Dreamed of owning a pizza place? Bridgeport's San Remos is on the market

Photo of Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — Running a restaurant has been challenging enough during the coronavirus pandemic.

But how about selling one? And hoping the new buyer keeps the name and serves your recipes?

That is what Paul Goncalves, owner of the well-established San Remos pizzeria on Main Street in the North End, is attempting.

“Yes, it’s more work right now,” Goncalves acknowledged of running his business. “Trying to get new customers. Keeping everybody safe. It’s a challenge for all restaurants now.”

In fact, Goncalves has continued to offer take-out only and so far not re-opened indoor dining, even though COVID-19 safety restrictions allow it. Normally he could seat 40 to 50 patrons.

The pandemic, however, is not what is motivating his search for a buyer all these years after taking San Remos over from his uncle in the mid-1990s.

“The commute is getting too much for me,” said Goncalves, who drives back and forth daily between Bridgeport, where he and his parents immigrated from Portugal in 1994, and Westchester County where he lives.

And all that time on the road and on the job — he said he is up at 7:30 a.m. and usually not home until around midnight — means he sees little of his 7-year-old daughter and two sons, 12 and 15.

“Time goes so fast now. If you don’t spend time with your kids, in the future you’re probably going to regret it,” Goncalves said. “The last time I had a vacation with my kids was four years ago.”

So he is looking to sell and maybe open a new place or go to work for another restaurant closer to home. But that does not mean he wants to see San Remos end with his tenure. Ideally, Goncalves said, whoever purchases San Remos will preserve the status quo.

Goncalves said that he has tried hard to maintain the same recipes and ingredients that his uncle, Sergio Fernandes, used when he bought the location in 1986.

“The dough, the cheese, the tomato sauce is still the same as 1986. Nothing changed,” Goncalves said. “We make a homemade tomato sauce.”

“I love cooking,” Goncalves added.

Beyond his desire for continuity, Goncalves said there is also a practical reason he would recommend his successor not shake up the formula: “The business is established. If someone comes in to start a new business, especially right now, it’s going to be really tough. ... Right now, coming in and just throwing everything away, that’s not a good idea to do it.”

Ron Rogg of Monroe runs the Pizzaholics Facebook page and group dedicated to “all things pizza.”

“I used to work in that area years and years ago and used to order from them quite often at the time,” Rogg recalled of San Remos.

Rogg characterized San Remos as a solid neighborhood spot that may not necessarily top “best of” lists or lure foodies, but does not have to, either.

“It’s one of those places, seems like they have their loyal fan or loyal customer base,” Rogg said. “They’re a traditional place. That neighborhood pizza-type of thing. ‘This is where we go on Friday or Thursday night. Been doing it for 30 years.’ ... I enjoyed their food. It’s not one of those ‘upper echelon’ pizza places, but you know when you call up and order your weekly special, you get consistency.”

Steven Auerbach and Steve Nelson, political activists in the North End, are both San Remos regulars.

“Their entrees are good, too,” Nelson said. “Lasagna. Chicken Florentine. ... They have a good taste for their food. It’s very, very good and reasonably priced.”

Nelson said whenever he runs various summer youth programs, “I always feed them with his food. Always.”

“They’re like family to me,” Auerbach said. “Everything on the menu is excellent and his prices are the best. ... San Remos never fixed up the place to get the ‘yuppie crew.’ A lot of people go out to dinner to eat mediocre food in a beautiful environment or exceptional food in an environment that’s not trendy. This is that (latter) place.”

Both men said they would have to start making extra visits to San Remos, though they and the rest of Goncalves’ customers may have more time to enjoy his cuisine. Goncalves said he so far has had no interested buyers and, while he would, ideally, sell by the summer, does not plan to shut down if that does not happen. He said he will stay open another year or two if necessary.

“What I’m gonna miss about it is you deal with the customers,” Goncalves said. “I have people brought their own kids — 2 years old, 3 years old — now they’re adults. They have their own kids, now.”