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Fairfield County Restaurant Renaissance Continues

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Restaurants have been opening in Fairfield County at a nearly breakneck pace over the past 12 to 18 months. This is great news for the foodies among us, for sure.

The first quarter of 2012 alone saw the addition of The Spotted Horse , The Whelk , Luxe Wine and Cocktail Bar, and Rustico in Westport; Cactus Rose Cantina in Wilton; Carpe Diem , Boulevard 18 and Elm in New Canaan; Naked Greens and Wave Hill Breads Café and Bakery in Norwalk; Darien Socia l and Estia’s in Darien; Pizzeria Rosso in Greenwich and Bridgeport; and Station Eats in Stamford.

That’s a lot of seats to fill, and it’s only April.

So what does it mean, all these new restaurants popping up during an economic recovery that experts still regard as tenuous? Could this mini gastro-boom be the harbinger of better financial days to come?

Lorraine Woellert of Bloomberg News reported Thursday that consumer confidence and spending are on the uptick, thanks in large part to “the improved labor market, rising stock prices and easier credit.” All of which lends itself to new business ventures.

Chef and restaurateur Matt Storch is the driving force behind the SoNo culinary gem, Match. He is also working to open a new restaurant with partners Scott Beck and Kevin McHugh. They are the original three who first opened Match, and now they have their sights set on creating a lively spot with an eclectic menu in downtown Fairfield, in the spot formerly occupied by the Greenhouse Grill.

“I was just talking about this with my partner the other day,” says Storch. “About all the new restaurants popping up. Lots can open, but only the strong and the consistent succeed. Only those at the top of their game are going to make it.”

But Storch also speculates that easing of town restrictions is contributing to the new restaurant boom. “The towns are definitely making it easier,” says Storch. “When Westport lifted the restriction on how close bars could be to one another, that made it easier to open new places.”

It also seems that the rash of restaurant closings in Fairfield County during the height of the recession in and around 2008 is also a contributing factor to the new openings. “It’s a lot easier and a lot more cost effective to take over a space that was already occupied by a restaurant. One that’s fully equipped. A full restaurant build out can cost between $1 [million] and $2 million,” says Storch.

It is also important to note the types of places that are opening, says the chef. “The trend right now is definitely to open more casual spaces, with price points a little lower than normal.” Further encouragement for people who want to dine out more often.

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