The co-owners of Krust, Middletown’s unique pizzeria and bourbon bar, will expand their repertoire later this year with a new city restaurant.
Rich Garcia and Kevin Wirtes have signed a lease to open their second establishment at 500 Main St., at the site of the former Sew-Fine upholstery store, which now operates as Oak & Velvet in the city’s Remington Rand building. The partners had been looking for a space for a potential new project and spotted the "For Rent" sign on a daily walk down Main Street, they said.
The as-yet-unnamed restaurant, with about 60 planned seats, has a projected November opening. It will divert from the pizza for which Krust has become known, but its small and shareable plates will center on a wood-fired oven. Garcia described the menu as “very focused” and apt to change daily.
"We want to bring that sense of community to dining,” he said. "I think that’s a more fun way for people to dine and I think that’s kind of how everything is trending as well, these days.” The menu may also present larger-format dishes, like whole-roasted fish or steaks for two or more.
Matthew Wick, a longtime chef at Chester’s River Tavern, will join the team as the new restaurant’s executive chef. The three have been friends since Krust’s opening days in early 2013; they met after Wick returned from months of culinary travel and study in Italy, and welcomed him to work with them in Middletown on a part-time basis. Later that year, Wick also helped River Tavern chef/owner Jonathan Rapp open his own wood-fired pizzeria, Otto.
“He’s so food-driven; his life revolves around it,” Garcia said of Wick. “Whenever he’s not cooking at the restaurant, he’s out doing something food-related. He does a lot of foraging, spends a lot of time at [farms] to pick herbs… His food isn’t very fussy, but it’s just so delicious. It’s very familiar, but it’s also very inventive too. It’s a lot of fun."
Wick said the new restaurant will source as locally as possible, but doesn't want to pigeonhole it as "farm to table." "It shouldn't be a selling point; people should just be doing it," he said.
Vegetables will have a strong presence on the menu, and Wick will build a pantry of preserved fresh ingredients for future use.
"It's just something that's exciting for a cook to have these flavors to pick from throughout the year," he said. "It's very personal, kind of brings an identity to your cooking and really connects you to your environment."
The new Middletown opportunity is a homecoming of sorts for Wick, who landed his first cooking job at It’s Only Natural in 2003.
"I'm really excited to kind of get back to [my] roots, to where I started," he said. "I think it's really cool to be able to give back to that community that did so much for me."
Garcia and Wirtes want their new spot to maximize the best flavor Connecticut has to offer. Krust frequently highlights “local food friends” on its daily menu, including farms, bakers, cheesemakers and specialty products. “We want to tie into that great Connecticut vibe that’s been going around,” Wirtes said.
“In my dining out [experience]…this is the most exciting food scene that’s ever happened in Connecticut,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie with a lot of the restaurants that have been opening, a lot of support for Connecticut farms, local beer, local spirits…it’s super exciting right now.”
Krust has also gained a reputation as a destination for bourbon and whiskey, with more than 100 bottles on display, but Wirtes said the new restaurant’s bar would have a “more concise…more niche-y” collection of spirits, along with select craft beers.
When Krust opened in January 2013, Garcia and Wirtes were first-time restaurateurs who had followed their dream after years as IT professionals in the insurance field. The pizzeria quickly attracted guests from the food and beverage industry, which proved to be valuable.
“We’ve met so many great people because it’s an industry spot and…I think our audience has grown just because of that, too,” Garcia said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
That success led to big crowds, and after less than a year in business, they realized had to quickly expand their space at 686 Main Street, nearly doubling its seating capacity.
Three and a half years later, they say they’re eager to start their new project with the knowledge and experience they’ve gained.
“I think [Krust] was a great intro to the restaurant scene for us, since it was our first time doing this,” Wirtes said. “…We also want to showcase that we have other things that we’re interested in, that we believe we can deliver.”