EatDrinkShopCook: Fish & chips shop rides tide of fickle appetites
Updated 3:14 pm, Thursday, June 23, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, we explored the question of "What makes a restaurant survive?"
Denise Collette of Tucker's in Fairfield shared her opinions on the issue based on her long-term success. Now, in part two of our erratic series of eateries that have stood the test of time, we turn to Craig Sternberg of Westfair Fish & Chips in Westport. Tucked in behind a row of small businesses on Post Road East, opposite Super Stop & Shop and not far from the Fairfield border, Westfair is easy to miss. But once you know it's there, you can't help but resist the siren call of fried seafood.
This week marks Westfair's 26th anniversary. "We opened on June 14, 1985," said Sternberg. "This is our 26th year. It feels like 56," he laughed.
Sternberg initially worked at the Westfair Fish Market, which was located in the front of the shopping plaza where the restaurant stands. For about six months he went back and forth between the market and the restaurant, but it proved to be too much. He decided to stick with fish & chips.
"I never thought I'd be here this long," Sternberg said. So what is the secret to the restaurant's endurance? "Consistency," he said. "I do what I know. I don't try to do breakfast or pizza or anything in between."
About 70 percent of the menu is fried, according to Sternberg. From fish to whole belly clams, steak fries to onion rings, if you want crispy, golden fried food, this is the place to go. But there are healthier options, too. Depending on the season, there are soft-shell crabs, lobsters, tilapia, salmon and tuna. For appetizers there are oysters, mussels and clams, and three types of chowder (New England, Rhode Island and Manhattan) and two types of bisque (seafood and lobster).
The menu hasn't changed much since the '80s. "Different fish come and go," said Sternberg. "I try to jump in while they're affordable. I try to keep the prices reasonable," he said. Dinners (which include choice of a side) average about $10. Fish & chips costs $7.95 for two pieces.
Summer is, naturally, the busiest time at Westfair. "People are fickle with the seasons," said Sternberg. "In the fall and winter, I think, `What am I doing here?' " But now that it's June, a steady stream of diners come in and out throughout the day. Seating is minimal; a few tables and a couple of bar stools, so Sternberg does a lot of take-out.
More InformationTHE SCOOP Westfair Fish & Chips: 1781 Post Road East, Westport; 203-255-3184 Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m. What to eat: Fish & chips, fried clams, chowders Other tidbits: Only cash is accepted; no alcohol is served; there is some outdoor seating in the parking lot.
Despite Westfair's longevity, Sternberg said that he often meets people who have lived in Westport for five or six years who have never been to the restaurant. "So many people work in New York that when they're home, it's like they're tourists," he said. "They almost live compartmentalized in their own areas." Yet, they somehow seem to find him and business continues to be brisk.
"The restaurant business is brutal," he said. "The week never seems to begin or end."
Westfair Fish & Chips is open seven days a week, so he has a point. "I look at Monday and Tuesday as the weekend," he said. And what is his favorite item on the menu? "I love fried whole belly clams," he said. "Even better when I'm on vacation on the Cape and I don't have to make them."
Email Patti Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Westfair Fish & Chips: 1781 Post Road East, Westport; 203-255-3184
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m.
What to eat: Fish & chips, fried clams, chowders
Other tidbits: Only cash is accepted; no alcohol is served; there is some outdoor seating in the parking lot.