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Four new businesses start up in downtown Ashland

Ashland has been pulverized by COVID-19 and the loss of Oregon Shakespeare Festival for a year, but four new business startups show optimism still exists among local entrepreneurs.

The new businesses include two restaurants — Burrito Republic and Happy Thai — and a pair of specialty retailers, Tamada and Amistad.

Burrito Republic, which is sited on the Plaza, offers hearty full meals and is designed to be grab-n-go, even after COVID leaves us alone.

Owner Sam Jackson says it’s fashioned on the “veggie forward” model of his popular Falafel Republic in south Ashland, but Mexican-oriented. It includes a range of handy, healthful foods — salad, rice bowls and burritos — with fillings that include rotisserie chicken, verde pork, chili relleno and roasted fajita veggies.

Ingredients include cabbage, fresh daily salsa, and roasted pumpkin seeds (in burritos). The shop is located in a familiar spot with lots of walk-up traffic, at the foot of the incline up to OSF. The shop is a classic “crack in the wall.” Cooking is done at Falafel Republic and brought over. You order on a touch-screen or online.

“It’s time for this,” he says. “So many shops have closed down, but there’s still a demand for takeout food. We all have to adapt, be creative and get through this. It’s definitely a scary time to open a business, but people need to eat and this will help bring life to downtown.”

Jackson’s aim is to keep overhead low, while “being conscious and making good, whole foods. It’s working. Business is pretty great, an awesome response from the community.”

Happy Thai restaurant offers only takeout until COVID is gone. Owner Peter Husman says he and his wife, Mam, had a Thai restaurant for years in Berkeley, and her pad Thai is to die for.

“There’s a huge appetite among locals for Thai food and this will help satisfy that desire. It’s a thing that’s not going away. It needs some help. Pad Thai has always been the number one bestseller. Number two varies, with green or red curries with Thai pumpkin and your choice of shrimp, fish, calamari or tofu.”

It’s in a small space where Plancha was, across from the Varsity Theater, next to Rogue Valley Runners. It’s open until 9 p.m., closed Tuesdays. There’s no alcohol yet, but there may be next year.

“The idea is high quality, but affordable, Husman said.

Tamada, a unique retail shop, sells kitchenware, stationery, plants and other items designed to tickle fancies, says owner Bon Dechyarit, who runs it with his wife, Kay.

“I know we’re taking a big chance at this time, but we are confident. We’re trying to do what we can now and what we love. It could be better in the future, after the pandemic. Business is kind of slow but we hope next month we’ll get more sales for Christmas.”

The couple are both Thai and they love potting, cottage plants, quality kitchenware, stationery from Japan — and they import it all.

“The name Tamada means simple, and that speaks our vision,” says Dechyarit. “It’s all very Japan-oriented.”

The couple came to America to study English and “we just love to live in America, so we moved here, starting 10 years ago, in L.A., but the big city is not for raising kids.” he says. “We moved ... to raise small children in a good town, with a slower pace, in Talent, last year. Our house on Talent Avenue almost burned.”

Tamada is next to Three Penny Mercantile on Pioneer Street.

The new Amistad highlights food items and folk art, mainly from Mexico and Italy — and will pop-up other colorful cultures, such as Germany for this Christmas. Spain and Palestine follow after the first of the year, says owner Joe Quarto.

“My idea is, since we can’t travel now, let’s take a trip in our kitchen and see stuff grandma had, such as the treats or artwork she brought into this country,” he says. “A lot of people come in here, and when they see this stuff, they cry.”

Quarto says his shop “is a piece of a larger network of retailers who hope people shop in downtown Ashland. We have an advantage because we know we’re opening in the middle of a pandemic, so it reinforces the idea of local shopping for years to come.”

Amistad, he notes, is Spanish for friendship. “We’ve been lucky to live around the world in my career, so sharing food, art and culture creates friendship, sharing of food and conversations and friendships with local artists.”

Quarto’s take on the future of Ashland’s downtown is, “It’s a big reset for small-business owners. From a real estate perspective, the square footage was too high. Very large spaces that require a lot of inventory. Today’s brick-and-mortar can’t compete with Amazon — and rents have gone insanely high, so that might be a silver lining in those clouds. This is a resilient town with deep roots in the festival, and people love to come here to Main Street America. All this is temporary, but unfortunately it’s going to kill off some businesses.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Holly Quarto, owner of Amistad, works Wednesday at her new store in Ashland. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch