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  • 05 Aug 2014 4:44 PM | Anonymous

    A bipartisan group of House members has introduced a bill intended to change one of the many confusing aspects of the Affordable Care Act: its two definitions of “seasonal” employment.

    The problem: Restaurant operators who hire seasonal staff face confusing rules under the ACA. That’s partly because the law defines “seasonal worker” and “seasonal employee” differently. One definition helps businesses with seasonal workforces understand whether they’re “applicable large employers” who are subject to the ACA’s employer mandate. The other helps large employers determine which full-time seasonal employees must be offered health care coverage.

    It gets complicated: Figuring out whether an employee is full-time under the ACA is tricky, and that’s especially true to for seasonal employees. To help employers figure it out, ACA regulations give large employers the option of using what’s called a “look-back measurement method” to assess the full-time status of any employee who works in a position for which the customary annual employment is six months or less. Because of the way the method works, many seasonal employees are unlikely to qualify as full-time for purposes of health care coverage offers.

    But employers use a different seasonal-employment standard to determine if they’re “applicable large employers” under the ACA. Under current law, employers include seasonal workers’ hours of service to determine if the business hits large-employer status (for 2015, this covers employers with 100+ full-time-equivalent employees; for 2016 and beyond, 50+ FTE employees). If it turns out seasonal workers push the employer into large-employer status, the employer may qualify for an exception to the employer mandate. But the calculation is complex and the definition of seasonal worker is vague.

    Employers near the 50- or 100-FTE employee threshold are caught in the middle, since they now need to use the seasonal worker definition to run the large-employer calculation and the seasonal employee definition to understand which seasonal staff are eligible for health care coverage offers.

    The fix: The “Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act” (H.R. 5213), recently introduced in the House of Representatives, simply applies one definition of “seasonal employee” across the health care law, both for determining employer size and for determining  offers of health care coverage. The STARS Act defines “seasonal employee” as an employee who works less than six months in customary, annually recurring work at certain periods of time in the year. The bill removes seasonal employees from the calculation to determine if the employer is large. This simplifies the calculation and reduces the chance that an employer could inadvertently violate the law by using an incorrect definition. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

    Why we like it: The ACA’s two definitions of seasonal employment, and the rules that have been issued to explain the law, are already causing frustration and confusion, especially for smaller restaurant operators who employ seasonal staff.

    “The ACA’s ‘seasonal worker’ definition is vague and continues to confuse small employers as they work to comply with the law,” said Scott DeFife, NRA executive vice president of policy and government affairs. “By passing STARS, Congress can ensure that smaller seasonal employers with limited human resources capabilities have the tools and understanding necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act and to continue to grow their businesses.”

    The NRA, along with 51 state restaurant associations and other business groups, wrote to Congress in support of the STARS Act.  Read our letter and our statement.


  • 30 Jul 2014 2:55 PM | Anonymous
    Full Article: http://www.restaurant.org/News-Research/News/Congress-may-agree-on-travel-and-tourism-bill?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ROW+July+29


    Travel and tourism bill moves to Senate

    July 23, 2014

    Congress could be headed toward a rare moment of agreement. And it’s on an issue that has a profound impact on restaurants: travel and tourism.

    With the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the Travel Promotion, Enhancement and Modernization Act on Tuesday and the Senate Commerce Committee’s approval of the bill on Wednesday, Congress took a major step toward reauthorizing Brand USA, a global marketing program to promote the United States as an international tourist destination. The program, which the legislation would reauthorize, is funded through a fee paid by international visitors.

    The National Restaurant Association supports the reauthorization of Brand USA and sent letters urging members of the House and Senate to vote for the bill.

    “The restaurant industry relies on travel and tourism and the success of our member companies is closely tied to the promotion of Brand USA around the world,” said Scott DeFife, NRA vice president, policy and government affairs. “We urge the swift passage of the Travel Promotion Act in the Senate as Brand USA must continue its critical work in promoting the U.S. abroad and attracting international travelers to our shores.”

    Tell the Senate to support America's restaurants and renew Brand USA!

