'The boom is coming': New openings, expansions could make Trumbull a restaurant destination

TRUMBULL — It wasn’t that long ago that downtown Fairfield was something of a restaurant desert, according to Joe Worthington, a partner in Fairfield’s Pizzeria Molto.

“There was what, three restaurants downtown?” Worthington said. “Then a few more opened, then more, now there’s a restaurant scene downtown, and they’re all thriving.”

Now Worthington, business partner Dan Camporeale, and others are working to bring about a similar situation in Trumbull. The pair, who also co-own Spiga in New Canaan, Lugano in Greenwich and Racanelli’s Pizza & Brew in White Plains, are in the process of opening a new place, Ecco, at 6540 Main St., commonly known as the Marisa’s Plaza. The restaurant is expected to open in early summer.

Camporeale pointed out that Prime One Eleven steakhouse, located a mile north on Main Street, just received Planning & Zoning approval for an enlarged dining patio. Ecco also will feature outdoor seating options.

“I think that’s something we’ve learned, that it can be 35 degrees, and as long as people aren’t getting rained on, and there’s a couple heaters to keep them comfortable, people have gotten to like eating outside,” he said.

Prime One Eleven and Ecco are close enough on Main Street that, combined with some other dining options, people from Trumbull and the surrounding area can begin to think of Trumbull as a place to go for a dinner out.

“One thing we learned from running Molto is that tons of people from Trumbull are looking for the kind of fresh pastas and pizzas and cocktails that we’ll have,” Worthington said. “It benefits everyone. Having other restaurants around makes us have to be better.”

If Prime One Eleven and Ecco are destinations for people to eat dinner out, Melissa Cotto hopes to have exactly the opposite for her eatery, Marianna’s Pantry. The breakfast and lunch specialty cafe will also feature to-go, “take and bake” prepackaged dinners to eat at home. Cotto said she is hoping for a May 1 opening in the location formerly occupied by Mex on Main, which relocated about 1.5 miles north to a Monroe Turnpike location.

“We’ll open at 6 a.m. for people to come in, grab their coffee and a pastry or a bagel that we’ll make on-site,” she said. “We’ll do eggs and frittatas, homemade muffins. I’ve also been looking for a specialty coffee. Nothing crazy, we don’t want to compete with Starbucks.”

Cotto has worked in restaurants for years, but this will be her first time owning one. Her sister, though, ran a pizza shop and truck before selling it last year. Cotto’s father is pitching in to help with the remodel, as is her husband, an elevator repairman who also has experience cooking in restaurants.

“I told him I would love to be open by May 1, to get the Mother’s Day and first communion season,” Cotto said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I guess I’m working days and nights until then.’”

One thing Ecco and Marianna’s have in common though, is that while most people thought opening a business during a pandemic was a terrible idea, they saw opportunity.

Worthington said they have already seen business begin to pick back up at their other locations.

“They had to change, we had to change,” he said.

Camporeale said with residents getting vaccinated by the thousand, and Gov. Ned Lamont loosening restrictions on indoor dining, people would be looking for the dining out experience they have been missing for the past year.

“The boom is coming,” he said. “People just needed to adjust to what is considered normal. Now is the perfect time to catch the wave.”

Cotto had a similar outlook, though her decision to open a restaurant was a little less methodical.

“I told my husband, we always seem to do things on a whim, so of course we got the idea to open during a pandemic,” she said. “Everyone kept telling me this was a bad time. But people are still eating, right?”

The two also agree that Trumbull is an underserved market when it comes to restaurants. If not quite a restaurant desert, it’s at least a semi-arid zone.

“When you run a restaurant, everyone always says, ‘You should open a location in my town,’” Worthington said. “But this is something the town needs more of.”

Cotto agreed.

“We live in Trumbull, and for 10 years we’ve been saying Trumbull needs this kind of place so bad,” she said. “Then a neighbor told us the location was open, and I called the plaza owner, and he actually answered his phone, which is such a rarity nowadays. We talked for 45 minutes about what we planned to do, and why we thought Trumbull needed this. Then he said, ‘We’re going to rent it to you.’”