Fairfield Restaurant Week starts as eateries deal with COVID-19 related challenges

Centro Restaurant, which borders Sherman Green, leases property from the town to use as a patio during summer months.

Centro Restaurant, which borders Sherman Green, leases property from the town to use as a patio during summer months.

File Photo / File Photo

FAIRFIELD — Restaurant Week started in town on Monday, and business owners are hoping it brings in new customers who keep coming back.

As the world enters into its second cold season in a pandemic world, the owners and managers of restaurants in town say they face staffing, supply chain and material cost issues. But, they hope the 10th annual Restaurant Week will help alleviate some of that pressure with a wave of support from the community.

Mark Barnhart, Fairfield’s director of community and economic development, said it has been a tough time for many small businesses.

“Between staffing shortages, increased costs and supply chain issues, restaurateurs face a host of challenges,” Barnhart said, in a release from the town. “We hope that residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy and support the many restaurants that Fairfield has to offer, while also being conscience of the continued difficulties faced by these businesses as a result of the pandemic.”

That is part of the reason the town decided to extend the event to a second week this year — through Nov. 7. Restaurants participating in this year’s event are offering special prix fixe or other discounted lunch and dinner menus showcasing their finest culinary offerings.

“Additionally, several restaurants will be offering take-out and family meal deals,” the town said.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said Fairfield is excited to sponsor the townwide event, which celebrates “its many great restaurants.”

“Restaurant Week gives the public the opportunity to visit longtime favorites or try someplace new,” she said. “With the variety of cuisine that’s offered during this event, it’s easy to see why Fairfield continues to be a top dining destination.”

Susan Dederick, owner of Centro Ristorante on the Post Road, said the event is a great way for the town to support all the restaurants.

“It’s a fun event,” she said. “It does draw people in — maybe people who have not been here before. You’re surprised by how many people haven’t tried different places.”

Dederick said she wishes she could predict how the winter months will impact business, adding she thinks it is going to be as hard as it has been the past couple winters.

“I think a lot of people still don’t want to eat in,” she said. “All the restaurants are still very, very busy outside. People still want to be spread out. I think it’s going to be an interesting winter. It could get a little difficult again, but we’ll see.”

Dederick said the pandemic was traumatic for Centro, as people did not know what was going to happen or how to handle it. Now, she said, it’s a little better — but people still do a fair number of take-out orders and she anticipates more as it gets colder.

On top of that, Dederick said, every restaurant has been going through issues with staffing, supply and rising costs. She said Centro has run ads trying to find employees but, “There’s no one out there.”

“I think so people have gotten out of the hospitality business,” she said. “The shortages on food, paper goods — you never know what you’re going to get. It makes it a little difficult.”

But it is slowly turning around and getting better, Dederick said, and her restaurants as well as other restaurants will do what they can to make it work.

“Fortunately, I think the people out here have done a really good job of supporting all the restaurants, which has been wonderful,” she said. “I think (Restaurant Week) will attract some new people to the downtown and to the restaurants. I think it’ll work.”

Jamie Rist, the general manager of The Little Pub on Black Rock Turnpike, said the business has always participated in Restaurant Week because it allows people a good opportunity to come and see what they have to offer.

“It’s just so that people can come in and enjoy — enjoy the atmosphere — and get a little discount,” she said.

Rist said The Little Pub has been impacted by staffing and supply issues, but the business keeps chugging and making the best of the situation.

“We’re pushing through and we’re thriving,” she said, going on to speak about her employees. “It’s a great thing to see people I’ve worked with so long step up and do things the wouldn’t normally do.”

The issues staffing has created a situation in which bussers run food or barback and where servers are learning how to tend bar, Rist said.

“Being their team leader, it puts a smile on my face,” she said. “People really have stepped up.”

Being born and raised in Fairfield, Rist said the community has shown up to help The Little Pub throughout this challenging time.

Patrick Tennaro, the owner of the Old Post Tavern, said the 11-year-old business has always participated in Restaurant Week because it is good to pull together with other restaurants to give residents a good experience. During prior iterations of the event, he said, the Tavern saw a rise in business, but he is not sure that will happen this year.

“We just have a lot of pressure of people wanting to come out,” he said.

Tennaro said the Tavern has been impacted by many of the same issues as other restaurants, but the staffing situation has stabilized. Supply chain issues are more difficult to deal with, he said.

“Certain things like plastic cups can be very difficult to get,” he said. “There’s little bits and pieces that no one even thinks of that we can’t get.”

One example of something the Old Post Tavern is having trouble finding, Tennaro said, are straws. He said they can be almost impossible to get, adding he will find some for sale online but with massively inflated prices.

Tennaro said he wants to give his customers a great experience during Restaurant Week, adding people deserve it in light of dealing with the pandemic for so long. So far though, he said the restaurant is back to pre-pandemic levels if not exceeding them.

“We don’t know if we are out of the fog yet,” he said. “We have a very large outdoor patio that has helped us during the summer months and the warm weather, but now it comes down to the winter. What’s going to happen? Are people comfortable dining indoors as much as they are comfortable dining outdoors?”

Sharath Dara, the owner of Smokin Noodle on Kings Highway Cutoff, said he opened his business during the summer of 2020.

“It was very tough,” he said. “There were lockdowns. We struggled a lot.”

It is getting better, Dara said, but only a little bit at a time. He said he is hoping the promotions offered through Restaurant Week will bring more people to the eatery, which blends ramen and barbecue.

With staffing issues and supply prices up 30 to 40 percent, Dara said, it has been a struggle.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I’m surviving here. It’s on a day-to-day basis,” he said, adding he hopes to see many new faces over the coming weeks.