WESTPORT, Conn. — The former Three Bears Restaurant in Westport is now officially the home of Chabad Lubavitch of Westport, a nonprofit Jewish organization that serves Westport, Weston, Wilton and Norwalk.
The organization purchased the building at 79 Newtown Turnpike from the Vazzano family for $1.6 million on Jan. 30, more than a year after it moved into the space, said Ken Gruder, a Norwalk-based attorney who represented Chabad.
“The sale had been in the process for about 18 months,” said Gruder. “Closing it was a big step forward for Chabad.”
Up until the sale, Chabad had been leasing the space, he said.
The organization was thrust into the spotlight after it moved into the shuttered restaurant from its former home on Ketchum Street without first obtaining the Planning and Zoning Department's approval.
After being cited for violating town zoning laws, Chabad applied for and was granted an abeyance from the Planning and Zoning Department. This allowed the organization to stay in the space while the town reviewed a special permit application.
Chabad’s request to operate out of the former restaurant was unanimously approved last July by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Since then, Chabad has held its religious services there and opened a children's religious school, Gruder said.
Now that the organization owns the building, it will move forward with $150,000 worth of planned interior renovations, he said, completing its transformation into a center for Jewish life. No exterior renovations will be made.
“It is our honor to be in such a landmark building in Westport, and we look forward to preserving the integrity of the building and at the same time providing a warm home for the community,” Chabad Rabbi Yehudah Kantor said in a statement.
“This is an exciting step for the community,” Kantor said. “It will enable us to continue offering a wide variety of innovative programming and services.”
The Three Bears closed in 2009 after more than a century in business. Tiburon, another restaurant, opened in the space shortly after, but closed within two months, Gruder said.