    Passage of the bill would be a big win for restaurants. About $1 of every $4 spent in restaurants comes as a result of travel and tourism, and international travel is a big part of the picture. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that international travelers spent $15.4 billion on travel to and tourism activities within the U.S. in March 2014. According to the U.S. Travel Association, overseas visitors spent an average of $4,455 over 18 days during visits to the U.S. in 2012. The same year, the U.S. was the destination for 66.6 million international travelersundefined37 million from Canada and Mexico and 29.6 million from overseas. The number of overseas travelers increased by 7.7 percent in 2013 and is expected to increase by another 5.3 percent this year.
  • 30 Jul 2014 2:51 PM | Anonymous

    Full Article: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/connecticut_fast-food_workers_travel_to_national_wage_rally/?utm_source=CTNewsJunkie.com&utm_campaign=065520943c-MCP_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a493d2308d-065520943c-92888849

    Ten Connecticut fast-food workers flocked to Chicago this weekend, where they joined thousands of other fast-food employees at a labor gathering to demand a $15-an-hour pay rate as well as the right to form a union.

    During the two-day convention, which was held just four miles away from the McDonalds headquarters,1,200 fast-food workers from around the country engaged in leadership trainings, strategized about how to escalate the campaign and shared their experiences in their fight to raise the wage floor for the nation’s 4 million fast-food employees to $15 per hour.

    “We talked a lot about civil disobedience,” Samuel Velez, a McDonalds employee from Hartford, said. “What we’re doing; fighting for our rights is really important. It was very good that a whole bunch of workers came together as one and spoke about what we’re going to do next, and that we got feedback about how we’re doing.”

    The workers in attendance were joined by activists and elected officials from over 50 cities, including Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber II and President of the Service Employees International Union Mary Kay Henry, all of whom packed into a nearby suburb’s expo center to rally around their “$15 and a union” motto.

    “A selfish few at the top are using their power to hold down wages, no matter how much that hurts families and communities across the country,” Henry said during her keynote speech.

    The campaign, known as the “Fight for $15” campaign, is centered on the belief that fast-food workers are entitled to a larger portion of what The Statistics Portal defines as the fast food industry’s $200 billion dollar income.

    “I fight for fifteen because I have a son, a family” Velez said. “I’ve been working at McDonalds for six months, and I haven’t been able to afford an apartment. I walk to work everyday. I work for a million dollar company undefined they can afford to pay fairly.”

    Though the convention was the first time that fast-food workers across the country united under one roof to fight for a common cause, the Fight for $15 campaign has been in effect since November 2012, when New York City fast-food workers first walked off their jobs after demanding a higher pay rate. Since then, similar campaigns have held a multitude of daylong strikes outside of various fast-food chains, three of which occurred in Connecticut.

    For the industry itself, the “Fight for $15” mentality has been at the forefront of several large-scale corporate meetings. According to McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, how to address the fast-food workers’ demands was a topic discussed at McDonalds’ annual shareholders meeting this past May.

    “We respect everyone’s right to voice an opinion,” Barker Sa Shekhem said in a statement. “McDonald’s respects our employees’ right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully. If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts. We value our employees’ well-being and the contributions they make to our restaurants, and thank them for what they do each and every day.”

    Though Barker Sa Shekhem said that McDonalds restaurants “respects their employees right” to protest, the Fight for $15 campaign website suggests that such treatment is not always the norm for fast food employers. In the “Know Your Rights” section, the site lists several legal rights that fast-food workers employees have when it comes to protesting.

    “They try to put pressure on a lot of workers when they’re working,” Velez said in regards to his workplace. “They don’t want us to fight for 15. They’ll cut hours, try to scare other employees away from the movement.”

    Velez and others said that the attendees of the convention were committed to escalating the tactics discussed at the convention, and that they expect to see more labor gatherings in the future.


  • 19 Jun 2014 3:28 PM | Anonymous

    Go head to head with some of the best Chefs in New York and New Jersey for your chance to win $500 at the 2014 Tri-State Food Expo!  Click here for the rules and details of the competition. 

  • 19 Jun 2014 3:25 PM | Anonymous

    If you think you can stand the heat, sign up today to compete on The Taste!  Open casting calls for chefs interested in competing in this culinary competition series will be held in Boston on Saturday, July 12th.  Click here to compete for your chance to win $100,000!! 


  • 19 Jun 2014 11:06 AM | Anonymous

    The 2014 Legislative session might have been a short session, but there was no shortage of bills impacting the hospitality industry.  The CRA followed over 60 bills during this three-month session, many of which did not become law, but we expect will be proposed again next year during the longer 2015 session.

    The major piece of legislation which will impact restaurants is an increase in the minimum and tipped wages.  Connecticut's minimum and tipped wages will increase in increments in each of the next three years until 2017, when the minimum wage will increase to $10.10 per hour. 

    On the positive front, there were changes made to the paid sick leave law in an attempt to make it more workable in determining who must comply. 

    There were also several bills which did not pass that would have adversely impacted restaurants, including: a per employee tax for all franchises with 500 or more employees in CT, a mandatory cash-back rule on gift cards with a minimum balance left after purchase, and a bill that would have banned the common practice of servers being charged for their portion of the credit card processing fee. 

    Please see below to read a full 2014 legislative wrap-up.  If you have any questions about legislative matters, or would like to be involved in the CRA's Legislative Committee, please contact Nicole Griffin at griffin@ctrestaurant.org or (860) 278-8008 ext. 106.
    _____________________________________________________________________

    The Connecticut General Assembly convened, as scheduled, on February 5, 2014 and adjourned on May 7, 2014. Levin, Powers & Brennan tracked 64 bills on behalf of the CRA during this “short” legislative session.

    Of most significance to the Connecticut Restaurant Association were the following bills:

    - PUBLIC ACT 14-1, SENATE BILL 32 AN ACT CONCERNING WORKING FAMILIES’ WAGES

    - PUBLIC ACT 14-217, AN ACT IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF THE STATE BUDGET FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2015 (FORMERLY SENATE BILL 249 AN ACT PROMOTING RETIREMENT SAVINGS)

    - SENATE BILL 60 AN ACT CONCERNING EMPLOYEE GRATUITIES

    - PUBLIC ACT 14-167, SENATE BILL 61 AN ACT CONCERNING WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND LIABILITY FOR HOSPITAL AND AMBULATORY SURGICAL CENTER SERVICES

    - SENATE BILL 83 AN ACT CONCERNING MUNICIPAL NOTICE OF ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR PERMIT RENEWALS

    - HOUSE BILL 5069 AN ACT CONCERNING LOW WAGE EMPLOYEES

    - PUBLIC ACT 14-128, HOUSE BILL 5269 AN ACT CONCERNING PARITY BETWEEN PAID SICK BENEFITS AND OTHER EMPLOYER-PROVIDED BENEFITS

    - AN ACT CONCERNING CASH REFUNDS FOR GIFT CARD BALANCES 

    - PUBLIC ACT 14-1, SB 32 AN ACT CONCERNING WORKING FAMILIES’ WAGES

    Under current law, the state's minimum hourly wage is scheduled to increase from $8.70 to $9.00 on January 1, 2015. Governor Malloy proposed Senate Bill 32 and with the help of President Obama, this bill passed both the House and Senate in March.  The CRA vehemently opposed this proposal.

    This bill increases the minimum wage by $0.45 to $9.15 on that date, by an additional $0.45 to $9.60 on January 1, 2016, and by an additional $0.50 to$10.10 on January 1, 2017.  The bill does not change the “tip credit” allowed by law. Thus, it will automatically increase the employer's share of minimum wages for wait staff.  The table below reflects the increases            2014                          2015                                2016                          2017

    Minimum Wage

    $8.70

    $9.15

    $9.60

    $10.10

    Server Wage

    $5.69

    Tip credit 34.6%

    $8.70x34.6%=$3.01

    $8.70-$3.01=$5.69

    $5.78

    Tip credit 36.8%

    $9.15x36.8%=$3.37

    $9.15-$3.37=$5.78

    $6.07

    Tip credit 36.8%

    $9.60x36.8%=$3.53

    $9.60-$3.53=$6.07

    $6.38

    Tip credit 36.8%

    $10.10x36.8%=$3.72

    $10.10-$3.72=$6.38

    Bartender Wage

    $7.34

    Tip credit 15.6%

    $8.70x15.6%=$1.36

    $8.70-$1.36=$7.34

    $7.46

    Tip credit 18.5%

    $9.15x18.5%=$1.69

    $9.15-$1.69=$7.46

    $7.82

    Tip credit 18.5%

    $9.60x18.5%=$1.78

    $9.60-$1.78=$7.82

    $8.23

    Tip credit 18.5%

    $10.10x18.5%=$1.87

    $10.10-$1.87=$8.23

    PUBLIC ACT 14-217, AN ACT IMPLEMENTING PROVISIONS OF THE STATE BUDGET FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2015 (FORMERLY SENATE BILL 249 AN ACT PROMOTING RETIREMENT SAVINGS)

    Senate Bill 249 would have created a state-run, public retirement plan for private-sector employees employed by a company with 5 or more employees that does not currently offer a retirement plan.  This bill was championed by the House and Senate Majority Leaders.  The CRA was part of a large coalition of business and insurance companies and trade associations opposing SB 249, which a watered down version eventually became part of a final budget deal.

