October 26, 2018

New restaurants eye downtown Hartford

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Wethersfield’s El Pollo Guapo restaurant says it leased space in downtown Hartford's Front Street district. Qdoba Mexican Grill left the space in July.
Leasing Map | Charter Realty
A leasing map of downtown Hartford's Front Street district.

Two new restaurants are prepping for a downtown Hartford debut, while a third could be in the works.

Wethersfield's El Pollo Guapo restaurant says it leased 2,600 square feet in the city's Front Street entertainment district in space formerly occupied by Qdoba Mexican Grill and Italian eatery Fornarelli's Ristorante & Bar recently announced it closed its New Haven location and will open a "bigger" space in downtown Hartford on Asylum Street.

Meantime, Front Street's leasing map shows another New Haven eatery could also be headed to Hartford: seafood restaurant Boiling SOHO. The map shows the restaurant occupying 3,650 square feet in currently vacant space on Prospect Street abutting Barnes & Noble.

Charter Realty is the leasing agent for Front Street landlord and developer HB Nitkin Group, which could not be reached for comment.

Heather and Roy Riedl, owners of El Pollo Guapo on the Berlin Turnpike, on Thursday said they are slated to open their second 54-seat restaurant later this year or early in 2019. Qdoba left the space, which abuts Infinity Music Hall, in July.

El Pollo Guapo, translated in English as "The Handsome Chicken," will add a few items to its Hartford menu, but will still feature the favorites: rotisserie chicken, tacos, rice bowls, chicken quesadillas, plantains, wraps, and roasted vegetables. It will also sell beer and wine.

Heather Riedl said the couple, who opened their first restaurant at 1866 Berlin Turnpike in June 2017, had been searching for a larger dining space that could accommodate alcohol sales. Its Wethersfield location, which will operate as usual, is smaller and mainly serves carryout meals.

"Wethersfield is smaller and we aren't able to offer as many amenities as we would like so we had our eyes on something with more seating," she said.

The couple has made minor renovations to the Front Street space, but Heather says the space "will look very different" when it opens.

The Riedls are planting their first brick-and-mortar flag in Hartford, however, their signature rotisserie chicken is familiar to locals. The couple's food truck, Mercado, has drawn large lunchtime crowds at Hartford's Bushnell Park and other local venues in recent years. Mercado launched as a catering business in spring 2015.

"When the opportunity presented itself it was something we couldn't refuse," Heather said of the vacant Front Street space. "We are kind of in shock that we are coming to such a great spot on Front Street."

Hartford's El Pollo Guapo will employ about 25 full- and part-time workers.

According to its website, Fornarelli's says it new location and opening date will be announced online soon, but signage for the restaurant appears at the window at 283 Asylum St., former home to Mayor Mike's and Burger Baby restaurants.

Fornarelli's and Boiling SOHO did not respond for comment.

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