Arrivederci, Vespa. Welcome, The ‘Port.

In its 2 1/2 years in Westport, Vespa earned the loyalty of many customers.

Unfortunately, they came almost entirely on Friday and Saturday nights.

Owner Bobby Werhane thought there was a demand for “a New York style, modern rustic restaurant” in that location.

There was. But attracting diners on more casual weekdays was tough. Though the 155 seats inside were filled — and in summer, the 60-seat patio was packed — the size of National Hall, plus the difficulty of scheduling employees for both peak and slow times, led to what Werhane admits was “inconsistency.”

“The Cottage and the Whelk are small enough to do well consistently,” he says. “They’ve got a small, constant staff, and a tight menu. Their expenses are manageable. It was a lot tougher for us.”

The Inn at National Hall. Vespa most recently occupied the ground floor.

One of the things he enjoyed most about  Vespa was establishing strong relationships with guests. One was Sal Augeri.

A 14-year Westporter with 2 kids, Augeri — a Wall Street guy — was thinking about the next phase of his life. He’d always been interested in restaurants; he was involved in his town, so …

… welcome to the new spot that’s taking Vespa’s place. It’s called …

… The ‘Port.

It aims to fill a niche that Augeri believew is lacking in Westport’s restaurant scene: an “approachable, authentic experience.” He calls it “a place to go after your kids’ practice, or for a quick bite with friends. But a place that also has a definite local flavor.”

The ‘Port — our town’s sometime nickname — hopes to convey a real Westport vibe. Vespa’s white walls and beautiful surfaces will remain; some banquettes and communal spaces will be added, and “Westport stuff” put on the walls. Soon, the owners hope, the iconic building will be filled with people, 7 days a week.

“Owners” is exactly the right word. Augeri’s company — SMA Hospitality — is the majority owner and operating partner. Twenty-three investors have joined the 10 original Vespa backers. That’s 33 families, all with young kids and town ties.

Local designers Alli DiVincenzo and Michele Cosentino teamed up with Westport architect Lucien Vita of the Vita Design Group to brand and design the interior of The ‘Port.

The restaurant will also hire Staples students as busboys. (The last place that did that may have been the Arrow.)

The ‘Port will be “family friendly.” Augeri says that means “simple, basic, good food that people want”: an excellent burger. The “Port Club” signature chicken sandwich. Fish, pastas, fresh salads, great wings.

Milk and fresh lemonade for children — drinks that are healthier than most restaurants’ sodas and juice boxes.

Dessert includes homemade brownies and Chipwiches. “I don’t need tiramisu,” Augeri laughs.

Chef Justin Kaplan last worked in Lake Tahoe. This will be the 7th restaurant he’s opened.

He looks forward to “rustic, home-style cooking done right. We’re designing this menu for our guests — not the chefs’ egos.”

Chef Justin Kaplan (left) and operating partner Sal Augeri. (Photo/Allyson Monson)

“Family friendly” means the owners hope The ‘Port will be the place that Staples Players and middle school actors go to celebrate after shows. What about the diner — the current favorite spot? “We’ll do special events for the cast,” Augeri promises.

He will also provide discounts for veterans, police officers and firefighters, along with special post-Back to School Night promotions. Augeri adds, “teachers will be glad we’re there. A lot of times they’re looking for a 4-to-6 p.m. spot.”

A couple of TVs will draw guests for big events, like the NCAA Final Four, US Open tennis or a Champions League championship. But — although he’s deeply involved in the Westport PAL, and he hopes teams will gather there after big wins — Augeri claims, “this is not a sports bar. It’s a restaurant with TVs.”

The projected opening date is a month from now. See you at The ‘Port.

100 responses to “Arrivederci, Vespa. Welcome, The ‘Port.

  1. Adam Vengrow

    Awesome!!!!!!!! This is such an exciting opening, best of luck Justin and Sal !

  2. Seth Goltzer

    Sounds like a great concept. If it has a little feel of the old Ships’, and reasonable prices, it will be a hometown home run. Good luck!

  3. Thanks Dan. Any information on Vespa gift cards?

  4. Roberta Tager

    Sounds good to me!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Sounds great. I think this time around, you’ve got a winner. Wishing you guys the best of luck!

  6. Allison Adler

    Can’t wait! Sounds like it will be great. So few good family friendly restaurants!

  7. Buffy Strober

    Good Luck! This sounds great! Can’t wait to try

  8. Perfect idea. The community aspect is awesome and the desserts sound pretty good too! Looking forward to it.

    Love your town.
    Townee / Westport

    • Thanks Ted and Stephanie.
      I look forward to meeting you and hope you will join us when we open.
      Just like you and the Townee concept – we love Westport.
      — Sal Augeri, The ‘Port

  9. Terry brannigab

    Exciting!

    Along with discounts for firefighterd, vets and police please consider sales guys!

    I have commented in the past with my tongue in my cheek about the Arrow versus Allen’s clam house versus Mario’s Place but the truth is all through high school and college these great restaurants were staffed with highschoolers working in the restaurant was is as much a part of our social fabric back then for kids as sports! It would be so great to see your kids working at Port. Great idea.

    Can’t wait

    • Thanks Terry. We can’t wait to welcome the Brannigan family to The ‘Port. Wouldn’t it be great for the Brannigan boys to wait on you and Laurie?
      See you soon. — Sal

  10. Jack Whittle

    I agree, the tone they seek to create with ‘Port – a place where folks can catch a family-friendly bite to eat and hang out – sounds like a winner. And maybe a vibrant eat at the bar area like Derosa’s in the old days, or Martell has so successfully going on now.

    Of course, I have to take (townie) exception with “The restaurant will also hire Staples students as busboys. (The last place that did that may have been the Arrow)” – come on now, how can you forget Allen’s Clam House?

  11. Catherine Barrett

    This is wonderful news! Can’t wait for it to open. Hope they do something about the parking.

    • Hello Catherine. All of the parking at Inn at National Hall is first come, first serve after 6pm and the parking lot across the street is open and available all day and evening. The top two floors are all open for use and the entrance on the north side is always open.

  12. Thanks Terry. We can’t wait to welcome the Brannigan family to The ‘Port. Wouldn’t it be great for the Brannigan boys to wait on you and Laurie?
    See you soon. — Sal

  13. Thanks so much for a great story Dan. I can’t think of a better place than 06880 to be the first to share the news of The ‘Port. See you at The ‘Port. — Sal Augeri

  14. i didn’t know we had so many “pisans” in town with the werewithall to do retaurants like these

  15. Excited for this and look forward to helping make this place a new pillar of the community we love.

  16. Marcy Sansolo

    this sounds just right. best of luck to the ‘port.

  17. Debbie Connors

    So excited for The Port to open! Westport really needs a family friendly place with great food & a hometown feel. Sounds like a homerun! (oops, I mean “touchdown”, coach.) Congratulations Sal! The Connors wish you the best of luck!

  18. I worked with Sal and became very good friends with him over the past few years. The town of Westport has a winner here; Sal is a hard working, blue-collar type guy with a heart of gold. Best of luck and see you at the Port!!!
    -Frank R

  19. Looking forward to the opening. Good Luck Sal and team!

  20. David Diamond

    Congratulations!!! Sounds perfect, the Diamond’s are looking forward to representing Weston once you’re open!

  21. I fondly remember the Arrow and Ship’s , GREAT places…we need an eatery with a laidback, fun energy, atmosphere …a gathering place with tasty food, be yourself authentic…not to “be seen” or pretentious. …best to you all

  22. Can’t wait to check it out!!

  23. Michael Calise

    Most restaurants in Westport are way off course. Straightforward dishes are hard to find. I expect to see spaghetti with strawberry sauce or some other concoction soon. Servings are so small that unless its a late night snack having dinner only to go home and have dinner again is not unusual. Drinks out of measured pours are priced through the roof. It appears that the right intensions are here and I wish them every success

    • Hello Michael. Thanks for your best wishes. Our plan is to serve great food in a comfortable setting where everyone feels welcome. We hope to be a great addition and look forward to having you join us for a good meal.

  24. Deborah Press

    This sounds wonderful, it will be great for kids to have a place to hang other than Starbucks and The Diner — my Staples son would like to know how he can apply!!

  25. Mary Kneisel

    Finally! Something that Westport has been lacking for a long time. Sal, I hope your restaurant will take reservations, something that is pretty important when dining out with kids. Good Luck!!

  26. Grace Fraraccio

    For parents with younger kids what about offering a family friendly happy hour on the weekends?

    • Hello Grace. This is a fantastic idea and we would love to offer it. Would you mind getting my email from Dan and contacting me directly? Thanks so much.

  27. Good Luck Sal! Best of luck with the new venture and I look forward to eating there

  28. Dawn Collins

    This sounds fantastic! Good luck, see you when you open !!

  29. All of it sounds fantastic to me and so so needed in our wonderful town. Just this past Sunday, my high schooler and I left Toquet Hall after the last Rumbo show. We sat in the parking lot brainstorming for 10 minutes about where we could go to celebrate with a fresh and tasty American menu AND reasonable bite to eat. We couldn’t come up with any good idea. The ‘Port will def fill that void! Also, so happy the kids will have a welcoming spot to gather with friends (or work!) and we won’t have to hump it to Norwalk or Buffalo Wild Wings in Milford (right Ed and Patty?) to watch a game! Can’t wait for The ‘Port to become our next family tradition! Best of luck!!

    • Thanks so much. We are looking forward to hosting your family and to being a local place to eat after school performances, back to school nights and games. We can’t wait to see the Frosts at The ‘Port.

