Greenwich Ave. may get biggest restaurant yet as food scene grows

GREENWICH — In the world of Greenwich Avenue dining, a new king of the hill could be on the way.

The location of the proposed restaurant — at the upper section of the Avenue, where big restaurants are not the norm — and the overall growth of food-service operations are changing the face of the central business district. But the shift toward dining establishments with large numbers of seats is also raising concerns about parking and whether big restaurants offer too much of a good thing.

More restaurants have been coming to Greenwich Avenue in recent months, a trend that has followed in the wake of an overall decline in the retail sector.

A restaurant expert, Mark Moeller, said towns such as Greenwich are following a larger pattern.

“Landlords are recognizing that retail, in general, is dying out. There are more spaces … even in traditionally retail heavy locations” said Moeller, a Westport-based consultant, “Retailers are realizing that they do not need a location in every town, and shoppers will travel a little farther if they need to try something on or feel the material.”

On Greenwich Avenue, a dining establishment called Ruby & Bella’s, along with a co-working office space, replaced the old Ralph Lauren store. LobsterCraft moved into the former Orvis Store. Kyma would replace the former New York Athletic Club.

The largest restaurant in operation on Greenwich Avenue, in terms of seating — the yardstick used by the town’s Planning Department — is Duoro, with 113 interior seats and six outside for a total of 119.

According to the Planning Department, which is compiling data for an overhaul of the town’s dining codes and outdoor dining regulations, Mediterraneo is another large operation , with 94 seats, 79 inside and 15 outside.

Terra Ristorante also has 94 seats, 60 inside and 34 outside. East End is the next biggest, with 82 seats indoors and eight outdoors, for a total of 90. Harvest has 86 seats, 82 inside and four outside. The Gingerman is another large restaurant, but the Planning Department did not include it in its recent survey.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mom Caroline Schmitt enjoy lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Conn., on Friday July 29, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Planning Department uses seating as the metric to determine restaurant size, since it correlates with parking.

Town leaders are taking a closer look at dining establishments due to the demand for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic and as part of an overall refurbishment of the business district.

Planning Director Katie DeLuca said the town had eased back on zoning restrictions to allow for more dining .

“To have a vibrant downtown, you need to have a mix of uses,” she said.

“Several years ago, we removed the distance requirement between restaurants with liquor licenses, understanding that it would lead to more restaurant uses, and a more vibrant downtown,” she said in an email.

“In 2021, we further relaxed regulations allowing for second floor restaurant space as long as it was part of the first floor restaurant,” she said. “Retail establishments, restaurants, residences and small office space are all equally important within the downtown.”

Park and dine

The Planning Department has recently been seeking input from the public on outdoor dining downtown, parking and the retail climate along Greenwich Avenue.

Marcia O’Kane, president and executive director of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, said the success of the dining scene is beneficial to the community.

“There definitely has been a preponderance of new restaurant openings over the last year. The Cos Cob area can now be described as a true restaurant scene,” she said.

“There has always been a natural rate of attrition with restaurants, and the most popular and well-run ones will survive. The Planning & Zoning Commission is well aware of parking challenges in town, and we are confident that they will figure out the viability of the proposed 200-seat restaurant,” she said.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mom Caroline Schmitt enjoy lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Conn., on Friday July 29, 2022.

Michela Piccoline, left, and her mom Caroline Schmitt enjoy lunch at Terra Ristorante Italiano along Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Conn., on Friday July 29, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

First Selectman Fred Camillo said he supports the restaurant sector and is happy to see a thriving dining scene.

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