SECOND LOOK: Restaurant business is tough, but Southington's eateries are thriving

Published on Wednesday, 23 May 2018 21:01
Written by ART SECONDO

With 68 restaurants occupying Queen Street and another 17 on Meriden-Waterbury Road, people often ask why and how so many eateries can survive.

Most of the restaurants in town are corporate chains and franchises and that’s not including eight Dunkin’ Donuts. Restaurant chains also profit off their other places. If one in Southington isn’t doing well and those in other towns are making big profits, the local restaurants will remain open. This is certainly not the case with locally owned establishments.

Anthony Jack’s downtown, Cava on West Street, Sam The Clam’s, Friends Cafe, Groggy Frogg, Zingarella’s and the Manor Inn are family-owned and have been immune from the chains. These places solidify the theory that if you serve good food at reasonable prices and keep a clean environment, patrons will become regulars.

Meanwhile, the Ricciardone family at the Manor Inn, bolstered by a strong banquet business, has more than 40 years of attracting a solid senior crowd. And Zingarella’s is another hometown restaurant that has overcome the chains. Zingarella’s, like the two previously mentioned, caters to families and the crowd who enjoy casual menus that include pizza and also include bar service. Cava on West Street studied its market before opening, realizing ESPN would be a steady and excellent client.

Operating a restaurant means surveying the competition and the overall market. Those who are unfinanced face uncertain obstacles such as a poor economy, a lack of financial reserves and most of all, undependable staff. There are several bartending schools but none for waiters and waitresses.

Bars are unlike restaurants. The beverage industry isn’t the same as in years past. Restaurants can survive on patrons drinking one or two, but bars need more frequent drinkers and a solid pub menu to not only attract patrons, but keep them longer. Yet, people don’t hang around bars like in the old days. Most bars are quiet after 11 p.m., quite different from the packed nightclubs of the 1980s and 1990s.

The exceptions are favorite watering holes like the Groggy Frogg, Friends Cafe, Kinsman and Witchdoctor breweries plus the Fire Place on Center Street. All have corraled loyal followings because of good food and reputations of being safe places. Blackstone’s in Milldale and Hydeaway Café and the Hop Haus are successful bars. Restaurants like Spartans II and Aziago remain solid and popular due to smart pricing of their food and drinks, plus the advantage of having banquet rooms. Fratelli’s is a steady Italian restaurant.

Furthermore, golf courses have changed their look from golf clubs to nightclubs. Hawk’s Landing and the Back Nine are now attracting non-golfers and the latter has become a hot night spot.

Restaurant chains will always survive because of unlimited financial resources. And, they will cater to those willing to watch their budgets. Even the recent closing of Bertucci’s on Queen Street is an indication that inflated monthly leases are deadly. Wood-n-Tap is one of those trendy places that seem always busy because of strong management.

Let’s not forget the smaller places that remain solvent and extremely popular. Places like Saint’s smartly serve breakfast, lunch and dinners, all equally priced to attract a wide variety of customers. Across the street, El Pulpo has a steady flow of patrons.

Pizza houses do well based on the cost factor of their product but those that do better offer quaint atmospheres and something different.

In the past year two breweries have located here. This new concept of making beer produced on premise, opening less than a week and serving limited food, has proved to be a huge attraction. Kinsman Brewery and the Witchdoctor are doing well.

Southington has exploded again with more restaurants. There is the Ideal Tavern downtown, Smash Burger on Queen Street, an expanded Salsa’s on Meriden-Waterbury Road coming soon and a new Vietnamese eatery in downtown Plantsville. A new Asian eatery near Fancy Bagels and a soon-to-open Mission Bar BQ on Queen Street will further add to the town’s exploding food outlets.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 23 May 2018 21:01. Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2018 21:04.