Norman’s Regains Liquor License, To Reopen In August

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Norman’s Restaurant, one of Main Street’s the older establishments, can reopen now that the Town Council has granted it victualing, liquor and entertainment licenses following payment of more than $30,000 in overdue sewer fees and interest.

Norman’s closed Feb. 6 after 42 years of operation, after the Town Council refused to renew its licenses following two extensions.

The vote to renew was 4-0, with Councilman Brad Bishop absent. The only discussion centered on the application for an entertainment license. Norman’s had an entertainment license that included the possibility of live bands, but Sharon Hazard, daughter of owner Norman Harris, said the place was too small for bands so they could forgo that.

Councilors granted Norman’s an entertainment license for vocal and instrumental music, karaoke and a disc jockey.

“That’s what you had before and we’ve never had any complaints,” said Council President Michael Isaacs. “Good luck with your reopening.”

Sharon Hazard, daughter of owner Norman Harris, said her father was able to get a loan to pay off the fees.

“We’re hoping for Aug. 1, because my parents opened Jiggers Aug. 1, 1966,” Hazard said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to have to shoot for a little bit after that.”

 

 

 

6 EG Restaurants Take Part In Prov. Restaurant Weeks

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Six East Greenwich restaurants are taking part in the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Restaurant Weeks, now through July 19.

Many participating restaurants are offering either a three-course fixed price lunch for $14.95 or the same at dinner for $29.95 or $34.95, but there are variations, so check the website here for all the details.

Here are the local participating restaurants (and links to their Restaurant Weeks specials):

Bistro Nine: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/bistro-9/

Eleven Forty-Nine: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/eleven-forty-nine/

Grille on Main: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/grille-on-main/

La Masseria: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/la-masseria/

Meritage Restaurant: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/meritage-restaurant/

Siena Cucina-Enoteca: http://www.goprovidence.com/rw/siena-cucina/

 

Scramblers On Main Street Closes

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The sign reads: “Closed. Thank you.”

Closed for vacation? Closed for renovation? Closed for good? It’s closed for good, according to employees. The final day was Sunday.

According to regular customers, it closed because of rising food prices and declining sales. The restaurant had been open there since the 1990s, after Dunkin Donuts moved south on Main Street.

The restaurant is owned by Richard Seddon, who owns two other Scramblers restaurants (in Cranston and Johnston) and two Breakfast Nook restaurants (in North Kingstown and Wakefield). Those eateries remain open.

Council Denies Havana Full Music License, Granting Partial Only

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A lawyer for John Davis addresses the Town Council Monday night.

It was deja vu all over again when the Town Council Monday took up for the third time an application by owners of the proposed Havana restaurant at 11 Main Street for a full entertainment license. Councilors restated positions they’d voiced the last time the matter was before them, on May 13. Only this time, they took the vote they had delayed that night, denying Havana’s request, 2-2.

Councilmen Jeff Cianciolo and Mike Kiernan voted to grant the full license; Councilmen Michael Isaacs and Mark Gee opposed. Councilman Brad Bishop, who had voiced opposition to the proposal at two past meetings, was absent.

The Council voted 3-1 (Gee dissenting) to grant Havana a partial entertainment license, which would allow singers and one or two instrumentalists (similar to what’s been granted to some other restaurants on Main Street).

After the vote, John Davis, one of the two principals behind the Cuban-themed Havana, said he had no comment, but his frustration was evident. At the two earlier hearings, Davis had suggested he would not open without a full entertainment license.

In his application, he had said he would make significant upgrades to the building, including new windows and the addition of sound-absorbing curtains. At the meeting Monday night, Davis brought along Joe Welch, the owner of Northeast Noise Abatement of Warwick. Welch, whose company specializes in keeping noise out (such as for houses near airports), told the council he thought replacing the windows and adding curtains would be “more than enough” to keep noise levels within town regulations.

When pressed by Gee on his expertise on sound abatement from the inside out, Welch said it was largely the same thing.

“Bringing it in, letting it out, we’re doing the exact same thing,” said Welch. “The sound is always coming out or in through the windows, or the doors, or through the attic. That’s the only place it’s going to come from.”

