Location, location, location. If there's one thing that can easily make or break a new business, it's finding the right piece of real estate. Some business owners make brilliant decisions on where to set up shop. Dry cleaners near train stations, for example, or package stores next to supermarkets.
Then again, every town seems to have its own "cursed" locations, those spots where businesses just can't seem to succeed. Restaurants, which face long odds surviving over the long haul in any case, sometimes seem particularly cursed in certain venues.
Remember Beefsteak Charlie's in Westport? It went through many different incarnations (American, Thai, Vietnamese) before being transformed into an outpost of the upscale New York burgery, Shake Shack, last summer.
In Fairfield, Pizzeria Uno begat Black Rock Tavern, which begat MacKenzie's, which begat Mesa, which is now closed and is waiting for Panera Bread to take over.
What could possibly tempt someone to open a new business -- particularly, the same kind of business -- where the sour smell of failure still hangs in the air?
That, in fact, is the question that many people seemed to be asking when The Chelsea opened its doors less than a month ago in downtown Fairfield. The building at 12 Unquowa Place over only a few years' time has been home first to Sarabande, then Greenhouse Grill, which lasted for about a year. Next came The Fairfield Spot, which lasted less than Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage. So you can't blame people for thinking, "Here we go again."
But this time, things really will be different, if The Chelsea owners have their way. To begin with, they've got experience on their side. The partnership consists of Kevin McHugh (co-owner of The Gray Goose in Southport and The Spotted Horse in Westport), Scott Beck (co-owner of South Norwalk's Match and The Loft and The Tavern in Monroe), and Matt Storch (co-owner of Match).
"When you go into a space that didn't fare so well in the past, it's important to dramatically change the space," said Beck. "We gave the restaurant an entirely different feel and look without changing the footprint." So walls came down and spaces opened up. "We changed all of the materials to make it warmer," he said. One of the complaints that diners had about the previous space was that it was loud, so the new owners addressed that by installing sound-proof tiling. Beck pointed out that he doesn't believe he has all the answers, but hopes that by changing everything -- the space and decor, the staff and even the music -- the location has turned a new leaf.
In Westport, a riverside locale seems like it would be a no-brainer for a successful restaurant, but the spot at 5 Riverside Ave. on the west bank of the Saugatuck River has gone through several incarnations. For a while it was Bridge Cafe, then Napoli Sul Fiume. Just a few weeks ago, Adele Degl'Innocenti opened Arezzo, a Tuscan-inspired restaurant. Her husband Ben Meluzio said they weren't intimidated by the locale's history.
"We were in New York City for 11 years and were very successful," he said. The New York restaurant, located in the Flat Iron District, was open from 2004 to 2011. "The Westport location lends itself to al fresco dining," said Meluzio. The restaurant has a main dining room, an upper and a lower level outdoor terrace, and a private dining room.
"At one point, Westport was the center point for dining," he said of a past era when the town was a regional culinary hub. "Everyone came to Westport to dine. Now we're seeing a resurgence of that since zoning is loosening up."
Until recently, zoning laws restricting outdoor dining, liquor licenses and parking were a deterrent for potential new restaurants, business owners argued, prompting officials to approve a series of initiatives to make Westport competitive with other area communities.
"You have to be smart in this economy," said Meluzio. "People are eating out less and spending less." But he believes Arezzo has the right combination of factors to do well. A beautiful view, specialty homemade food and a successful run in New York City are enough to make it work.
Clearly, location is a huge factor in determining a restaurant's success -- or failure -- but according to Beck and Meluzio, there's more to a good restaurant than just an ideal piece of real estate. Perhaps with their own recipes for success, the curse will be lifted.
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com
12 Unquowa Place, Fairfield
203-254-8200 / www.thechelseaff.com
Crudo: Slivered raw tuna macerated in soy-yuzu-truffle, jalapeño, rice crackers & avocado blocks / $14.95
Zucchini Hay: Fried squash strands, cracked black pepper and a drizzle of classic aioli / $8.95
Bahn Mi: Roasted pork belly and soda-braised shank with classic toppings, sweet chips / $14.95
Oyster Bun: Carpetbagger style, truffle cream & aioli, steak tartare, warm crispy oysters / $17.95
Fish/Scallops PBJ : From as close as possible, concord grape sauce & chutney, spinach, peanut & corn ragu / Lunch, $19.95; Dinner, $23.95
Ribs: Falling off the bone onto a pile of bistro fries, pecan slaw, and smoky BBQ / Lunch, $19.95; Dinner, $23.95
5 Riverside Ave., Westport
203-557-9375 / www.arezzowestport.com
Appetizers start at $8 and include:
Capesante: Grilled diver scallops with sweet corn, asparagus and tomato
Carpaccio di Manzo: Thin-sliced filet mignon with baby arugula and shaved Parmesan
Pasta, starting at $14:
Garganelli allo Zafferano: Saffron-flavored garganelli with veal-sage ragu
Ravioli all' aragosta: Lobster burratta ravioli with cherry tomato sauce
Entrees starting at $16:
Pollo Scarpariello: Sauteed chicken, sausage, potato, cherry peppers, garlic, rosemary
Salmone Arezzo: White radish, plum chutney, caramelized pearl onions and mashed potatoes