    The bill creates the Connecticut Retirement Security Board and requires it to (1) conduct a market feasibility study on implementing a public retirement plan and (2) develop a comprehensive proposal for implementing the plan that must include certain goals and design features. The board must submit: two reports on the feasibility study's status to the governor and Labor Committee, by May 1, 2015 and January 1, 2016, respectively and the comprehensive proposal to the governor, General Assembly, Senate president pro tempore and House speaker by April 1, 2016.

    SB 60 - AN ACT CONCERNING EMPLOYEE GRATUITIES 

    The original version of this bill would have decreased the minimum wage “tip credit” for wait staff from 36.8% to 33% on January 1, 2016, and to 30% on January 1, 2017.  In effect, the bill requires hotels and restaurants to pay their service employees at least 67% of the minimum wage in 2016 ($6.43) and 70% of the minimum wage in 2017 ($7.07). It also would have prohibited employers of any tipped employees from applying the tip credit if they reduce or impose a surcharge on an employee's tips paid through a credit card transaction.

    In the final days of session, there was an effort to move only the latter section of the bill, which would have prohibited what is common practice in the restaurant industry of employers charging wait staff the tipped portion of the credit card processing fee.  The CRA worked to educate legislators that this issue has already been contemplated by the federal government which has decided that this practice is permissible.  The bill did not move forward but we do expect it to return during the 2015 session.

    PUBLIC ACT 14-167, SB 61 AN ACT CONCERNING WORKERS' COMPENSATION AND LIABILITY FOR HOSPITAL AND AMBULATORY SURGICAL CENTER SERVICES

    The original version of this bill would have set default rates for workers' compensation-related services at hospitals and ASCs at 200% of the service's Medicare reimbursement rate.

    The compromise version changes how the default rates for workers' compensation-related services at hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) are determined when an injured employee's employer or workers' compensation insurance carrier (the “payor”) does not negotiate rates with the hospital or ASC. Current law requires the payor to pay a hospital for its actual costs of treating an injured worker, as determined by a workers' compensation commissioner. In practice, the payor and hospital or ASC generally negotiate discounted rates for the hospital's or ASC's services. If they do not negotiate, the payor must pay the hospital's or ASC's billed rates.

    The bill instead requires the Workers' Compensation Commission chairman, by January 1, 2015, to establish and publish Medicare-based formulas for determining rates for workers' compensation-related services at hospitals and ASCs. The formulas must be for services covered by Medicare. In establishing them, the chairman must consult with employers and their insurance carriers, self-insured employers, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, third-party reimbursement organizations, and any other entities the chairman deems necessary. After initially publishing the formulas, the chairman must annually publish them on January 1.

    Starting 90 days after the chairman publishes the formulas, the bill caps the default rates at the reimbursements listed in the formulas. If the services are not covered by Medicare (and therefore do not have an applicable formula) the rates must be determined by the chairman, in consultation with the above consulting entities. The payor can also negotiate different rates with the hospital or ASC.

    PUBLIC ACT 14-48, SB 83 AN ACT CONCERNING MUNICIPAL NOTICE OF ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR PERMIT RENEWALS

    The original version of this bill would have mandated that anyone renewing a liquor permit for on-premise alcohol consumption with the Department of Consumer Protection give simultaneous written notice of the application to the chief law enforcement official in the town where the business is located. 

    The compromise version allows municipalities to adopt ordinances requiring anyone applying to renew a liquor permit for on-premises alcohol consumption with DCP to simultaneously give written notice of the application to the chief law enforcement official the municipality where the business is located. The official or designee may send written comments on the application to the DCP commissioner within 15 days after receiving the notice. The commissioner must consider the comments before renewing the permit.

    HB 5069 AN ACT CONCERNING LOW WAGE EMPLOYERS

    This bill, back for the second time in a different version, would have assessed a quarterly fee on employers with 500 or more employees and franchisors whose franchisees collectively employ 500 or more employees. These employers and franchisors (“covered employers”) must pay a $1- per- work-hour fee for each person who was (1) on the employer's payroll, or the payroll of one of the franchisor's franchisees, for the last 90 days of the most recently completed calendar quarter and (2) paid wages by the employer or franchisee that were less than 130% of the state's minimum wage.

