Noted restaurateur Bill Taibe is in the process of opening a new restaurant in Westport. Just don’t expect him to provide details about the menu – or even the new eatery’s name.
Having established himself with seafood spot The Whelk and Asian favorite Kawa Ni in Westport — as well as LeFarm, a pioneering farm-to-table restaurant a few blocks away from his new location that he sold last year — Taibe said the pressure to live up to past accomplishments is practically nonexistent.
Still mulling the new place’s menu — “I’m receptive to having some of our classics available” — Taibe said his recent change of diet, during which he shed several pounds, will likely play a role. “I’m trying to be more aware of healthy dishes, so it will probably be vegetable-heavy,” he said. “It’s not the same as when I was 28 and putting foie gras sauce over everything.”
He added that his new eatery at 90 Post Road East “won’t be so serious” when it comes to both menu and ambiance.
“This will be a place for people to drop in while they’re walking around downtown for lunch or dinner or brunch on the weekends,” he said. “People wearing shorts and flip-flops will be mixing with people who are just coming off the train from work.”
“I’m at a much more mature phase of my life” than when he opened the likes of Le Farm and The Whelk, said the recently-turned-40 Taibe. “Those places were about being aggressive and in your face, with loud music and being at least partially a ‘scene’.”
Working with designer Kate Hauser, Taibe said he tries to keep his restaurants’ designs on the simple side to maintain a timeless ambiance. “It’s really a matter of, if something feels right we do it, and if it doesn’t we don’t,” he said. “This is the fun part for me, taking a space and figuring out what to do with it.”
In fact, he added, actually naming a restaurant tends to be pretty low on the priority list. “We still get mail at The Whelk addressed to ‘That Oyster Bar,’ because that’s all it was known as at first.”
When Taibe and partner Massimo Tullio first began scouting new locations several months ago, they were attracted to the 5,600-square-foot former home of the Blu Parrot restaurant in Saugatuck. “Ultimately we just couldn’t make it work,” he said, “but one or two days after that fell through my broker asked if I’d be interested in looking at this space.”
The former site of Spruce Home and Garden “made more sense,” the restauranteur said. “It’s a beautiful stone building, built in 1908, that was the original police station and the town hall. It’s got a lot of history to it. We want to recognize what was here and what the building has meant to the town. A lot of people here remember it from what it was before, and we want to reflect that.”
He said the layout will be similar to that of The Whelk, moving in a descending pattern from the bar to a central, communal eating area and then tables along the walls. With the new space affording just 2,600 square feet — plus some patio space in front — Taibe said he and Tullio essentially are planning “a squeezed-down version of the Saugatuck space” to produce a “big tavern, with the best ingredients and respect for the producers who grow and raise the food.”
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get back to this part of Westport,” said the Weston resident. “I never really envisioned being in downtown Westport, but this location kind of overlooks the area and just has so many possibilities.”
Taibe is also enthusiastic about the growing vibrancy of the area, from the still-evolving Bedford Square across the street — a mixed-use project between Church Lane, Main Street and Elm Street reconnecting the area to the rest of downtown with new retail, offices, restaurants, residential units and below-grade parking, anchored by a 40,000-square-foot Anthropologie — to the 54,000-square-foot Westport Weston Family YMCA that opened two years ago and the thriving retail and restaurant scene, including the Rothbard Ale & Larder gastropub downstairs at 90 Post Road East.
Having signed the Post Road lease on July 1, the serial restaurant operator is on vacation. Having recently gone through the new space’s demolition phase, the “real work” will begin in September, he said, with plans for a soft opening in December and a formal opening after the New Year, with patio dining being added in the spring.