 units, depending on how they are configured. Some of them are empty.

It’s been the longtime home of Enchanted Lace and Roxie’s Fashions. Re­cently, Tucked-In Organ­ics, a mattress and bedding shop, and Jim Peacock’s karate studio moved in.

During the Phantom Gourmet interview Noble said he left Louisiana when he was 22.

"I thought everywhere was like New Orleans, where bars didn’t close; where the door hinges were rusted open," he said, and "the focus is on the food … We just don’t have any rules. We do what we want. People seem to love it. We’re very playful with our menu and it’s just a great vibe here."