Volunteer firefighter and friend open up new Hartford restaurant on Main Street in South Green neighborhood
By LAURA SCHREIER, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
February 11, 2008
Firefighting gear hangs on the walls along with pictures of firemen in action, menu items are called “The Hartford Hose Team Burger” and “Boston Ladder 31” — and one of the managers is himself a volunteer firefighter.
It’s the décor for one of Hartford’s newest restaurants, appropriately named Hook & Ladder.
Stan Sadlak, the restaurant’s owner, wants to create a new dining niche in Hartford: the downtown family-friendly restaurant. He acknowledges that it won’t be easy to get families from the suburbs to dine in south downtown.
“We’re definitely the underdog in this whole matter,” said Sadlak, president of S.T. Sadlak, a real estate financial services firm. “We’ve identified a market niche that the timing was right for.”
Sadlak has owned the restaurant’s space at 207 Main St. since 1995, long enough to see a few restaurants come and go. During the early 1980s, it was home to Max On Main, before Max’s moved locations. Later, Grille 207 and Keller’s operated restaurants in the location.
Now, Sadlak wants to try his own hand at the restaurant business.
Its success is staked largely on people looking for something a little cheaper — entrees go from $10 to $22 — and more appealing to anyone who wants a laid-back atmosphere, including customers with children.
To that end, Sadlak and manager David Lockrow — a volunteer firefighter — have worked to collect firefighting paraphernalia. The most detailed element to the theme is the gallery of photos that show present-day firefighters as well as photos of historic events, such as the Hartford circus fire of 1944.
“I want to bring recognition to what firefighters actually do,” Lockrow said.
So why firefighters? Sadlak said he knew he needed a theme, and the idea of firefighting seemed ideal. The location is right next door to a fire house, and Sadlak recruited his friend and volunteer firefighter Lockrow to do some of the legwork on the project.
The 207 Main location puts the restaurant right on the edge of the South Green neighborhood, and Lockrow admits that the restaurant may struggle with potential customers’ bad perceptions about the area. One ace up the owner’s sleeve is the free parking behind Hook & Ladder, a boon for parking-starved downtown.
“In Hartford, that’s almost unheard of,” Lockrow said. As for leeriness on the part of potential customers, Lockrow said that one previous restaurant at that location, Max on Main, was successful despite a high crime rate during its heyday in the 1980s.
Sadlak said Hook & Ladder served 300 dinners on the weekend it opened in late January. Many of those dinners were served to residents from surrounding apartments and offices. Lockrow said news of the restaurant circulated in fire department newsletters, so plenty of firefighters and their families streamed in to check the place out.
Sadlak wants to offer a restaurant where families can come, but is also welcoming to the downtown professional who wants a reasonably priced meal. The place has a bar, a lounge area and lots of booths in the dining room, a design he said was supposed to create a comfortable vibe.
“On a snowy afternoon, this is where you’d want to go hang out,” he said.