    The CRA, along with other businesses and trade associations, worked to defeat this bill in the Finance Committee.  The bill failed in the Finance Committee 16-27.  We expect it to be back again next year.

    PUBLIC ACT 14-128, HB 5269 AN ACT CONCERNING PARITY BETWEEN PAID SICK LEAVE BENEFITS AND OTHER EMPLOYER-PROVIDED BENEFITS

    This bill changes the method for determining if a nonmanufacturing business is exempt from providing paid sick leave. Under current law, it must provide the leave if it employs 50 or more people in Connecticut during any of the previous year's quarters. It must determine if it exceeds this threshold by January 1 annually based on the quarterly reports it submits to the labor commissioner. Under the bill, the business must determine if it meets the annual 50-employee threshold base on the number of employees on its payroll for the week containing October 1.

    The bill also prohibits the business from taking certain actions to avoid providing paid sick leave. Specifically, the business cannot fire, dismiss, or transfer an employee from one job site to another to come under the 50-employee threshold. Workers aggrieved by such practices may file a complaint with the labor commissioner, as the law allows.

    The bill changes the timeframe for accruing paid sick leave. Under current law, employees accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked per calendar year. Under the bill, they accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked during whatever 365-day year the business uses to calculate employee benefits. This allows the employer to start the benefit year on any date, rather than only on January 1.

    HB 5473 – AN ACT CONCERNING CASH REFUNDS FOR GIFT CARD BALANCES.

    The original version of this bill would have required anyone accepting a gift card to provide a cash refund after a purchase when there is a balance and when the purchaser requests it.  A violation of this would have been deemed an unfair or deceptive trade practice.

    The bill was strongly opposed by the CRA and the CT Food Association and was eventually changed to require those restaurants and retailers accepting gift cards to provide a cash refund on gift cards with a balance of $5 or less.  Eventually, the House passed a version of the bill which lowered the cash refund to $1 or less remaining on a gift card and changed the penalty to a fine.  The CRA and CFA continued to oppose the bill and it was not called in the Senate.  We expect this bill to be proposed during the 2015 session.

    The following is a list of other monitored bills that also passed:

    PUBLIC ACT 14-111, SB 269 AN ACT CONCERNING A SINGLE ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR PERMIT FOR MULITPLE EVENTS IN A CALENDAR YEAR

    This bill allows certain organizations seeking temporary or daily liquor permits to apply to DCP for a permit for multiple events, rather than applying each time they wish to hold an event and increases the number of times such organizations can apply each year to 12. The affected liquor licenses are the temporary beer, temporary alcoholic liquor, charitable organization, and nonprofit corporation permits.  This law is effective July 1, 2014.

    PUBLIC ACT 14-9, SB 57 AN ACT CONCERNING THE DIRECT DEPOSIT OF WAGES

    This bill expands the types of deposits that automatically exempt up to $1,000 from bank executions against a judgment debtor's account to include electronic direct deposits that are readily identifiable as wages. Current law requires this automatic exemption if, within 30 days before the execution order, the judgment debtor's account received electronic direct deposits that are readily identifiable as federal veteran's benefits, Social Security benefits, supplemental security income benefits, or child support payments under the Social Security Act. The bill extends the same exemption, including its notice requirements and limitations, to accounts that received electronic direct deposits readily identifiable as wages within 30 days before the execution order.

    The bill also requires an employer, its agent, or representative paying an employee's wages by direct deposit into any bank, Connecticut credit union, or federal credit union, to electronically identify the deposit as wages.  This law is effective October 1, 2014.

    PUBLIC ACT 14-135, HB 5099 AN ACT CONCERNING CATERER, BREW PUB MANUFACTURER AND BEER AND BREW PUB MANUFACTURER ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR PERMITS

    This bill allows those holding manufacturer for a brew pub and manufacturer for beer and brew pub permits to also hold caterer liquor permits. Under current law these manufacturer permittees can serve alcohol only on their own premises. The bill allows them, if they obtain a caterer's permit, to sell and serve liquor, beer, spirits, and wine for on-premises consumption at any outside activity, event, or function for which they are hired. By law, they may only sell and serve alcohol during the allowable hours for on-premises alcohol sale.