  30. Jeff Gershowitz

    Sounds like a great idea. Can’t wait to pay our first visit. Good luck, Sal.

  31. Kathy Calise

    I cant wait to go this restaurant is just what Westport needs. I grew up playing in that building when it was Fairfield Furniture, the owner at the time would let my brother and I ride the elevator up and down. My Dad Dominick was the last member of the West Side Eel’s in order to join you had to dive off the roof of that building into the river. Lots of history cant wait to see the inside.
    Kathy

  32. Danna Rogers

    I can’t wait! Thank you for filling the void!

  33. Sal- Wishing you, family, and Partners great success. We have so few places where we can take kids, or just grab a beverage or simple good food without going $19.99 off the sandwich and salad boards…We look forward to seeing you and patronizing your establishment. Great concept

    • Thanks so much Jimmy. It is our goal at The ‘Port to be as friendly and as service-oriented as you always are at Crossroads Hardware. Your team always greets us with a smile and we look forward to greeting you the same way soon at The ‘Port.

  34. Bart Shuldman

    Congrats and thanks for investing in Westport.

    We stopped going to Vespa as the bar stools were quite uncomfortable for my wife. If you kept them have someone who is not 6′ try them out-not good.

    While good food should help drive traffic, a comfortable experience is most important to get people to return. Vespa and whoever was the decorator surely never tried out the seating.

    We will try again once you open as ‘Port. We wish you all the success and, again, thanks for investing in our wonderful town.

  35. Kendall Gardiner

    I’ve always wished we had a “local Pub” as they have throughout England.
    The concept is fantastic.
    A place to have a pint and a burger, and where adults and kids can come and meet, eat, drink ( not kids) and stay awhile.
    I wish you luck, and look forward to coming in with my grandchildren.

  36. Julie Valdes-Rodriguez

    Thanks for coming out to say hello today at the restaurant. I appreciate your offer to honor my Vespa gift card and look forward to dining at The ‘Port later this spring.

  37. Sounds awesome! Perfect to take the kids after the non-stop practices, games and competitions. Looking forward to it! Best of luck, Sal.

  38. Hey this sounds awesome , I own a local bakery with the best bread around I would love to be given the opportunity to provide our service to you , Contact me at 203-943-4476!

  39. Bill Stanton

    Growing up in Westport I’ve seen several Family restaurants come and go.Pizza N Brew where the Fore and Aft used to be. Fuddruckers across from the Bowling Alley . Kids used to enjoy playing video games at Arnies Place! It would be nice to see a gathering place where family and friends can socialize “yes,actually have a conversation ” without the distraction of smart phones . Maybe you can dig up an old cornmeal covered bowling pin game that was in the Bridge Grill while listening to Mack the Knife!

  40. Yes!! See you at The ‘Port…. can’t wait
    Thanks Dan for posting this!!

  41. Westport badly needs more family-friendly gathering spots like this. Best of luck with your opening, and we look forward to seeing you soon!

  42. Bobbie Herman

    Sal — I think it’s lovely that you answer each comment individually. It shows a regard for each person. As a couple “of a certain age,” would my husband and I feel out of place in a “Family-Friendly” restaurant swarming with kids? We’ve been looking for a casual restaurant since SBC closed. But as discussed in one of Dan’s recent columns, not too noisy.

    • Hello Bobbie. Thank you so much. Everyone is welcome, and we hope to be busy. Families with younger children tend dine out a bit earlier in the evening so maybe that will help with your planning. We do hope you will stop by and check it out when we open.

  43. Debbie McWhirter

    Sal … who knew?! This is fantastic news and a wonderful surprise! Congratulations to you, your family and partners on this new venture and for bringing back a bit of old Westport. Our town was in need of a casual place with great food and a fun atmosphere. It seems that the ‘Port will fill the void! Just love the concept and all your ideas. Looking forward to seeing you there! Best of luck! It’s going to be fantastic!

  44. Kristin Hantler

    If The ‘Port is the opposite of Vespa in family friendliness and quality of service, we’ll be there all the time. Recommend you hook up with Westportmoms.com – huge circle of local moms always looking for a great place to catch a bite w the kids. Good luck!

  45. Christina Bennett

    This sounds like such a great addition to the Westport area, greatly needed. Please let me know when you are hiring.

  46. Joe DaProcida

    Sal, we met a while back. I am looking forward to being a patron of The Port!!

  47. Rob and Jane Spino

    Good Luck!! You may have a Spino sighting in the future!!

  48. Sal – How can kids apply?

  49. Angelica Horaitis

    When do you open?

  50. Wow- this is exciting news! We have lived in Westport over 25 years and have seen plenty of restaurants come and go there. Some have had good food- even very good- but never have any been “casual”… and NEVER with “casual” prices.
    Let’s hope The ‘Port can deliver on both parts of that- now THAT would be something worth celebrating!