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October 26, 2020

Despite pandemic, new Wood-n-Tap planned for Enfield plaza

Outdoor dining area at the Wood-n-Tap restaurant in Newington, 3375 Berlin Turnpike. Photo | Hartford Restaurant Group Outdoor dining area at the Wood-n-Tap restaurant in Newington, 3375 Berlin Turnpike.

Counting on customer loyalty and the appeal of an expansive outdoor dining area, the Hartford Restaurant Group (HRG) is preparing to open a new Wood-n-Tap restaurant in Enfield next month. 

“The times are challenging but we will make it happen,” said HRG partner Phil Barnett. “We have to figure it out, we have no other option.”

The Enfield restaurant would be the ninth Wood-n-Tap in the local chain, which started in Hartford in 2002. The eatery is planned for the former Royal Buffet space in the Big Y plaza on Palumba Drive.

“What was enticing to us was the fact that between us and the other building was this big area of grass,” Barnett said of the location. That grassy area is being transformed into an 8,000-square-foot patio with its own bar, an outdoor dining space three times the size of any other in the chain. 

The inside of the restaurant measures 7,500 square feet with a capacity of 220 seats, and the patio has 225 seats. 

Lots of outdoor seating plays a key role in HRG’s plan to draw customers despite pandemic restrictions, Barnett added. “We really want to show our guests and let our guests know that we are a safe environment,” he said. 

As of Oct. 8, restaurants in Connecticut are allowed to seat customers indoors at 75 percent capacity and host indoor events for 25 to 100 people and outdoor events for 100 to 150 people under pandemic restrictions.

The restaurant also plans to introduce a new app specific to the chain that allows customers to pay for their meals, make reservations and directly order takeout. In addition to the nine Wood-n-Taps across the state, HRG runs Que Whiskey Kitchen on Queen Street in Southington.

HBJ Photos | Joe Cooper
Mike Hamlin (left) and Phil Barnett of Hartford Restaurant Group

One major challenge the owners have faced in readying the new Enfield restaurant is staffing, Barnett said. Both entry level workers and experienced staff have been hard to find even at premium wages. 

“With  11% unemployment, who would ever have thought that this would be the hardest restaurant we’ve ever had to staff ever,” Barnett said. “It’s unbelievable how hard it’s been to staff this restaurant.”

The pandemic has been blamed for the closing of several high-profile restaurants in the Hartford area in recent months, including Ted’s Montana Grill, Firebox and Dish Bar & Grill in Hartford and Park & Oak Restaurant in West Hartford. 

But entrepreneurs continue to open new eateries statewide, including three new restaurants in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood last week.

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