    By law, caterer liquor permittees must notify DCP at least one business day before an event of the event's date, hours, and location. The notice must be given on a DCP-prescribed form, or, if the caterer is unable to do so due to exigent circumstances, by telephone. The annual caterer liquor permit fee is $440.  This law is effective July 1, 2014.

    It has been a pleasure to represent the Connecticut Restaurant Association at the state legislature and we look forward to our continued relationship in Hartford.

    If you have any questions or concerns on any of these matters please do not hesitate to ask.

    Thank you,

    Levin, Powers & Brennan, LL

  • 05 Jun 2014 10:02 AM | Anonymous
    Full Article: http://articles.courant.com/2014-05-30/community/hcrs-89636-greater-hartford-20140528_1_restaurant-pub-mini-golf-tournament-pan-mass-challenge

    On Tuesday, June 10, the Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub will be hosting a Mini Golf Tournament to kick-off their annual Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Fundraiser to help raise money for cancer research, while also supporting Team Lanzoni, made-up of Ninety Nine Restaurant team members who will be participating in this year's Falmouth Road Race and the Pan Mass Challenge.

    In addition to the mini golf tournaments and two races, there will be various fundraising efforts throughout New England and New York, including in-restaurant check donations and in-restaurant events.

    The Mini Golf Tournament will consist of teams who will receive awards and prizes for the following: best team scores, most hole in ones, best themed & team 1st, 2nd & 3rd prizes, and the best or most creative team name.

    There will also be raffle tickets, prizes and giveaways, a free BBQ, Silent Auction, music and more.

    The public is invited to play. Please stop by your local Ninety Nine Restaurant to pick up a registration form. The tournament entry deadline is Friday, May 30.


  • 21 Apr 2014 4:16 PM | Anonymous
    Read Full Article: http://www.theday.com/article/20140421/NWS01/304219967/-1/NWS

    Mystic - Thirty-five-year-old Daniel Meiser quips that his brother has diagnosed him with "entrepreneurial ADD" and says he's not sure whether that's a compliment.

    The co-owner of Mystic's hugely successful Oyster Club, five-month-old Engine Room, and soon-to-open downtown butcher shop is already planning his next endeavor - an oyster farm to supply his two restaurants - and after that, down the road a bit -perhaps a small farm so he and his partners can raise their own pigs.

    Meiser was a rising star in Connecticut's restaurant world when he was recruited in 2010 to help open the food service at Watch Hill's acclaimed Ocean House. During his short stint there he met his future wife, abandoned plans to open a restaurant in the Virgin Islands and started scoping out local properties instead.

    He still remembers the day he eyed the "for sale" sign in downtown Mystic on the vacated Parisian Pomme Fries property at 13 Water St., and how as he jotted down the telephone number an employee on a cigarette break at the next-door Emporium shouted over, "You gonna buy that place?"

    "Yes, I'm going to open a restaurant," said Meiser.

    A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and Bucknell University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science and legal studies, Meiser partnered with his brother-in-law, Jason Steadman, recruited family and friends as investors, and went looking for the best executive chef he could find.

    Since Meiser was going to run the business, he knew he couldn't oversee the kitchen, too, so he hired James Wayman, for seven years executive chef at The River Tavern in Chester, and before that, a chef at Water Street Cafe in Stonington Borough.

    The first time Wayman and Meiser met, they went foraging for mushrooms on the Salem farm where Wayman was living, and then cooked them up. The day they sealed the deal to work together, they were bluefishing off Meiser's boat.

    The duo opened the Oyster Club on Sept. 28, 2011, after extensive renovations and expansions to the two-story, 1,200-square-foot Water Street property. They added a 500-square-foot dining room on one side and a 400-square-foot bar on the other, cutting into the granite ledge that runs around the building. Last summer, they opened the seasonal Treehouse out back - think "Swiss Family Robinson" - space for an additional 70 patrons in addition to the existing 85 seats in the dining room, bar and patio.

    The Treehouse has its own menu and kitchen, separate from Wayman's farm-to-table regime at the Oyster Club.

    Tricia Walsh, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, noted all the jobs Meiser and his partners have created (36 at the Oyster Club and 58 at the Engine Room and more when the outdoor spaces open up) and the visitors they are attracting.

    "They definitely have created a buzz," she said, and added, "and they bring in a whole new demographic."

