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April 28, 2014 Faces of Business

Fledgling N. Britain restaurant enjoys presidential bump

Photo | Steve Laschever Rob Chiovoloni and Alice Bruno, owners of Café Beauregard, hope the notoriety from President Obama's recent visit to their New Britain restaurant, which is memorialized in a photo held by the married couple above, spurs a long-term boost in business.
Stan Simpson

The sandwich board outside the Main Street eatery in New Britain speaks to a presidential bump in business that husband-and-wife owners Rob Chiovoloni and Alice Bruno hope to sustain.

“Obama eats here,'' the sign boasts. “Come in and try our presidential spicy Korean barbeque sandwich. Café Beauregard is proud to serve POTUS (President of the United States) — and proud to serve you.''

March 5, 2014 was a historic day in New Britain. President Barack Obama visited Central Connecticut State University to promote his position for a higher minimum wage. The selection of a lunchtime venue was fortuitous for Chiovoloni and Bruno, who pay their four part-time employees higher than the minimum wage. The presidential powwow at their shop established it as a new city landmark.

Whatever happens with Café Beauregard's future — it opened Dec. 3 — it will always be known as the place where POTUS ate. Of course, there are the pictures on the shop's wall and even an autographed guest check to memorialize the visit:

“Great food. … Barack Obama,” the check reads.

“The coolest thing was knowing that if I wanted to talk to the president about something to eat, I could walk in the next room and walk to the table — and he has to listen to me,'' Chiovoloni said, with a laugh. “You don't get the sense he is someone who indulges in food a lot. That may be his persona as a president, or it may be who he is. But you could tell he liked the food here. He was absorbed in eating the sandwich.”

The president's choice of the spicy Korean BBQ Steak sandwich has now become a favorite among customers. The menu describes the $9.95 sandwich as “thinly sliced NY Strip steak, marinated & grilled, topped with Asian slaw & Siriacha mayo, on a baguette.''

The presidential meal also included a bowl of chili, a Snapple and an upside down apple tart known as “tartetatin.'' Bruno recalls the president throwing his tie over his shoulder and saying unguardedly “I get my tie messy when I eat.”

Since Obama's visit and sit-down lunch, business is up about 40 to 50 percent, the couple estimated on a recent visit by the Hartford Business Journal. “People have come in from New Britain, who didn't know we were here,'' Bruno said. Others have driven by just to take a look or take pictures.

Bruno and Chiovoloni are in their third year of marriage. The Connecticut natives met while Chiovoloni was an executive chef at the New Haven Country Club. He is a career chef with an advanced degree in English literature. She is a lawyer, who studied for a year in England, and has been a partner at two law firms, including her own. From 2012-14, Bruno served as executive director of the Connecticut Bar Association.

The couple had trepidation about opening their 2 Main St. shop, located across from a busy court house. This was their first time owning a business. Chiovoloni's skills were in the kitchen. Bruno's acumen was an attorney, who recently restructured the Connecticut Bar Association, managing its $4 million budget and reduced staff from 27 to 19. But business was slow when they opened Café Beauregard — which honors the maiden name of Chiovoloni's mother who taught him to cook at age 5.

Inclement weather and court closings made things difficult. As the weather warmed, patrons began to choose from the eclectic breakfast and lunch menu.

You can get a decent breakfast there for about $8. Lunch features an assortment of sandwiches — roast beef, veggie and turkey wraps, pulled pork and the (now) presidential spicy Korean BBQ steak sandwich. Soup, salads and fresh pastries are also on the menu.

March 5 was shaping up to be an uneventful day when around 11:15 a.m. a man with a dark coat and an earpiece walked into the restaurant.

“Would it be alright with you if the president had lunch here,” the man said.

“We'd be honored,” Chiovoloni said.

White House staff helped to rearrange the tables in a back room where two couples were eating. A table of six was set. The guests were Obama, Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

When the president entered the room, Chivoloni decided a formal greeting, with a dash of self-serving branding, was in order:

“Welcome to Café Beauregard, Mr. President. … Remember, we do catering.”

After the meal, Obama reached for his billfold. Chiovoloni refused payment, telling the leader of the free world: “Mr. President, your money is no good here.”

Written under the table, at the spot where the president sat, it now reads: “Barack Obama sat here. 3/5/14.''

As a fledgling and struggling restaurant owner, it simply doesn't get any better than being able to market your establishment as the place where the president ate. Chiovoloni and Bruno are still pinching themselves.

“I feel validated and vindicated that more and more people are coming here,” Chiovoloni said. “There's nobody in New Britain who doesn't know us anymore. We're actually serving a community function. New Britain doesn't have a lot of good restaurants. …. But it's somewhat tempered by the fact that I know it could have easily not have happened.”

As spring blooms, the owners are looking forward to opening their patio for outside dining and higher visibility.

“We're expecting to gather momentum when the weather warms up,'' Chiovoloni said.

In business — like a presidential election — it's all about momentum.

Stan Simpson is host of “The Stan Simpson Show'' ( and Saturdays, 5:30 a.m., on FoxCT). His 'Faces in Business' column appears monthly.

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