Darienite brings skate-friendly food to town
Darien resident Billy Ferguson has fond memories of growing up in New Haven.
As a young hockey player growing up in that city, he remembers going to the local ice rink with his father and some friends for a little skating, and then some of Connecticut's best pizza afterwards.
"One of my favorite evenings was the Friday night skate with Dad and 15 kids piling into the back of the station wagon, and then going for pizza," he said.
Maybe it's no surprise, then, that Ferguson's latest business venture has him trying to replicate that experience for some of the kids in Darien. Last September, the 50-year-old restaurateur took over operations of the snack bar at Darien Ice Rink on Kings Highway North. It's the first time in 10 years that a new owner has taken over, and he has been looking for new ways to breathe life into the establishment, which has been part of the Darien landscape for 35 years.
"Maybe I'm trying to relive my childhood," he said.
For one, the place isn't called a snack bar. The name of the new establishment is "Behind the Net," an obvious reference to hockey. New furniture and a brand-new ceiling, as well as new kitchen equipment adorn the shop. Three new television sets have been added and Wi-Fi is available for those who want to connect to the Internet. On the wall hangs four oil paintings by Darien High School alum Joe Maccarone depicting different settings including a Darien/New Canaan hockey game, and the U.S. hockey team victory over Russia in the 1980 Olympics. In addition, a new entrance out to the parking lot of the rink allow take-out customers to drive right up to the front door.
That new entrance is proving to be a good idea, as Ferguson has decided to introduce New Haven-style thin crust pizza to the menu, and the bombogenesis of ice skating and good pizza has proven to be quite a hit. His "secret weapon," he said, has been hiring Derek Furino, a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America who spent 10 years making pizzas at one of New Haven's "Big 3" pizza parlors. More than a dozen pies are available, including popular favorites such as sausage and hot oil featuring local sausage from Deyulio's in Stamford, a salami and onion pie, and a classic margherita pie. Pizzas go for about $15 a pie.
But pizzas aren't the only things available. Hockey practices start as early as 6 a.m. in the morning, so Ferguson is ready for the breakfast crowd with egg sandwiches, bagels, fruit smoothies, and coffee sourced locally from Zumbach's in New Canaan. For lunch, items include burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, and soups.
"There's a captive audience here, and a potential because we are selling a premium product at a reasonable price," he said.
Ferguson, an 11-year Darien resident, has a long history of being an entrepreneur. He has co-owned three pubs in New York City for about 20 years, and two years ago he joined the local scene when he purchased an Archie Moore's franchise in South Norwalk and later turned it into Rival's Sports Bar.
"It's a good spot with a lot of potential and high energy," he said.