During public comment, resident Sam Scott, who lives behind the proposed restaurant, said again he was against the council granting a full entertainment license. He brought up the ghost that’s been hanging over the entire proceedings, Rok Bar, which closed in January but not before traumatizing neighbors with its loud music reverberations.

“When we couldn’t get to sleep because of the noise, when we were awakened by the noise, we would call the police who responded promptly and courteously, but we’re tired of complaining,” said Scott. “What happens if, despite these measures, the noise comes through, what do we do then?”

Two other EG residents and a representative from the EG Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of granting Havana the full license, neither of whom live in the neighborhood in question. But they both said they thought – as did Cianciolo and Kiernan – the owners deserved a chance to prove themselves.

For Mark Gee, his opposition to the restaurant appeared to only have grown since the last discussion. Beyond the application for the entertainment license, Gee said he thought the whole “nightclub” concept was wrong for that spot. In addition, he suggested it would be hard for owners to just give up the license if the council were to revoke it later.

Addressing Davis, Gee said, “I don’t think … you would stop and say, ‘That’s fine.’ You made a substantial investment and you want to protect that investment.”

Michael Isaacs said it was appropriate to treat parts of town differently, addressing the sentiment at earlier meetings that since the restaurants on Water Street have full entertainment licenses, Havana should be able to also.

“The waterfront restaurants have been there for 30 to 40 years. We have a lot of procedures in place down there. As we move up to Main Street, we have not had nightclub-type restaurants on Main Street. What troubles me about this is that the business plan sounds very much like the description of Rok Bar.”

Davis countered that the restaurant would not be a place for cheap drinks, “fry cook” food and loud music. He said he had already been speaking with a “three-figure chef” about taking on the kitchen.

For Cianciolo, denying the full entertainment license would be a sign of government overreach.

“I just don’t think it would be appropriate for this council to hold the applicant responsible for a prior tenant at this location,” said Cianciolo. Kiernan agreed.

You can watch video from the hearing here.

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Vigorous Debate, No Resolution On Music License For Havana

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Does the town have an obligation to allow a new restaurant at least a chance to operate as the owners deem necessary – with a full entertainment license allowing bands and DJs? Or, does the town need to protect residents and town character from a potentially noisy neighbor?

The Town Council refused to decide Monday night, despite a clear majority (3 to 2) against granting an entertainment license for the proposed Havana “supper club,” at 11 Main St. (formerly Rok Bar and Grill). Instead, members voted to table the request until their meeting Tuesday, May 27. The men behind the proposed Cuban-style restaurant were asked to bring in additional documentation of proposed sound mitigation measures.

When the backers of Havana appeared before the Town Council two weeks ago, several neighbors expressed their concern and councilors grilled the backers – nearly everyone citing the noisy mess of a restaurant that was Rok Bar (which closed in January).

John Davis, one of the two principals behind Havana, said he was going to make significant upgrades to the building, including new windows and the addition of sound-absorbing curtains. The council continued the hearing, granting them time to meet with neighbors and come up with a sound-mitigation plan.

Two weeks later, Davis told the council he’d hired a sound engineer who had reviewed the plans and made other recommendations. He also told the council they would be removing the permanent raised stage and that musicians would perform on the other side of the building. He talked about the new double-paned windows he was planning to install, and showed photographs of a building in Narragansett that was retrofitted with similar new windows. Davis also said they would be sound proofing the gap between the ceiling and the roof, which he said had reverberated the sound.

When Councilor Jeff Cianciolo brought up the noise that occurred when trash was removed and the door from the kitchen to the back was left open, Davis said they were aware of that issue and would be make sure that door remained closed.

But Davis was not willing to budge on the request for a full entertainment license, which would include bands and DJs.

“We’d like to keep our options open. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do all of that,” he said. “Instead of guests leaving, they will hang around and all of a sudden, 9 or 10, we’ll start to mix it up a bit.”

Councilman Brad Bishop countered, “This isn’t Sinatra. This is AC/DC.”

“No, this isn’t AC/DC, sir,” Davis replied. But, he added, “we don’t want to be limited to a three-piece band.”

Bishop painted a scenario where the town granted the license, then revoked it six months later after repeated neighbor complaints. He asked if Davis was prepared for that possibility.

