Greenwich Ave. could become the biggest restaurant yet as the food scene grows

GREENWICH – In the restaurant world of Greenwich Avenue, a new king of the hill might be on the way.

The location of the proposed restaurant – on the upper part of the avenue, where large restaurants are not the norm – and the overall growth of restaurant operations are changing the face of the central business district. But the shift to dining establishments with lots of seating also raises concerns about parking and whether big restaurants offer too much good stuff.

More restaurants have come to Greenwich Avenue in recent months, a trend that has continued following a general decline in the retail sector.

Restoration expert Mark Moeller said towns like Greenwich are following a larger pattern.

“Owners recognize that retail, in general, is disappearing. There’s more space…even in traditionally retail-heavy locations,” said Westport-based consultant Moeller, “Retailers are realizing they don’t need a location in each city, and shoppers will travel a little further if they need to try something on or feel the material.

On Greenwich Avenue, a dining establishment called Ruby & Bella’s, as well as a co-working space, replaced the former Ralph Lauren store. LobsterCraft has moved to the former Orvis store. Kyma would replace the former New York Athletic Club.

The largest operating restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, in terms of seating – the criterion used by the city’s planning department – is Duoro, with 113 seats inside and six outside for a total of 119 .

According to the planning department, which compiles data for an overhaul of the city’s dining codes and outdoor dining regulations, Mediterraneo is another big operation, with 94 seats, 79 indoors and 15 outside. ‘outside.

Terra Ristorante also has 94 seats, 60 inside and 34 outside. East End is the second largest, with 82 indoor and eight outdoor seats, for a total of 90. Harvest has 86 seats, 82 indoors and four outdoors. The Gingerman is another great restaurant, but the planning department did not include it in its recent survey.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mother Caroline Schmitt have lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

The planning department uses seating capacity as a metric to determine restaurant size because it correlates with parking.

City leaders are taking a closer look at dining establishments due to demand for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic and as part of an overall renewal of the business district.

Planning Director Katie DeLuca said the city has relaxed zoning restrictions to allow for more restoration.

“To have a vibrant downtown, you have to have a mix of uses,” she said.

“Several years ago, we removed the distance requirement between licensed restaurants, knowing it would lead to more restaurant uses and a more vibrant downtown,” a- she said in an email.

“In 2021, we further relaxed the regulations allowing second-floor dining space as long as it was part of the first-floor restaurant,” she said. “Retail businesses, restaurants, residences and small offices are all equally important downtown. »

Park and dine

The Planning Department recently sought public input on downtown outdoor dining, parking and the retail climate along Greenwich Avenue.

Marcia O’Kane, president and executive director of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, said the success of the food scene is good for the community.

“There has certainly been a preponderance of new restaurant openings over the past year. The Cos Cob area can now be described as a real restaurant scene,” she said.

“There has always been a natural rate of attrition with restaurants, and the most popular and well-run ones will survive. The Planning and Zoning Commission is well aware of the parking issues in the city and we are confident that it will determine the viability of the proposed 200-seat restaurant,” she said.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mother Caroline Schmitt have lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mother Caroline Schmitt have lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

First coach Fred Camillo said he supports the restaurant industry and is happy to see a thriving food scene.

“Restaurants are a strength on the Avenue. It brought a new dimension to Greenwich Avenue,” he said.

But Camillo said the city administration was working on dealing with the parking shortage, “Parking has always been an issue, so we’re continuing to work on that.” But overall, he said, “That’s a big deal to have.”

A longtime resident of Greenwich, Camillo said he remembers when diners lined the avenue, with hundreds of customers, so large-scale restaurants are not a recent phenomenon.

But some have wondered how the large Greek restaurant on offer could impact an already scarce parking supply. Owners and merchants raised concerns during the lengthy review process of the former New York Athletic Club site.

“We continue to be very concerned about the seating capacity given the size of the proposed project and the complete lack of available parking spaces on the adjacent municipal land,” said Claudia Leitenberger, owner of a property at the center. -ville, regarding the restaurant request being reviewed by Planning. & Zoning.

Kosta Gianopoulos, the Greenwich restaurateur behind the proposal, notes that a restaurant with a capacity of 200 never reaches that number. “With 200 seats, you never fill 200 seats. There are never all the seats occupied. It’s usually 20-25% less,” he said. Also, a table set for four often only has three people eating there, he said, for example.

The Kyma operation, which has locations in New York, is looking to spend more than $6 million to renovate the site, Gianopoulos said.

Bigger and better

Restaurants expanded from the 1990s. In Greenwich, a good economy and an influx of office workers into the city helped pave the way for larger restaurant establishments.

Larger catering establishments have led the Greenwich town administration to develop new regulations to combat noise and overly intrusive operations. A ban on eating on the second floor, as well as eating on the roof, was enacted over 20 years ago.

Meditarraneo has a total of 94 seats.

Meditarraneo has a total of 94 seats.

/ Robert Marchant / Hearst Media

Moeller, the restaurant consultant, noted that great restaurants have always existed, even though restaurants grew in popularity in the 1990s – a time when a booming economy, the development of cable shows around food and the rise of celebrity chefs have remade the industry.

“During the 1990s, we saw an increase in large restaurants, as more and more restaurants served families. However, large restaurants evolved much earlier in the form of jazz clubs, steakhouses and restaurants,” he said.

While it might seem like bigger restaurants would make more money, that’s not always the case, he said, and the economics are a bit more complicated.

“Big restaurants aren’t necessarily more profitable than their smaller counterparts, a lot depends on the cuisine, the food-to-alcohol ratio and the location. … Revenues can be huge, but if the systems and structure are not in place, it will be felt on the bottom line,” said Moeller.

A problem for large restaurants, he said, is the “half-full effect,” in which a perception sets in at a large restaurant that doesn’t feel full, that it’s not a popular place. .

Planning and zoning commissioners also worried about too many shoppers overwhelming the commercial corridor and unintended consequences – even quoting Yogi Berra’s old quip: “Nobody goes there anymore. There are too many people.”

City officials and planning experts will continue deliberations about what could become the avenue’s biggest restaurant, and the overall downtown dining scene, in the weeks and months ahead.

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