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Organic and allergen-sensitive food group to move its headquarters to North Stonington

North Stonington — Closed to the public for almost a decade, the John Randall House and its surrounding buildings have new owners who have plans to change that.

One of them, Carla Bartolucci, is a New London native who frequently used to bring friends and family to the 28-acre grounds, which housed the Colonial-style Randall's Ordinary Inn and Restaurant until the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe closed it in 2006.

Though she and her husband, Rodolfo — owners of the organic and allergen-sensitive food company called Jovial Foods Inc. — don't intend to revive the Randall's Ordinary operation, they do plan to host a variety of events at what eventually will be Jovial Foods' new headquarters. They bought the property March 10.

"We feel really fortunate to be in this position," Bartolucci said. "We've worked really hard and we're excited to be able to organize something that might give back to the community."

Built around 1685, the Randall House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has a seat along the Connecticut Freedom Trail — history of which the owners of Jovial Foods are well aware.

Working with Erik Block Design-Build of Hadlyme and Friedrich St. Florian Architects from Rhode Island — the same group that designed the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. — Jovial Foods is "being mindful of how to do the restoration properly."

In the restoration blueprint, the warehouse and administration buildings sit in the front portion of the property, near Route 2, "so as not to ruin the back," Bartolucci said.

Ultimately, she hopes to host weekend and weeklong cooking course getaways in the former inn building, and farm-to-table meals in the Randall House. The latter, Bartolucci said, will be geared toward local foodies.

"It's a different use of the property," Bartolucci said. "However, we're moving it into a different era while still respecting its history."

Already, Erik Block Design-Build workers have stabilized the Randall House, cleaning its insides, replacing its roof with a temporary asphalt shingle one and sealing its windows, doors and some deteriorated siding.

Bartolucci estimated complete restoration of the home would take more than a year. She said the inn may take less time, but Block wasn't yet sure of the final timeline.

"That's a large undertaking, to bring the inn up to where (Bartolucci) wants it to be for guests," Block said. "It needs all new bathrooms, reception areas ... all new roof, siding, windows, plumbing, electrical."

"Same with this," he said, gesturing to the Randall House.

It was, in part, because of the amount of repair required that the Bartoluccis spent $700,000 on the same property the Mashantuckets bought for $1.4 million in 1995.

"It's a very complex project because the home is in bad shape," Bartolucci said. "It's very involved if you want to do it right."

Mystic resident Mary Kay Riley, who said the John Randall who built the house was her seventh-great-grandfather, was happy to hear of the Bartoluccis' diligence.

"It is very important to me and other Randall family descendants that everything the new owners do to improve the property is done to reflect and respect the history of the home and the grounds," Riley said. "What occurred on that property over the past 330 years is our story and our heritage."

Frank Eppinger, president of the North Stonington Historical Society, said the Bartoluccis' decision to restore the Randall House is "happening in time to be meaningful."

"It's been closed almost 10 years," Eppinger said. "For a historic home, for the roof and windows and all that, that's a long time to not have any attention."

Eppinger said the historical society, too, is pleased the Bartoluccis seem to "recognize the historic nature of the property."

The Bartoluccis, who have been running Jovial Foods in North Franklin, plan to use the land as well by planting both an orchard of heirloom fruit and a field of einkorn. First cultivated more than 10,000 years ago, einkorn is considered one of the world's oldest wheat grains.

Because it's hard to harvest and has small yields, though, most farmers gave up on it about 5,000 years ago, according to Jovial Foods' website. As such, the grain is "genetically pure," and many who are sensitive to modern wheat aren't bothered by it.

Other ideas the Bartoluccis have floated include creating a small microbrewery in the property's barn, hosting farmers' markets and adding a new kitchen.

"We have a lot of ideas ... but we still have to meet with the town to see what they'll permit," Bartolucci said, calling town officials "incredibly receptive."

Missing from Jovial Foods' plans, however, is a full-time restaurant operation.

It's something some community members — including some members of the Randall's Ordinary Fans Facebook group — are upset about, but Riley isn't one of them.

"It's interesting how 'Randall's Ordinary' has become the primary identity and name of the place for many people," she said.

Dreamed up by William and Lucinda Clark, who bought the property in 1986, the restaurant featuring open-hearth cooking lasted only from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s.

"I'm happy that the Clarks had the place as a very nice restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, but I'm really excited about the next stage of the history of the Randall property," Riley said.

l.boyle@theday.com

Twitter: @LindsayABoyle

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