Home Restaurant: A Haven For Those With Food Allergies

Jared Schulefand wanted a place he could call home, and he found just the spot in Branford.

Schulefand's restaurant, called Home, is a stylish yet cozy space that he hopes customers find relaxing and accommodating. "The [idea] behind the restaurant is comfort," he says. "That's what the name is all about. The theory has always been to accommodate people."

While Home is open to guests of all taste preferences, Schulefand and his management team – his fiancée and director of operations, Kate Lewantowicz, and executive chef Mike DiVincenzo – go beyond the norm to give customers with food allergies a pleasing dining experience. In addition to its extensive regular menu, Home offers an equally large gluten-free menu.

The idea to create a haven for those with food allergies originated with Lewantowicz who has celiac disease. "Five years ago, when I saw the way she was treated in restaurants – almost like a second-class citizen, I thought something had to be done," Schulefand says.

Once Schulefand was in charge of his own restaurant, he and his chef turned the kitchen into an allergy-friendly laboratory. The kitchen is peanut-free and uses soy-free oil. The chef uses separate pans and utensils to prepare foods for a guest with an allergy. Walnuts are stocked in the kitchen but they are stored in containers with long-handled spoons so that the nuts don't come in contact with a cook's hands. DiVincenzo also tries to develop recipes including dairy products that work even if cheese or milk is removed.

Lewantowicz worked with the Branford-based Food Allergy Education Network to develop a training program for Home's staff and has made the manual available to the Branford health department to use in other restaurants.

When DiVincenzo delivers a new regular menu, "we have a tasting of the dishes with our staff," Schulefand says. "We go through each dish and tell them what allergies are [associated] with the dish."

"Now that we're known for [accommodating] food allergies, we have a huge following of people with allergies."

The gluten-free menu features many adapted dishes from the regular menu. Housemade hummus is served with carrot sticks and gluten-free bagel chips instead of pita chips. The gnocchi, served with Bolognese sauce, are made in-house from a recipe DiVincenzo developed, using rice and potato flour rather than wheat flour. The housemade cheese sauce that tops a patty melt and a Nodine's all-beef hot dog also is gluten-free.

Both menus offer such choices as a Pork Belly Reuben, Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich, orange-scented chicken breast over a mixed greens and strawberry salad, Faroe Island Salmon with succotash and warm sherry-tomato vinaigrette. The kitchen supports local farmers and food producers. The bread and desserts are baked at Branford bakeries, and the beverage lists includes beers brewed in Connecticut and New England. Rather than the well-known Bombay gin, Schulefand chooses to stock small-batch Brooklyn Gin and uses the corn-based Rime vodka, a gluten-free brand distilled at Westford Hill Distillers in Connecticut.

"My philosophy is to support local business," he says.

The menu changes every five or six months, although several "staples" – Spicy Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese, two styles of burgers, hummus, and meatballs in homemade marinara sauce with garlic toast – carry over. Prices range from $3 to $14 for appetizers, $10 to 19 for sandwiches and entrée salads, and $16 to $25 for entrees.

A Hamden native, Schulefand had racked up 15 years in the hospitality industry after graduating from Johnson and Wales University where he studied food service and beverage management. He was working as the assistant director of food and beverage at Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod when he decided to return to his home state and start the search for a restaurant location.

"I wanted to be closer to my parents," says Schulefand, whose father bartends frequently at Home.

He took over the space formerly occupied by Foe, An American Bistro. "I fell in love with the restaurant, with the size and the potential," he says of storefront in downtown Branford, which has a thriving restaurant scene. "I loved the area, growing up, and didn't want to be the only restaurant in town."

DiVincenzo, who also worked at Chatham Bars Inn, agreed to move to Connecticut and take on the position of executive chef. "He has a brilliant palate" and creates unusual flavor combinations, Schulefand says of the chef, who also grew up in Hamden.

After taking over the bistro, Schulefand re-designed the space and closed for 10 days for the renovation. The regular and gluten-free menus are available in both the dining room and the large bar area. "We like to give lots of options," he says. "You can eat in the dining even if you only want a burger."

"We have a huge clientele that eats at the bar, which I love," he says. "I didn't want the bar to be a drinking place but a [spot] where people could eat." Guests also can choose from two other spaces in the bar area. Adjacent to the bar, a working fireplace provides a focal point – and warmth – for those seated at tall tables and chairs.

A third space, separated from the bar by a half wall, offers seating at tables or leather-style couches arranged in small groupings around coffee tables. "The couches sometimes scare people," he says, "because they say they can't eat while sitting on a sofa but we have some customers who do four or five courses." Local jazz musicians play music in the bar on Sunday nights.

In addition to its regular lunch and dinner service, the handsome dining room turns into a monthly jazz club where dinner is served during the concert. Home also hosts special events such as beer, wine and spirits dinners.

Home, 1114 Main St., Branford, is open for lunch and dinner on Sundays, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Information: 203-483-5896 and www.HomeRestaurantCT.com.