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New Class Of Eateries Try To Make It

Dining Choices Dominate Downtown Hartford Development

November 11, 2006
By DIANE WEAVER DUNNE, Hartford Business Journal Writer

As downtown retail vacancies are increasingly filled with new restaurants, Hartford is further cementing itself as a dining and entertainment destination in the region.

Within the next six months, build-outs for at least 13 new dining and entertainment venues will be complete or will begin, joining the approximately 40 dining establishments already operating in downtown.

Filling vacant retail space isn’t easy, said Maggie Gallagher, director of marketing and leasing for 960 Main Street LLC and an independent broker specializing in leasing restaurant deals. Anthony Autorino and his 960 Main St. partners worked on filling the retail at the former department store for more than six years, she said.

“The right tenant mix was absolutely critical to the success of this building,” she said, adding, “We held off leasing to sub-grade tenants.”

Including the recent leases, there will be six dining or nightclub venues at 960 Main St.

Their efforts are finally coming together, she said, with two deals recently signed. An event-catering banquet hall, to be called The Marquee Room, will open Dec. 1 and be located in the former department store’s prime storefront location facing Main Street. Autorino is among a group of partners investing in The Marquee Room.

The other deal calls for an Indian-food restaurant in the Market Street 2,800-square-foot storefront space. The restaurant will be called the Ambassador of India and be operated by the same restaurateur who runs the Glastonbury restaurant with the same name. A Jan. 1 opening is planned.

Also at 960 Main St., there will be a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Global Gourmet, a cafeteria-styled restaurant that offered a variety of international cuisine. The restaurant closed in mid-2006.

Headed West

Jeffrey Kalt, one of Global Gourmet’s partners, is opening another Global Gourmet in a downtown San Francisco Bloomingdale’s department store, where they expect the concept to be more profitable.

However, the Go Global kiosk will remain open, which is now doing as much business as the former restaurant, Gallagher said.

“It needs to be in a high-volume traffic area,” she explained, noting that although Global Gourmet was very popular, there was not enough traffic to sustain it financially.

A sit-down restaurant serving lunch and dinner will replace Global Gourmet in the spring, she added. The mezzanine –- currently covered by an expansive mural –- will be removed to make available space for a billiards area, made accessible by a new staircase.

Gallagher said the use of the mezzanine space would create a “casual chi-chi” billiards room, offering entertainment and a place for residents to hang out.

Less “chi-chi” and even more casual will be Woody’s Fish Tank, a new sports bar with flat screen televisions slated to open across the street from 960 Main, in the former American Airlines building.

The operators of Woody’s, known for their foot-long hotdogs, will open the restaurant and pub adjacent to their existing, lunchtime-only restaurant. The new restaurant will be open evenings and weekends in late fall.

Other plans for the American Airlines building call for a sushi and international wine bar to open in early 2007 where the former Pelican’s lingerie store was located. Operators of Koji on Asylum Street –- which opened about 13 months ago -- and Toschi in Avon are finalizing plans for the unnamed restaurant with developer David Nyberg, who is converting former office space in the building into condominiums.

Another new addition to downtown Hartford’s dining establishments is Sally’s Fish Camp at 201 Ann St. The upscale seafood restaurant opened its doors for business last week. Formerly the location for Pastis, the establishment has been reconfigured and redecorated.

Another option for upscale dining and entertainment will be the Emperor at the Linden at the corner of at the corner of Main Street and Capitol Avenue.

Also in downtown, Joe Blacks Restaurant & Bar –- located in the former Society for Savings building -- recently opened. The restaurant has also opened an adjacent 1,300 square-foot banquet hall, featuring an ornately decorated ceiling.

At another nearby landmark, the former Sage-Allen department store is expected to close on deals for three fast food restaurants to fill retail space called Chow Row.

Gallagher expects another restaurant deal -- for Trumbull on the Park -– to be announced within 30 days.

The growth of restaurants in downtown solidifies Gallagher’s contention that national merchandise retail stores will remain elusive for Hartford’s downtown.

Elusive Goal

“We aren’t going to get a Barnes & Noble or a Macy’s,” she said, noting that national retailers heavily depend upon evening and weekend traffic. Even though new downtown housing is expected to attract 5,000 new residents, Gallagher said it still would not be enough.

Hartford, she predicts, continues to evolve into a restaurant and entertainment destination.

Perhaps national retailers aren’t interested in Hartford, but local entrepreneurs are. A build-out is currently underway for a downtown grocery store at Hartford 21, a $160 million mixed-use project adjacent to the Hartford Civic Center.

The DeFrino family -- operators of Bliss in Wethersfield -– is finalizing plans for a 7,000 square-foot storefront on Asylum Street for a grocery store with 60 seats for casual dining. They plan to open in April.

Northland Investment Corp., developers of Hartford 21, also is working with a number of restaurateurs who are quite interested in opening dining establishments at Hartford 21, said Chuck Coursey, Northland’s spokesman.

The Hartford 21 project created about 53,000 square feet of street-facing restaurant and retail space in downtown.
Another major downtown project, the mixed-used component of Adriaen’s Landing –- called Front Street -- is anticipated to bring another 60,000 square feet of restaurant and entertainment space to downtown as well.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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