With more than 70 restaurants occupying Queen Street and over a dozen on Meriden-Waterbury Road, people often ask how so many eateries can survive. There will soon be 110 after Longhorn Steak House opens on West Street.
Many of the restaurants in town are corporate chains with franchises and that’s not including eight Dunkin Donuts. Restaurant chains also profit off their other regional places. If one franchise 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.
The New Mill, Anthony Jack’s, Cava, Tavern 42, Zingarella’s, Flair, Fratelli’s and the Manor Inn have proved to be exceptional places that are family owned and have been immune from the franchise tag. All solidify the theory that if you serve good food at reasonable prices and keep a clean environment, patrons will become regulars. These are the premier dining spots, people say.
Southington has the best banquet facility in the state and eloquent Cava on West Street studied its market before opening, realizing ESPN would be a steady and excellent client. The opening of Flair at 98 Main St. is the latest downtown food attraction owned by locals.
Operating a restaurant means surveying the competition and the overall market. Those restaurants who are under financed face uncertain obstacles such as a poor economy, a lack of financial reserves and most of all, undependable staff.
Bars are unlike restaurants. Restaurants can survive on patrons having one or two drinks, but bars need more frequent drinkers, entertainment and solid pub menus to not only attract patrons, but keep them longer. Most bars are quiet after 11 pm. unlike the nightclubs of the 1980s and 1990s.
The exceptions are favorite watering holes like the Groggy Frogg, Friends Cafe, Fire Place, 75 Center, Hop Haus and now the new Tap Out. All have corralled loyal followings because of a wide variety of food. Blackstone’s in Milldale and Hydeaway Cafe and the Hop Haus in Plantsville are successful bars. Restaurants like Spartans II and Aziogo’s remain solid and popular due to smart pricing of their food and drinks plus the advantage of having cozy banquet rooms. Now Craft Kitchen has grabbed some of the dining market, with a small but cozy place on Meriden Avenue.
Paul Gregory’s Deli continues to be solid on Center Street alongside the town’s first brewery, Witchdoctor at Factory Square. The larger Kinsman Brewery is the town’s latest located at the former Clark Bolt factory. Tucked in a small plaza without much visibility is the Hen House, still doing well along with neighbor Carousel, a popular breakfast spot.
Furthermore, golf courses have changed their look from golf courses to nightclubs. Hawk’s Landing and the Back Nine are now attracting non-golfers and the latter has become a hot night spot.
Wood n Tap is one of those trendy places that always seems busy. Tuscany in Plantsville continues to flourish and Close Harbor now attracts diners in a nice setting as does steady Tony’s Restaurant and also Sam The Clam’s as local favorites.
Let’s not forget the smaller places that remain solvent and extremely popular. Places like Saint’s smartly serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, all equally priced to attract a wide variety of customers.
Across the street, El Pulpo has a steady flow of patrons. Kettle Bagels and Fancy Bagels are successful with little or no competitors. Let’s not forget the breakfast servings of Steve’s and Grace’s in Plantsville and Pepper Pot downtown. Raggozzino’s on Summer Street is a classic Italian deli.
Pizza houses do well based on the cost factor of their product, but those that do better offer expanded hours, seating and something different like a menu of low-priced dinners and grinders. There are over 20 establishments selling pizzas and assorted Italian foods. Nonna’s on Center Street, South Town in Marion and Max Pizza are relative newcomers to the pizza frenzy.
Southington has exploded again with more restaurants with the classy Ideal Tavern downtown, Smash Burger and Noodles on Queen Street, along with JD’s Restaurant opposite Shop Rite. Then there’s Salsa’s Mexican with two locations on Meriden-Waterbury Road and the original El Sombreo on Queen Street. Sweet Mango on West offers Thai and Japanese food and soon a Korean eatery next to the new hotel on West Street and across the street Chip’s is a busy place.
Southington restaurants are attracting hungry patrons from adjacent communities and are keeping the health department busy along with our tax collector, but it will be interesting to see the effects of the minimum wage that will slowly increase to $15 an hour in a few years.