Restaurant owner promises opening at former Corny T’s site
November 11, 2006
By JONATHAN O'CONNELL, Hartford Business Journal Writer
If lions really do sleep for long periods before roaring to life, then Shawn Eddy has chosen the right moniker for his new restaurant and nightclub.
A number of times Eddy, 30, has put off opening the doors to the Emperor at the Linden, his new upscale restaurant, lounge and club, at the former site of Corny T’s. But when the place adorned with lion logos finally awakens, people will take notice.
Eddy first considered September of last year to begin business -- a date that now seems preposterous considering the place is still weeks away from opening.
The opening was pushed to August 2006 when Eddy was having trouble getting the city to allow him to hang two shining purple and gold signs above the sidewalk outside the front door at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Main Street. The permitting process took six weeks, he said, and ultimately required that he take out a new insurance policy.
The timeline was again extended when Eddy fired the second chef he’d hired. Neither the first nor the second was up to his standards.
“We kind of had to put the project on hold until we got the right people in,” Eddy said.
Now it appears that finally, more than a year after the original date he was considering, and after investing in close to $1 million of his real estate earnings, Eddy is getting ready to re-open the site of what was once a popular restaurant, but which has been dormant for almost eight years. There are still speakers to hang, flat-screen televisions to unpack, floors to clean and carpets to install, but Eddy is excited about his new chef, has a staff of servers ready to start, and the vast majority of the site’s 8,000 square feet of classy dark interiors and look completely ready for upscale relaxation and entertainment.
Eddy certainly didn’t start out looking to take over a well-known Hartford nightspot. Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and secured a position as a pharmacology research scientist at Yale University. There were a lot of 14-hour days in the lab.
But that didn’t stop Eddy from dabbling in real estate on the side, something he began doing in his early 20s. And like a lot of late-1990s real estate investors, he did very well. In 2005 he opted to use some of his earnings to buy the first floor and basement levels of the Linden from boxing promoter Don King.
King, along with associate and former University of Connecticut basketball player Cornelius Thompson, opened Corny T’s in 1997 after gutting nearly the entire first floor. Apparently from mismanagement, it closed three months later with much of the space stripped and undeveloped.
Eddy remembers the spot from its heyday, when it was Spencer’s Restaurant.
“If you were going out a night, you made a stop at Spencer’s,” Eddy said. The crowned lion in the new restaurant’s logo is aimed at sparking memories of Spencer’s own lion, and the rest of the joint is aimed at making Emperor the royalty of Hartford’s nightlife.
There are at least two themes in the Emperor, and possibly more. But all of them are aimed at those with fine tastes. “We’re really trying to have the upscale theme going throughout the entire venue,” Eddy said.
“An emperor is someone greater than a king. I want my customers to feel greater than a king as long as they are here.”
Upstairs is aimed at a more traditional, refined crowd, especially happy hour-goers. One walks in to see Al Capone’s bar –- brought from Chicago and reassembled here by the Corny T’s crowd -– set against exposed brick. There is a dining area with tall, sidewalk level windows, with views of the busy streets, and a newly arrived grand piano. In the private rooms nearby, all the furniture is made of smooth mahogany from North Carolina’s Henredon Furniture, including three pre-ordered “king’s chairs” that feature the Emperor logo on the back.
The menu, prepared by Leo Buschey, formerly of Acqua, the oyster bar and restaurant in Vernon, will be “global fusion,” featuring filet mignon, foie gras and 2-pound lobsters.
And then there is the downstairs nightclub. This area, Eddy said, is mostly for the younger, hipper professional crowd, that is looking to party and have some after-hours fun.
Those looking for entertainment can navigate their way to the billiards room for three new pool tables and a beautiful wooden chess board. There is a cigar room with a humidor and many, many flat screen plasma televisions.
Laid before a stage for the DJ is the biggest surprise: the “bed lounge.” There are three beds, that’s right -- beds, fashioned after an entire club full of beds in Miami and similar arrangements at New York City clubs.
Location, Location, Location
For years, the city has been hoping a sort of mini-development would happen in the Linden -– especially considering how short a stroll it is from city hall and the federal courthouse. The locale, with 12 commercial units and 59 condominiums, has served as a barometer for the city’s resurgence and after years of speculation, Eddy seems to finally be getting it moving. On the opposite corner he signed Cappuccinos & More, which has been busy selling coffee brought up from New York City since June. In the long set of commercial space in between he has recently signed a salon and is in discussions on a lease with a law firm.
Emperor’s locale has spelled disaster for previous establishments, partly because it is on the far side of town, away from the clubs congregated by Union Place. Eddy will have to convince club goers –- many of whom don’t remember Spencer’s -– to give the south side of town a try, but he thinks he can do it.
“I think we’re making ourselves a destination for food and entertainment,” Eddy said.
But even if he can, is there really enough cultural room in one establishment for a chessboard, a fake Egyptian mummy and a bed lounge? Eddy thinks so, and he believes making a few false starts to consider the different elements –- upstairs for happy hour and dinner, downstairs for late night -– will pay off.
“It’s a lot more thought out. It’s a lot more polished. I feel a lot more confident about it this time around,” Eddy said.