Phillips returns home to help inject some energy into downtown New London
Opinions about how to rescue New London, or spur a renaissance, often feel as though they're shot from a confetti gun. Colorful? Sure. But mostly a million little distractive bits that fall to the ground uneventfully.
Occasionally, though, serious people with serious motivations emerge among us, forgoing barren opinions for energy and earnestness.
And it is through them that the awakening begins.
Example: 345 Bank St.
A mere address? Hardly. It's the latest business undertaking in the heart of downtown — of New London, for New London and by New London. Introducing "The Green Room," a new soul food eatery that's the brainchild of New London natives Jonai Phillips and Tondra Bryant and Bryant's boyfriend, New York City native Shakim Outler.
They are here because they care.
They are here because they have not stopped believing in tomorrow for the 06320.
They are here to offer hope through chicken and waffles.
Their official opening comes Saturday with a "tasting" from 6-9 p.m. on the site formerly known as Ye Olde Tavern, among other endeavors. But they've been open already for a few Sunday brunches that have already inspired repeat customers.
"The food is amazing," New London resident Dave Pfeiffer said. "They offer a culturally driven menu, reflective of many of New London's favorite dishes, and adding a twist of their own to separate themselves. It's so nice to have seen Jonai grow up in New London, leave to New York for school and work experience, then choose to come back home and start a business in her community."
"The Green Room," homage to the color green's relationship to the environment as well as New London High's primary hue, is a black-owned business that inspires all the hope and wonder tethered to the city's diverse spirit.
"We are what New London is," said Phillips, a 2010 grad of New London High who played soccer and basketball there before attending the Art Institute of New York to study fashion marketing. Her mom, Maryellen Tudisco, still attends every New London sporting event, remaining among the most loyal Whalers of them all.
Bryant, who grew up on Coit St., has perhaps the place's secret weapon: her late grandmother's flair for food, illustrated through timeless family recipes.
"Cooking has always been a part of me," Bryant said. "My grandmother is from down south. When she passed, I realized there were only things she made, and I needed to figure out a way to make them. I used to sell dinners out of my house. Soul food. No one else here really had it and people wanted it."
Phillips, who has worked at various bistros and bars both here and in New York, said, "I got sick of working for people. It gets annoying when you have your own ideas and can't use them. It was out of our control. I was looking for spaces downtown, saw this place and wondered if we wanted to try it on our own. We decided to go for it. Tondra is a great cook. I went to school for fashion marketing, but I learned business there, too. It all fit together. We wanted something fresh and new."
It mattered not to them the external perceptions of New London (grim urban core surrounded by more desirable suburbs) or internal (why do we keep making such destructive choices?) They simply want to make their city a better place by doing their part.
Novel concept, no?
"I'm not originally from here. I'm from New York," Outler said. "But since I've been here, I like New London because it's small and family oriented. It's home. In New York, everything is spread out. New London is a great little city. A perfect spot. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
"I was never raised to look at one color. Being here made me more comfortable than New York. In New York, you could walk on the train and ask for directions and they'll walk right past you. You could fall in front of someone and they'll step over you. Here, people care about each other."
Despite the city's various cultures, "comfort soul food" isn't found easily. Until now. Jerk chicken, "Rasta Pasta" and honey corn bread are part of the eclectic, but simple, fare.
"This kind of food is missing here," Bryant said. "It's such a diverse city that it makes no sense that people have to sell dinners from home in order to give people what they want. We want to bring that. We want it to be for everyone. Not a black social restaurant. But for everyone. Comfort soul food. A home cooked meal out at a restaurant. A little bit of everything for everyone."
And the renaissance begins.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro