Newtown introducing Restaurant Week to further promote destination status

By Kevin Zimmerman

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As part of its ongoing efforts at establishing Newtown as a destination for state residents and tourists, the city’s Economic Development Commission this fall will roll out Newtown/Sandy Hook Restaurant Week. Designed as what organizers call “a celebration of local and international cuisine,” the dining event will run from Sept. 26 through Oct. 2.

“Newtown is trying to brand itself as a place with exciting restaurants with a wide diversity, from the smallest diner to high-end cuisine,” said First Selectman Pat Llodra. “Five or six years ago it seemed that every new restaurant was a pizza restaurant. Now we have something that appeals to every taste, every interest.”

Indeed, over the past year the town has welcomed such new eateries as high-end British/Italian restaurant Dere Street; Tazza Cucina & Bar; and Nouveau Monde Wine Bar in the village of Sandy Hook, along with The Red Rooster Pub, due to open in October, and a pair of restaurants anchoring the multibuilding commercial development Village at Lexington Gardens, set to open at the start of 2017. Lexington Gardens is also designed to help make Newtown a destination town.

Other recent additions over the past couple of years range from American spots Figs, Barnwood and The Foundry, all of whose entrees typically range from $15 to $32, to sports bar Cover Two in Sandy Hook. While there are still plenty of pizzerias, the town now also offers Thai, Japanese, Indian, and fusion fare.

“The town has been getting a lot more inquiries over the past couple of years from restaurateurs,” said Betsy Paynter, the town’s economic development coordinator. “Success breeds interest, plus people are looking to dine out more as the economy has improved.”

As part of Restaurant Week, over 20 restaurants are presenting special deals, ranging from contemporary Italian bistro Sal e Pepe’s price fixe lunch and dinner menus (three courses for $20 and $30, respectively) to Café Xpresso’s offer of two sandwiches, two medium drinks and one pastry to share for $20.16. Full menus and descriptions of participating restaurants can be found at newtownsandyhookeats.com.

“It’s a great idea,” said Angelo Marini, owner of the 11-year-old Sal e Pepe. “The whole idea for us is to get people from outside of Newtown, to attract new customers and reward existing customers. I usually don’t do a prix fixe menu but this seems like a good opportunity for us.”

Marini hopes to mine new customer data from signing them to the eatery’s loyalty rewards program.

“We thought about it for a while, talked with the economic development people and got behind it,” said Café Xpresso co-owner Bob Schlump, who said that the promotion offers “a good chance for business-to-business development – if a customer asks for something we don’t have, we’ll refer them to another restaurant that does, and they do the same for us.”

Paynter noted the Economic Development Commission is partnering with the Newtown Cultural Commission and the Board of Education to incorporate “Music in the Streets” on the weekend of Sept.30 through Oct. 1, with musical performances by local musicians and students outside many of the participating restaurants from approximately 5 to 7 p.m.

In addition to the Newtown Arts Festival, the Newtown Chamber of Commerce, and the Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity, several local businesses are also lending support and marketing to the event, including Dental Associates of Connecticut – in the midst of relocating to Lexington Gardens – and Newtown Savings Bank.

“As Newtown’s hometown bank, we are happy to sponsor Newtown Restaurant Week – yet another local event that contributes to our vibrant community,” said Tanya Wulff Truax, the bank’s vice president and public relations director.

Poynter said she will poll participating restaurants after the event ends to gauge success and chances of turning it into an annual event.

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