Restaurateur dives deep into design of Lucas Local
Weathered, but not ancient, a mariner looks out from below the brim of his bucket hat, offering guests a constant, albeit, enigmatic, welcome.
There are few as grateful for his presence as Vincent Cappelletti.
“That’s Captain Alex,” he says, smiling, standing a few inches from the painting. “That is what we named him. He even gets his own light.”
Seems a fair trade. Cappelletti espied him last year at a flea market on the Southbury Town Green, where he talked the vendor down from 20 to 10 bucks. “It was the first thing we bought for the restaurant,” Cappelletti says. “He inspired us; he inspired the design, for sure.”
Cappelletti, who has spent three decades in the restaurant business, was intent on making his latest project, Lucas Local, a reflection of the cuisine and aesthetic vision of the design team (a.k.a. family and friends) behind it. Homey, yet elegant, the restaurant is a marriage of sea and land; simplicity and sophistication.
The restaurant opened on Main Street in Newtown in October after a meticulous approach to the interior. With a raw bar and a menu heavy on seafood, there is more than a passing nod to the nautical, including a wall of oars, hanging lobster buoys and an antique anchor. Landlubbers find comfort in the reclaimed wood and centuries-old hearth. With his girlfriend, Sue Zagorski; his kids, Lucas (the restaurant’s namesake) and Isabella; and extended family, Cappelletti searched for eclectic and repurposed finds from Maine to Connecticut.
“There were many things that motivated us,” he says, walking through the space on a recent afternoon. “We are very eclectic. We are passionate about food and art. When a guest walks in, I want a multisensory experience. From the smell of the wood-fired grill, to the colors, the details and the aesthetic vision.”
His delight is evident in the way things turned out in a space that started out as a home in 1705. A modern, abstract painting from his girlfriend’s mother, Alicja, hangs on the wall near the brick hearth. Centuries separate them, but it works. “I looks like a topography map,” he says. “When I look at it, I see the oyster, the land, the sea. There is a story to it.”
Cappelletti and his crew left no trip unturned, picking up pieces at Portland Architectural Salvage, the Elephant's Trunk Flea Market in New Milford, antiques shops in Woodbury and along the roadside. One of the more dramatic design choices is the floor. Reclaimed from historic tobacco sheds torn down in Windsor Locks, the broad wooden slats give the new restaurant some patina, and occasionally a faint scent, which mixes with the grill blazing in the kitchen. Cappelletti found the wood through Urban Miners, a salvage service that works to reuse building materials and household goods. The Hamden-based company worked with Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which was given the sheds and money for removal by the American Honda Motor Co., which owned the land on which they sat.
“That’s all Eastern white pine,” says Joe DiRisi, who started Urban Miners in 2007.
The dining tables, where the waitstaff serves plates of Mussels Isabella, grilled octopus and prime strip steak, were made from the reclaimed wood that DiRisi harvested, and then turned over to Sage Studios of Branford, which built them. “We really wanted it to look barn-like, rustic. They are not perfectly smooth,” DiRisi says.
DiRisi also helped Cappelletti secure two long, wooden pews that run along the walls. They needed a new home when the North Haven Baptist Church began renovations. “They are pew No. 9 and 10,” Cappelletti says. “No. 9 is our family’s lucky number.” Guests also have their choice of sturdy wood and steel-framed folding chairs that were used for years in a German beer garden. They made their way to the Brimfield Antique Flea Market in Massachusetts and are in Lucas Local.
The restaurant’s chef, Brett Mitchell, says, if done well, the design complements the dishes coming out of the kitchen. Given his inclination to cook with international ingredients and flavors in a more Mediterranean and rustic style, the eatery’s eclectic design approach is like bread to butter.
In the kitchen, Mitchell was intent on creating an olfactory experience. Under the grate of his wood-fired grill, oak, hickory and fruit woods create a smoky, sweet scent that permeates the long entry hallway. If you didn’t think you were going to order something smoky, you might think again.
“People want an experience,” Mitchell says. “But they also want to feel at home.”
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