    Seafood from Point Judith

    Born and raised on a farm near Greensboro, N.C., Wayman says he has spent a lifetime sourcing foods and eating with the seasons. It's a way of life for him, not a trend, he says.

    There are a handful of staples on the Oyster Club menu - the lobster roll, mussels, chowder and burger - but everything else changes daily. There's always a steak, a homemade pasta and vegan dish, but the preparation and sides change with the day and seasons.

    Fresh and local is Wayman's mantra.

    He buys from farmers, breeders and fishermen that he knows, most of whom are located within 30 miles of his restaurants.

    Yes, restaurants.

    Just 27 months after the Oyster Club opened, Meiser and Wayman partnered on the Engine Room, a 150-seat (30 of which are outdoors) eatery across the Mystic River at 14 Holmes St., which boasts American comfort food with a Southern flair.

    Meiser and Wayman are partners in this establishment, and also on the butcher shop that they plan to open later this year in the old Emporium building, which the Mystic Art Association has bought and is refurbishing, and from which the partners will lease the basement and first floor.

    The butcher shop will provide meat for the Oyster Club and Engine Room and be open to the public.

    As it is, already, there's usually a pig and a half, a quarter cow, and a whole goat in the walk-in refrigerator at Oyster Club. Wayman does the butchering and has a passion for charcuterie - cooking with prepared meat products such as sausage, ham, bacon terrines and pâtés.

    By butchering yourself, there's no waste, and Wayman's offal -a grounded blend of pork shoulder, liver, heart and kidneys slowly smoked with vegetables and wine to make a Bolognese - is a popular item on the Oyster Club menu.

    Buying locally sourced food ensures the quality of the product and helps the local economy, Meiser and Wayman said. At Oyster Club, 90 percent of the produce is organic.

    Much of the seafood comes from Point Judith, R.I., and the seasonal razor clams are harvested in Watch Hill on a moon tide by a woman who knows where to find them.

    Wayman said Meiser - who understands and loves food the same way he does -has given him the latitude he wants and needs.

    "It's a wonderful thing, his respect for me in the kitchen," said Wayman. "Dan has a great quality of letting people who have talent use it ... he really allows me to shine."

    Meiser is spending more time at the Engine Room these days, and Wayman at the Oyster Club. All the original Oyster Club investors have been paid off. Meiser's brother-in-law, Steadman, lives and works in London, and is simply a financial partner.

    'Theory of critical mass'

    Meiser and Wayman are focused on their butcher shop, and what they will do with the basement space in the Emporium. And they're seriously talking about establishing a boutique oyster farm to supply their restaurants, which will require an arduous process of applications and acquiring permits.

    And perhaps, with the butcher shop, they might establish a CSA (community supported agriculture) project, where members can get regular allotments of meats, fish, sauce and produce, and offer occasional cooking or butchering classes, where they could teach others about food preparation and the use of local products.

    Way down the line, maybe they would invest in a small farm, too, to raise some of the crops and meats they use, says Meiser.

    Both locals and out-of-towners are patronizing their restaurants, the two say, and noted their investments in Mystic add to the mix of other eateries and retail establishments.

    "I believe in the theory of critical mass," says Meiser. "The more great restaurants, food, bars, the better off we all will be."

    Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger likens Meiser and Wayman to the Steamboat Wharf Co. team who first invested in downtown Mystic almost 40 years ago and continue to own and manage numerous properties today.

    "They are a tremendous success story," Oefinger says of Meiser and Wayman.

    For Meiser and Wayman, the focus is still on the food.

    "Our food has a story," says Meiser, explaining that when Wayman prepares a dish, he knows where the beef or seafood came from, how it was cultivated, raised and harvested, and precisely how it was prepared.

    Whatever they do in the future, the two say it will revolve around food.

    a.baldelli@theday.com

  • 14 Apr 2014 10:19 AM | Anonymous
    The Importance of Music Licensing 

    The Hartford Business Journal recently ran an article about BMI and several Connecticut restaurants being sued for non-licensure.  You can’t play music publicly without a license.  Copyright laws require music users to get permission from songwriters and composers who can charge a fee before their music is played publicly, which then allows them to continue to create music.  CRA members are entitled to a 20% discount on licensing fees with BMI.  Have questions or are unsure if you are licensed?  Contact Justina Santiago at the CRA at Santiago@ctrestaurant.org or (860) 278-8008 ext. 115.
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