NORWALK, Conn. -- B.J. Lawless has been in the restaurant business "most of his life." One of his first jobs after college was working at the old Cogburn's in Norwalk, and while that restaurant is long gone, the friendship he made there with Buckley Ryan continues to this day. So it's fitting that the pair have come full circle, opening their new establishment, B.J. Ryan's B•AN•C House, on the site of the original Cogburn's on River Street.
"It's kind of neat returning to our roots," says Lawless, noting that the restaurant's menu, which focuses on barbecue and shellfish (the name stands for Barbecue and Crabs), harkens back to the "messy food" Cogburn's was famous for.
The new spot is within a crab shell's throw of their first successful venture, B.J. Ryan's on Main Street. The B•AN•C House opened at the end of June after six months of prep work, which included gutting the building and perfecting the menu. "Running two restaurants is twice as much work as one, maybe more," Lawless said during a rare lull between the lunch and dinner crowds. "We've pretty much kept everything separate, from the menu to the staff."
One carryover at both is the décor, which features black and white photographs of establishments from Myrtle Beach, Manhattan and Fairfield County, "places that have influenced us or are owned by people we know," says Lawless.
The quality of food and service that the original Ryan's has become famous for made the trip around the block as well, even if the menu has been tweaked to reflect the different focus. From the day they first met, Lawless and Ryan have proven that a friendship based on food can be a success, professionally and personally.