New Canaan businesses are the lifeblood not just of the “Magic Circle” downtown and other hubs of arts and commerce, but also are critical drivers and supporters of community events, human services and preserving the character of “The Next Station to Heaven.” In this section, we spotlight New Canaan businesses and profile their owners, in long-form interviews and spot features, celebrating our anchor businesses and welcoming those new to town.
Takeout Indian food can definitely hit the spot, especially for HBO-and-athleisure nights, but today I want to make a case for the undeniable magic of dining in.
American diners in big cities tend to relegate a lot of Asian (including Indian) food to delivery and takeout nights, never stopping into a restaurant enough to know the waitstaff, the artwork, and the soul of the place. GrubHub and Uber Eats make it easy enough (at an unfortunate cost to the restaurant) to never set foot on the block where you get your Pad Thai.
In the case of restaurants as uniquely and carefully realized as New Canaan’s Chef Prasad, this is where we all go wrong.
When Andrew and I first moved here four years ago, we were tipped off by our real estate agent that Thali, Chef Prasad’s first New Canaan restaurant, was excellent. Coming from Manhattan, we weren’t sure if she was just painting an extra-glowing picture of this darling small town’s restaurants like any good real estate agent should, or if this really was the real deal. We ordered in from Thali, and upon tasting the glorious Saag Paneer, we realized that the real deal was actually here, in an unprepossessing former bank building. What chance!
New Canaan is seeing an increasing number of food trucks pulling into town parks, alongside the new athletic fields by the Waveny water towers and elsewhere, to the point where it’s affecting local businesses, officials say, and creating a need for a formal policy with teeth. Though town officials have dealt with eager food truck vendors for years—at times running them out of public parks (where they’re not allowed), pointing them toward a “Peddlers” or “Itinerant Vendors” license that’s outlined in the Town Code, or even inventing rules about how licensed trucks can only go to construction sites—there’s no ordinance on the books that limits when and where those vendors can go, and no fine or enforcement agency to back up a formal policy in any case.
“We are getting kind of overrun with food trucks and we don’t really have something specifically in place,” New Canaan Director of Health Jen Eielson told members of the Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee at its meeting last week. “It’s starting to run more rampant and then they [food truck vendors] want to have more trucks, and we are trying to limit it because we are getting flack from the businesses in town that pay a lot of money in rent, so I understand their plight and it’s not really fair to them.”
Nearby towns that are similar to New Canaan have rules in their Charters or zoning regulations that are enforced by police or other agencies in the municipality, Eielson said.
While New Canaan for specific events, such as the Family Fourth at Waveny or the Sidewalk Sales downtown, has food trucks come in as caterers—complete with license checks and health inspections, as well as agreed-upon terms of hours and location—open questions remain about what types of trucks the town may want and what sorts of checks should be required of the businesspeople that operate them.
Councilman Steve Karl, a committee co-chair, said there’s “definitely a need” for either a beefed-up “Itinerant Vendors” ordinance or new one.
“Any time we have something like this where you see it’s growing, it’s up to us in the town to control it,” he said. Karl added: “You look at all of the good work that Baskin Robbins does in terms of charity and volunteering and all of the stuff that goes into having a business, and they pay rent to be there, and to have somebody pull up in a truck and take some business away from someone like that, that is a pretty big deal. And I think all of New Canaan and all of the taxpayers they would side on Baskin Robbins’ side.”
Ultimately, the Committee called on Eielson, with help from Administrative Officer Tom Stadler, who also deals with food trucks, to propose some language that the group could bring to the full Town Council.
Nearly one year after announcing its plans, vegan and vegetarian foods provider Organika Kitchen officially opened Monday in downtown New Canaan. The eatery, well-established in Southport, soft-opened at 96 Main St. in the morning and welcomed its first customers into the newly remodeled, clean and well-lit space throughout the day. “It’s a long time coming—very long time coming,” said Dimitri Pantzos, a partner in the business who is overseeing the New Canaan location day-to-day. “But we are open now so that’s all that really matters.
Saying the change would help commercial property owners, retailers and the wider community, a local land use attorney has applied to the town to allow first-floor offices in a business zone that skirts the center of downtown New Canaan. Representing the new owners of the former Beval Saddlery building on Pine Street, attorney David Rucci of Main Street’s Lampert, Toohey & Rucci LLC is seeking to amend the New Canaan Zoning Regulations to “re-establish first floor office use with site plan review in the Business A zone.”
“The Business A zone was created in 1985,” Rucci wrote in an application filed Monday with Planning & Zoning. “It is the largest of the business zones and represents the second ring of the core. While there is a prohibition on new first floor office use today, over 50 percent of the zone serves first floor general office use. The remaining properties serve retail, bank, medical, second floor office use and single purpose type of business use.”
The application continued: “By re-establishing first floor general office use in the Business A zone, we believe the zone would become more economically viable for both A zone building owners and the Town of New Canaan.
Despite some concerns regarding outdoor lighting, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to allow a hot dog-themed restaurant to open in a commercial space in downtown New Canaan. To be located down the “alley” at the top of Elm Street—formerly occupied by New Canaan Music (now on Main Street), near the former Chef Luis restaurant—the new establishment, “White Buffalo,” will include a 13-stool bar and rows of two-person tables that bring the total seating to about 35 to 40 people, according to New Canaan resident Dave Tonkovich, one of three local men who is launching the business. A 1993 New Canaan High School graduate along with business partner Dom Valente—town resident Doug Harris is also an owner—Tonkovich described White Buffalo as a “place where New Canaan as a community can gather and support each other, whether that is having our teams over after a game, hosting a fundraiser for the lacrosse or hockey team, or honoring our local Police Department or Fire Department.”
“We feel like this is something the town needs,” Tonkovich said during a public hearing at Town Hall. “You might say it is built by New Canaan, for New Canaan.”
Tonkovich reviewed some national hot dog consumption data and said that White Buffalo is designed to “fit the bill” for locals meeting after a game or with a friend or client “or when you are coming off the train.”
“Our goal is not to be all things to all people,” he said. Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, restaurants are permitted in the Retail A zone with site plan approval. After some discussion, P&Z approved White Buffalo’s site plan 7-0.