“Spending the money I’m going to spend, making the repairs I’m going to make, I’m not going to let that happen,” Davis replied. “If there’s an issue, we’er going to address that issue. I need to protect the investment … to mitigate the sound coming from the building.” (You can see a video of Davis here.)

Four residents from the neighborhood got up to speak, three against and one in favor of allowing Havana to have a chance.

Ron Bylikie, who lives on Peirce Street, had met with Davis on Saturday. He said the meeting went well but he remained unconvinced.

“I’d like to drive to your restaurant. I don’t want it to be within walking distance,” said Bylikie. “Whatever you want to call it – supper club – it sounds like a nightclub to me. I believe this is out of context with the historic district in town.”

Abutting neighbor Sam Scott said he could accept that he lived next door to a restaurant, but there were limits.

“I knew I lived next door to a business, but I don’t know why music is necessary,” he said.

Neighbor Kelly Lindley spoke on behalf oh her husband, who was away. “He wanted me to underscore it’s wrong to hold these people accountable for the sins of the last venture. We are comfortable with the plan that the license can be revoked.”

Council President Michael Isaacs said he thought the entity should accept a more restricted entertainment license,m while acknowledging Davis’s plans to improve the soundproofing.

“My concern is a bar with bands,” he said. “Why not a vocal and instrumental license” instead of a full entertainment license?

Again, Davis reiterated the need to “keep our options open.”

Councilmen Mark Gee, along with Bishop and Isaacs, came out against granting the full entertainment license. Cianciolo, alternatively, argued that Davis and his partner should be allowed to try out Havana – full entertainment license and all – noting that Davis was a grown man and was aware the risk he was taking by spending money on the building. Councilman Mike Keirnan agreed.

Davis argued his plan for the building would work and said he wasn’t sure anyone else would be interested in putting as much as $1.5 million into it, raising the specter of a large, empty, dilapidated building at one of the entrances to town.

After more than an hour, the council and the Havana team decided to delay the vote by at least one more meeting, on Tuesday, May 27.

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Council Has Little Love For Cuban Eatery After Rok Bar ‘Disaster’  

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Havana is the name of the restaurant proposed for 11 Main Street. Neighbors are worried about noise from live music.

A pair of businessmen appeared before the Town Council Monday night, hoping to get food, liquor and entertainment licenses for a Cuban-style restaurant they are hoping to open at the former Rok Bar/Post Office Cafe site on Main Street.

But, with memories of Rok Bar noise complaints still ringing in their ears, council members were not in a license-granting mood, at least not for that particular property and at least not yet.

“When Rok appeared before us … they presented us with the most comprehensive description of what they intended to do that I had seen on council,” said Council President Michael Isaacs. “They described the place as akin to Hard Rock Cafe, they said it would be a family-oriented restaurant, they gave us a full menu.… And the next thing we know, it was a nightclub. It was nothing like what was presented to the council. We really got burned by the applicants.”

During its less-than-year in business, Rok Bar had several incidents with the police because of noise. Neighboring residents came to two Town Council meetings to complain about the loud music. The restaurant closed in January after financial problems.

John Davis, a real estate developer and restaurateur from Walpole, Mass., told the council he planned to buy the building and make significant improvements, including replacing the windows with double-paned glass and adding sound-absorbing curtains, as well as renovating the exterior of the building. The restaurant, Havana, would be a joint venture between Davis and Ketan Patel, another restaurateur.

“I can’t erase the past, I’ve got nothing to do with that,” said Davis, referring to Rok Bar. “It’s got nothing to do with us.I can’t be held accountable for what they did because what they did was completely unprofessional as restaurant owners.”

He stressed the restaurant would be a place to eat first.

“But we have to have entertainment,” Davis said. “After 9 o’clock, people want to unwind. They want to have a drink, they want to have a little music. We’re not a rock-n-roll place that’s playing a lot of rock-n-roll music. That’s not what we are.”

Mike Marra, whose family owns the building as well as the Grille on Main across the street, addressed the council during the public comment portion of the hearing.

“I’d like to apologize to you.… The fellas that ran it, we just leased it to them because Steve had a handshake deal with them and we wanted to honor that,” he said, referring to his son Steve Marra, who ran the Marra Restaurant Group before his untimely death in 2011. Marra said the family wanted no part in a nightclub and he was sorry about the problems caused by Rok Bar. He said they’d had several offers on the building but they were turned down because they were not appropriate.

“We’ve turned a lot of people away. We think this is a good fit. But that’s your decision,” Marra said.

Scott Sogard, an East Greenwich resident who is helping to broker the deal between the Marras and Davis, said Havana would not be anything like the “disaster” that was Rok Bar.

“That was not the right fit for that location,” he said.

A few nearby residents also addressed the council.

“I’m not opposed to giving them a chance,” said Bryan Lindley, who lives on Division Street. But he said he did not want to revisit the Rok Bar era and he wasn’t sure if the owners’ desire to stay within the legal decibel level would be enough to satisfy neighbors.

“There’s very little for me to gain with them opening an entertainment enterprise in my backyard,” said Ron Bylikie of Peirce Street. “When the bands come on at 9:30 at night, I’m in bed. What happens when the meters read it’s ok and our windows are vibrating in our house?”

Bylikie said he’d lived on Peirce Street for 14 years and it was only after Rok Bar came in with live band music that there were problems.

Sam Scott, who lives next door to the building on Division Street, responded to Davis’s comparison of Havana to 1149 restaurant on Division Street, which also features live bands.

“I don’t think there are any homes as close to 1149 as the Post Office” building is to houses here, he said.

Earlier Councilman Brad Bishop also questioned the comparison.

“You mentioned 1149. I have myself personally been to 1149 several times and when I have, I have heard bands there in the back patio,” he said. “They were so loud I could barely hear. I don’t know if that’s the standard that I would use.”

Councilman Mark Gee was clear in his opposition to Havana as proposed.

“What I’m worried about is the creeping encroachment of noise from the waterfront up into East Greenwich,” he said. Residents are “my number one concern…. I’m not willing to sacrifice the quiet enjoyment of people’s living rooms and houses and neighborhoods and terraces and outdoor porches for your business venture.”

After more than an hour of comment and discussion, the council voted 4-1 (Gee dissenting) to continue the public hearing to its May 12 meeting. Davis said in the interim he and his partner would meet with the neighbors to try to allay their concerns.

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New Face At Besos Is Old Friend

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Dana Wronski (left) has joined forces with Kristin Dellagrotta at Besos on Main Street.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Dana Wronski’s new position at Besos: Tio Mateo’s/Greenwich Bay Gourmet is not changing. That’s happy news for the many customers devoted to the downtown lunch-and-takeout staple.

Wronski will divide her time between the two eateries, which are conveniently close by each other. Her new position as general manager of Besos, however, will allow her to use some of the skills that have lain dormant since she and Matt Wronski first came to East Greenwich and opened Greenwich Bay Gourmet 14 years ago.

“I love this environment,” Wronski said during a recent interview at Besos. “This is what I used to do for so long.”

Wronski ran restaurants in New York City and San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s.

“We came here because I was fried. I was burned out running a restaurant in San Francisco,” she said. “That was a huge place and a huge job and the kids were little. Being able to come here and just really downscale and raise the kids was a blessing. But now, they’re all squared away.”

Last year, Wronski began “putting out feelers” in the restaurant community, but nothing just right presented itself, so she dove back into her work at Tio’s/GBG.

“I just kind of let it go and then Kristin said, ‘Do you want to go for coffee?’” said Wronski. “I had no idea. I was very surprised” when Dellagrotta suggested they join forces at Besos.

Dellagrotta opened Besos at 378 Main St. in late 2011 with Tony Morales, then chef at Fresco. Last week she said their two visions for the restaurant had shifted apart and Morales had decided to open a restaurant on Federal Hill. For Dellagrotta, Wronski was a natural choice to step in.

“I’ve known her quite a while,” she said of Wronski. “I know she had a ton of fining dining experience. She had opened several restaurants, run restaurants, worked in every aspect. She’s a fabulous chef as well. She was the perfect choice, not to mention everybody likes her.”

Besos, with Wronski at the helm, will move away from South American specialties and toward contemporary American cuisine using local ingredients. They will keep some of the small plate offerings that have been popular, as well as the Sunday brunch.

