How did you all meet?
We all met over the years from being in the same professions and actually working together in different restaurants and bar locations throughout Fairfield County…kind of a bartender brotherhood.
Where did the idea for “The Spread” come from? Why SoNo as the location rather than New Haven, Stamford, CT or even NYC?
The idea for The Spread came from the long-time idea of being an owner instead of an employee. Pretty much any career bartender has at one time or another talked about or planned to own his or her own bar one-day. We decided to make the dream a reality. Other locations were investigated but ultimately SoNo became our best option due to familiarity, cost efficiency and local need- supply and demand sort of thing.
Being an owner of a restaurant is always a challenging task. The Spread has four owners, is that even more challenging? Does each owner have a specific role?
We don't know for sure with this being our first venture into ownership but we agree that the division of responsibility in the pre-opening process helped tremendously. We are each able to play many roles such as bartender, manager, etc., but not having four people deal with every agent, salesman, purveyor, etc. allowed us each to focus more on our particular jobs at hand.
Is The Spread considered more of a bar or a restaurant or a combo of both and what’s the approach to control your liquor and food costs?
The Spread began as more of a bar, hence the 32.5 feet of walnut! But it quickly evened out with the hiring of Chef Arik. He added automatic credibility to the cuisine and dining room. Experience is the key to our approach in controlling food and liquor costs…not only knowing how to do inventory and read it but knowing what to order, when to order it, how much to order and where the price point lies is paramount.
Is the atmosphere at The Spread more upscale or a casual? Do you offer casual family dining?
The atmosphere is a cross between upscale and casual. Looking at the menu one would expect to have to put on a jacket or at least dress pants. We believe that you can appreciate foie gras wearing a pair of jeans. And we won't get mad if someone puts their elbows on our antique, barn door tabletops!
Did you work with any local designers and consultants on the interior? Was there a certain theme or vision that you wanted and did all the partners have totally different ideas or was everyone on the same page?
We all had a very industrial image for the interior. We didn't have any designer’s help. but our friend and architect Bruce Beinfield lent an ear and word of advice when we needed it. We simply put ideas out there for a round table discussion- if we voted to scrap an idea, we did. If not, we moved forward. Some things too convincing (barn door tables) and others were automatic (big fan.) Some were split like the living wall. It all came together with the help from locals, like artist Lassandra Martins, carpenter Kenny Fecteau, welder Nick Komenda and the Laurelrock Company.
Working with any sommeliers? What role does wine play in your operation and has that evolved over the years in your experiences?
Sommelier Ceylan Tumgoren, or “J” as we refer to her, helped tremendously in putting together our wine list. With the level of cuisine and having four owner/bartenders come from extensive prior wine bar experience it was very important to us to have an excellent list suitable for pairing.
Any local micro-brew offerings? And what’s “the trough” all about, does that keep your beer at a consistent temperature?
The only truly local beer we carry is from the Half-full brewery in Stamford. The Shed brown ale is also offered from Vermont. As far as the trough…there’s nothing worse than a less than ice-cold beer! Constant ice bath assures the coldest beer in Norwalk.
What sets The Spread apart from other restaurants in SoNo and surrounding areas?
We believe we’ve set ourselves apart in many aspects. The culinary offerings are not seen much without heading to NYC. The interior has elements not seen, especially in the rustic industrial combo we have set the place in. And we have really striven to make sure the staff is always smiling and attentive. Where else can you feel right at home wearing jeans and ordering beef tongue and octopus?
What was the most challenging part of The Spread and in your opinion, what’s the most challenging part of being a restaurateur?
The most challenging part of opening The Spread was the amount of jobs, especially for first timers. Making sure all bases were covered before opening the doors. So many things go unnoticed and under appreciated in restaurants…until you have to open one. We have a new respect for all those before us that have travelled down this road; it's not as easy as it looks.
The Spread's Executive Chef Arik Bensimon answers some questions for Total Food.
How did you hear about The Spread and what attracted you to this new venture after leaving Napa & Co.?
I heard about The Spread through a good friend and chef in the area, he thought it would be a good match.
Talk a little about The Spread’s menu. Did you have complete control of the menu offerings? You’re trained in French cuisine, will the menu reflect that or was there a certain cuisine that you and the owners had in mind?
The Spread’s menu will be constantly evolving. I have complete creative control in the menu offerings. Cooking is very personal to me; I want to cook what I feel. Yes, French cuisine is definitely felt here.
Do you use a farm-to-table approach?
We use local produce whenever possible.
What are some of the offerings that are on the menu? Any tapas style items?
There are smaller plate options as well as main entrées, some of the menu items include: Octopus Tandoori, Roast duck with pomegranate molasses Grilled swordfish with chermoula, and terrines and pates.
Any Sous Vide approaches?
We are doing some sous vide in some of the dishes.
You have whole animals on premise, which is becoming more and more popular? Is it good business sense as the return on the investment is greater? Does this give your customers a chance to try something unique?
Using whole animals is the way I was trained in the restaurants I worked in. We’ve always took a “nose to tail” approach. We respect the whole animal by letting nothing ever go to waste.
Any favorite piece of cooking equipment that helps you with your signature dishes?
We are cooking on a Jade Range, which is just awesome! We have a plancha, a French flat top, and while at Korin one day I picked up a ceramic grill, which we currently use to char our octopus on, we’ll also be grilling foie gras on it. We use binchotan charcoal for it, which comes from Japan.