For all intents and purposes, Worcester is a hungry city. We have seen the city grow in immeasurable ways through the past decade; cultural institutions including the Worcester Art Museum and Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, the educational institutions like Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Quinsigamond Community College, and businesses both large and small like Unum and Crompton Collective have seen the value and potential that Worcester has to offer. As a result, these companies have invested in expanding their footprints to include themselves in the fabric that holds Worcester’s community together.

A group dining at Chuan Shabu on Park Avenue in Worcester, MAEvidence of this vibrant vision for the future is most tangible in the hospitality scene. For the first time in recent memory, we are not only seeing dozens of restaurants opening (and, the true testament, staying in business), but are watching them leading the charge in the discussion of culinary excellence—on a national level. Everywhere you look: Armsby Abbey pioneered both the, then new to Worcester, “farm-to-table” and “slow food;” Niche Hospitality Group not only introduced the concept of tapas, but gourmet Spanish Tapas at Bocado Tapas Wine Bar (and then expanded it to Providence and Wellesley); Sweet calls Worcester home even after Chef Alina Eisenhauer was featured on the Food Network’s cooking show Chopped and Cupcake Wars and won Sweet Genius. Worcester is hungry.

Thick sliced whole wheat oat bread with butter and honey with an espresso at BirchTree Bread Company on Green Street in Worcester, MAThis year is no exception. The hospitality industry is one of the most volatile industries, affected more so by the environment around it than the talent within. But Worcester’s economy, community, and hunger has ensured that the success of the early 2000s is more “the first course” than a flash in the pan. In twelve short months, much has happened. Early this year, husband and wife duo, Alec Lopez and Sherri Sadowski, finally opened the long awaited Crust Artisan Bakeshop, bringing locally sourced ingredients and naturally leavened bread to Main Street. Breathing life into the quickly growing Canal District, BirchTree Bread Company offers a similar attention to detail baking style with a completely different cafe-style atmosphere. Also in the Canal District, we’ve seen a building that has been empty for years brought back to life by David Domenick in the form of Compass Tavern. On Shrewsbury Street, Niche Lavraki Mediterranean Sea Bass from Meze on Shrewsbury StreetHospitality Group, moved the original Mezcal Tequila Cantina into Más Mezcal at larger space in the heart of downtown while simultaneously created a new concept in its former space, as a restaurant focused on burgers called The Fix Burger Bar. Also on Shrewsbury Street, which was made known for its Italian style is now known for its diverse dining options, including Mezé Greek Tapas Bar & Grille where a taste of true Mediterranean flavors meets tapas style service. The Italian world also expanded on Shrewsbury Street when Rose-Ellen Padavano, growing off the success of the BYOB favorite Rosalina’s Kitchen, opened a new restaurant, Padavano’s Place. In other parts of Worcester, we see Red Pepper offering a Chinese culinary experience just a few short miles from craft brewery 3cross Brewing Company. And there is a lot more that opened in 2014.

Diners ordering at The Fix Burger Bar on Shrewsbury Street in WorcesterFor the first time in many years, it is evident that businesses, government, institutions, and individuals understand that they need to work together—it is no longer the wild west of monopolies; it’s community. Programs like the Worcester Cultural Coalition’s WOO Card and movements like Amy Lynn Chase’s #ShopWoo help hold the Worcester fabric together. Worcesterites may not have bucket loads more money than they did last year, but they are conscious about experience, quality, and worcester-centric ideas. This concept is not widely adapted by other cities, which is why Worcester’s reach goes beyond its seven hills. Worcester is a hungry city and it just started on its appetizer.

Hot and spicy at The Fix Burger Bar on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA