New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
‘LIKE A HOMECOMING’
Customers eager to see newly improved, reopened The Coffee Break
CLINTON — Customers crammed The Coffee Break on a recent Sunday morning, spilling out onto the patio and sidewalk, eating at tables under umbrellas in the mild fall air.
The place was buzzing inside with a full counter and dining room. The small eatery served over 400 people that day. The much-loved breakfast spot reopened earlier this month after being closed since August 2020.
After many upgrades, which the owners paid for themselves, they opened their doors.
Owners Donna and Fran Uricchio had planned on getting a Small Towns Economic Assistance Program grant to pay for 75 percent of the costs for the upgrades, but ultimately decided against it.
Timing was a factor, as they had wanted to open in the fall, but they would not get the money in time, according to the town’s Economic Development Commission.
And, the owners said they thought another business could use the money. “We’re in the position where we really didn’t need it right now,” Fran Uricchio said. “There are other places downtown that could use it.”
John Allen, head of the EDC, noted that turnaround to qualify for the STEAP grant wasn’t quick enough for the Uricchios’ timetable.
Because contractors are so busy now, it’s tough to get the required three bids, he noted.“Their train was already moving on the tracks. They wanted to open in the fall,” Allen said.
An additional hurdle is that applications must also be approved by the Connecticut Historic Preservation Council, he said.
But this should not deter other property and business owners from applying now for projects they want to do next spring, Allen stressed, adding that there should be ample time to line up bids.
Even without the grant, the Uricchios pretty much followed the design created for the EDC as part of the Clinton Facade Improvement Program. Local architect Diane Nazarko developed the designs for many downtown buildings as a sort of blueprint for local businesses to follow.
The $120,000 STEAP grant is administered by the town manager’s office and EDC.
“We did all the work they really wanted done,” Fran Urichio said about the façade plan. “They’re all happy with that.”
He said he and his wife decided to skip the grant in 2021: “We’ll wait until next year — let somebody else get the first grant.”
Still, they replaced the tired ceiling, lighting, “dark and dingy” carpet and repainted. And, most dramatically, they removed the indoor porch in front to add extra outdoor seating under the roof, while adding two large bay windows, bringing more light into the small eatery.
“It makes it a lot brighter,” Uricchio said
Unlike other restaurants on the Shoreline, the pandemic didn’t shutter The Coffee Break. The couple closed it due to health reasons, when they were both diagnosed with cancer at the same time, and subsequently underwent major surgery and treatment, said Uricchio.
After getting back into the swing of things with the restaurant now open
Thursday through Sunday until 2:30 p.m., Sunday’s crowd was welcome — though Uricchio admitted he was hard pressed to keep up with the hungry after-church crowd that came in waves in the morning.
“That’s a lotta people for a little place with a couple of cooks. Only problem was I can’t cook fast enough on Sunday,” he said, joking. And since the opening, he said, “hundreds of people have come in to say hello.”
But the very first day was like a homecoming for some regulars who have not seen each other since the restaurant’s shutdown. “The first day, a lot of the customers were happy to see a lot of the customers,” Uricchio said with a laugh.
“They came in and they hadn’t seen people for a year — they got a chance to talk. It was nice for the townspeople,” he added.