Restaurants stand long vacant in Old Lyme, North Stonington
As part of The Day's CuriousCT initiative, we've received quite a few questions about specific buildings in the area. Today, we're answering questions about two. If you're wondering about something in your town, submit a question to www.theday.com/curiousct.
Q: When will the town of Old Lyme do something about the old Cherrystones Restaurant?
A: According to First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, beyond ensuring that the old Cherrystones Restaurant meets all health, fire, building and safety standards outlined by the town, there is nothing Reemsnyder nor the town can do to change the future of the restaurant.
"It's considered cleaned up between our fire marshal and building official," Reemsnyder said. "They would take action if there were safety concerns — for example, if the building were in danger of collapsing or if there were rodents. If none of those situations exist, people can have a building that is vacant and not occupied."
On Friday, fire marshal David Roberge also confirmed that the restaurant, which sits at 218 Shore Road along Route 156, has met all town safety requirements, saying that without a town blight ordinance in place, the town cannot take further action on the building unless it were "at risk of falling in on itself," or if a different safety issue were at play.
Considering that the property's owner, Vincent J. Dowling Jr. under the business name Big Green Outdoor LLC of Farmington, has paid all taxes on the property over the years, the restaurant is also not in danger of being foreclosed and is not considered an abandoned property, Reemsnyder said.
The restaurant has sat empty in its lot since the original Cherrystones Restaurant closed in 2012.
Originally owned since 1972 by the Montanaro family as part of a larger 31-acre parcel, the restaurant's property once encompassed a driving range, as well as a pitch-and-putt golf course. In 2012, the family subdivided the restaurant portion of the property into a smaller 2.3-acre parcel and sold the piece to investor Downing, who has Scott Champagne and Lisa Floridia of Otter Cove Restaurant in Old Saybrook, manage the property.
Champagne said that the restaurant has gone through several rounds of conceptual plans for extensive renovation since it was purchased. According to zoning records, Champagne obtained a building permit to renovate the restaurant in 2014.
But after Champagne learned the town was possibly planning to construct a community wastewater treatment facility serving nearby beach communities on the parcel of property directly abutting the back of the restaurant, Champagne said Thursday he held off renovating, worrying that a nearby septic station would displease restaurant patrons sitting on a back patio he hoped to build.
"It just wouldn't make sense to invest what was looking to be between $700,000 and $1 million to renovate the building," he said. "So we decided to put the project on hold."
As the town has since shifted away from those plans and now is proposing to run a sewer line connecting some of those nearby beach communities to New London's sewage treatment plant through East Lyme and Waterford, Champagne said he has continued to hold off restaurant renovations until he finds an appropriate business model that would thrive with the surrounding neighborhoods' mostly seasonal residential demographics.
In 2013, Champagne opened Cherrystones To Go, a seasonal restaurant serving fried seafood and ice cream, among other takeout meals, on the western side of the property. He said Thursday, though, that he is unsure if the establishment will open this summer as well after its would-be manager told Champagne last week he couldn't work this season due to personal reasons.
Among recent ideas for the empty Cherrystones restaurant, Champagne said he is considering turning the space into a brewery, and may also consider downsizing the building and still moving forward with a restaurant. Either plan, he said, would require a significant investment to renovate the building.
"No matter what, it's not a low-cost endeavor. There is more to do there," Champagne said, noting electrical and plumbing renovations are needed. "It's not a forgotten project, but it's just not clear what we want there."
Q. What is going on at the old Gary's Restaurant at the corner of Routes 49 and 184?
A. The property that used to house Gary's Family Restaurant has sparked residents' attention because of recent activity on the site, but the North Stonington first selectman said there are no plans for development.
Gary's, which was at 284 Providence-New London Turnpike, closed its doors over 20 years ago. Gary A. Stanley of North Stonington opened the restaurant, which served breakfast, lunch and dinner, in 1983. The restaurant was known as a banquet and wedding facility and served fish-and-chips dinners on Fridays. At one point, Gary's was the only bar in town.
The restaurant made news in 1988 when a man maliciously pranked Gary's by bringing a 1,300-pound ox inside. Per the Associated Press, the man was protesting being kicked out of the bar the previous Friday. Police charged the man with reckless endangerment, cruelty to animals, breach of peace and resisting arrest. Two others were charged with conspiracy for allegedly assisting with the prank.
Stanley and his restaurant also were in the news in 1994, when coliform bacteria was discovered in the town's well and health officials worried that bacteria might enter the restaurant's water system. The restaurant was ordered to use bottled water. Though no one reported illness from the bacteria, Stanley said this recurring issue hurt his reputation.
According to Stanley's son, Ryan, Stanley and his wife decided to close the restaurant due to the competition posed by Mohegan Sun.
After Gary's closed, Amresco New England purchased the property for $0 in September 1997. In January 2001, North Stonington resident James A. Noonan, who was doing business as NSS Realty, bought the building for $120,000. Noonan still owns it.
North Stonington resident Steven Scott debated taking over the dormant restaurant in March 2003 for a catering warehouse, but the tentative plans fell through.
First Selectman Michael Urgo said despite the ongoing demolition, Noonan has no plans for the property. He said the demolition, which Noonan arranged for last summer, should be completed by June.
Messages left for Stanley and Noonan were not returned.