For more than two decades, Hot Tomato's at Union Station on Union Place packed a punch with its power lunches, elbow-to-elbow "see and be seen" bar crowd and to-die-for four-cheese bread and garlic-laced specialties.
It appears it could soon become another sad memory for Hartford.
Reports are the landmark restaurant at the Hartford train station is in the midst of selling some kitchen equipment and supplies as staff leave and customers, who had booked the place for parties this season, scramble to find last-minute, alternative venues.
Owner Melissa Altmann insists the place is only closed indefinitely for renovations and repairs from a broken water pipe.
"I don't know who put the sign on the door," said Altmann about a sign last week that said the restaurant that unexpectedly closed earlier this month would reopen March 28. On Monday, another sign on the door said it is closed for renovations but that progress would be posted.
"There must be some misunderstanding," she said, insisting that nothing from the restaurant is for sale and that it will reopen in a month or two.
Altmann's late husband, Tom Altmann, opened the Italian-inspired eatery as part of his Hot Tomato's Restaurant Group that once included the former Hot Tomato's in New Haven, the former Bamboleo in Glastonbury and Braza in Hartford. The Union Place restaurant, which leases the space from the Great Hartford Transit District, was the crown jewel.
"I haven't heard anything about a water pipe break or the restaurant closing," said district executive director Vicki Shotland. "As far as we are concerned they are still our tenants."
After longtime general manager and partner Jimmy Cosgrove left last year and opened a Hartford restaurant, Salute, Neil Fuentes, known in the area as "The Singing Chef," became general manager. He promised a new look and a late-night vibe with dancing, karaoke and live music aimed at a younger crowd. Fuentes, who reportedly has left the restaurant, could not be reached for comment.
Other city restaurant owners are concerned and curious about exactly what is happening as they field calls from diners after the restaurant's sudden closing and uncertain future.
"We had three people rebook parties at Trumbull Kitchen last week," said Steve Abrams, who owns the place with Rich Rosenthal. "Apparently they kept calling Hot Tomato's and when no one answered, they re-booked with us."
"If it does close, it's an end of an era," said Dish restaurant co-owner Dan Keller, a friend of the Altmann family and longtime director of operations for the Hot Tomato's Restaurant Group.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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