“We’d like for Dana to be creative and bring her expertise to the menu. Our chefs are fabulous as well and they’ve got ideas too,” said Dellagrotta.

For Wronski, the size and the feel of Besos were major selling points.

“It’s small. I love that it’s beautiful…. it feels comfortable,” she said. “It needed to be small and doable for me in terms of where I am in my life. I couldn’t take on a massive space. Nor do I want all the headache and the drama. With a smaller space, I think you can really do what you set out to do.”

“I want to take it from good to great,” Wronski said, acknowledging that Besos hadn’t been running at top form. “I just think it needs some tweaking.”

She added, “It’s hard to build heart and this place has heart.”

Besos, 378 Main St., East Greenwich, is open at 11 a.m. for lunch, 4 p.m. for dinner; (401) 398-8855.


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Odeum Aims For 40 Shows In 2014

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A year after the gala re-opening of the Greenwich Odeum and six months after it again closed for a time, the Main Street theater is rebooting once more, with board members planning this time to provide a more secure future.

Kevin Muoio, who replaces Bruce Rollins as the Odeum’s board president, said they plan to hold 40 events at the Odeum in 2014, both from theater rentals and its own shows. That would be nearly four times the number of events held at the Odeum in 2013.

The re-opening of the Odeum in January 2013 came after three years of fundraising, prompted by the town’s decision to put the theater back on the property tax rolls in 2009. Established as a nonprofit theater in 1994, the Odeum had been exempt from taxes, but it closed in 2007, unable to afford costly fire protection upgrades put into law after The Station nightclub fire.

Loosening of the fire code and a $142,000 grant from the Champlin Foundations in 2012 gave the Odeum the opportunity to reopen, but 2013 proved challenging and tumultuous, with some costly shows and the departure of longtime board president Frank Prosnitz, as well as a continued dispute with Steven Erinakes, who says he was never paid for the theater, long owned by the Erinakes family.

Muoio said he knows there’s been some frustration with the Odeum but he promises the board is on the right track now.

In a recent Odeum blog post, he wrote, “So when you look at the history of the Odeum and our ‘we’re open / we’re not open’ track record over the last decade, I know that we have tried the patience of many patrons, sponsors, and members. Thank you for sticking with us. I say this with the upmost conviction – in 2014, you will see a return of stability at the Greenwich Odeum.”

He acknowledged the theater’s “lively” acoustics are less than ideal for certain shows, including the movies that ran in November and early December. The sound, he said, was awful. For live acts, the acoustics are better, but improving them is a priority for the board this year, he said.

So far, the board has talked to two acoustic engineers about their ideas to improve the sound; a third engineer’s findings will be reviewed this month.

“We need to have this intelligently addressed,” Muoio said. “In 2014, we have three tenets: action, accountability and acoustics.”

Muoio, who works in sales and has run his own business, wants to bring a spirit of entrepreneurship to the Odeum. “I believe the Odeum is just like every other business on Main Street.”

The board is working on a business plan and setting goals, he said, including that 40-performance goal.

“Twelve rentals are already slated,” said Muoio. “We want people to know you can rent the Odeum.”

Among the rentals is Friday’s “Love Is in the Air III,” with Michael DiMucci, Phoebe Madden, David Marshall, and Ritchee Price. Also on the docket is the Duke Robillard Band March 8.

In terms of finances, Muoio said, things are improving. The rentals will help. The dispute with Erinakes, who established the nonprofit, remains unresolved.

“We are in ongoing conversations with Steve,” said Muoio.

He stressed the Odeum is an all-volunteer operation. “When we say … ‘100% Volunteer Run’ we’re not kidding – every performance, every ticket sold, every everything comes from the hard work of a volunteer,” he writes in his blog.

In addition to Muoio, the Odeum board is Doug Truesdell (vice president), Richard DiGennaro (treasurer), Susan Oberbeck (secretary), Judy Assad, Darren Hill, Steve Lombardi, Michael Norde, Jane Parillo, Bruce Rollins, Jody Sceery, and Dan Speca.

Click here to learn more about upcoming shows at the Odeum. 

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