Tag Archives: Mario’s Place

Harvest Is Here, But Mario’s Remains Too

Well, at least the sign on top of the building is still there.

Harvest and Mario's signs

Independence Day Weekend — In Westport?!

Bill Whitbeck grew up here. His 1st job was cooking burgers at Big Top, where his customers included Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Bill also was a huge Mario’s fan.

He moved far away in the late 1970s. But he still lives in Westport.

Bill sent along a few photos, and explains:

“Happy 4th of July from Westport, Washington! A beautiful evening on the Pacific Coast.”

Westport WA 1

Westport WA 3

Westport WA 2

Harvesting Mario’s

Renovation work proceeds at the former Mario’s. This afternoon, the interior looked like this:

Mario's interior

The old facade is still up. But signs in the window call the new restaurant — Harvest — “a fresh take on our lifelong commitment to satisfying meals and loyal guests. Custom cuisine from farm to fork.”

The new spot opens in September.

Mario's exterior

The Last Lobster

Workers on Riverside Avenue are busy turning the former Mansion Clam House into Parker Steaks. That’s bad news for seafood lovers — but good news for diners who miss the mainstay of Mario’s, now closed around the corner.

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

Despite Closing, There’s Plenty Cooking At Mario’s

When Mario’s closed last month, hundreds of loyal customers lost a lot: A favorite restaurant. A meeting place. Tradition.

Over 50 employees lost something much harder to replace: Their jobs.

The story of how that happened is coming out now. It’s not pretty.

A former employee emailed me some details. Others who worked at Mario’s agreed with what the worker said.

Mario's, the day after closing. (Photo/Gene Borio)

Mario’s, the day after closing. (Photo/Gene Borio)

According to the email, on April 16 — 12 days after the restaurant served its last meal — a handful of employees were invited to meet new owner Vincente Siguenza to talk about employment. The meeting was set for 9 to 11 a.m.

“The place was cold and dark, with no heat,” the email says. Siguenza did not appear. The former employees thought it might have been a test of their interest.

He finally arrived at 11. “He casually walked into the side room, where everyone was sitting anxiously. It was almost like the first day of school, meeting your new teacher,” the email says.

The meeting lasted 15 minutes. “He stated (while looking at his phone the entire time) he did not know what they were going to do in regards to staying closed or reopening. In so many words, he stated that if they go forward with Harvest” — the new restaurant in the old place — “no Mario’s employees would be hired.”

Dinner was packed, before Mario's closed.

Dinner was packed, before Mario’s closed.

Siguenza told employees to leave their resumes. Only one person had one. “In this business, with the longevity most of us have, it’s word of mouth,” the email writer notes. “One person stood up and said, ’35 years at Mario’s is my resume.'”

Two longtime employees “stormed out,” the email writer says. Siguenza “had the rest stand in line like cattle to sign our names and contact info on the back of the one resume.” Two days later, the writer says, the resume still sat there.

“Many of these employees supported their entire family on their earnings from Mario’s,” the email says.

After that meeting, the writer adds, “the remaining employees huddled outside on the sidewalk, and hugged and cried.”

Three employees have since found work at 323 Restaurant. The others have not been so fortunate.

I called Siguenza this afternoon, to get his side of the story. He began by saying, “I’m not ready to open up. I’m still looking at getting the building into compliance.” He had been hoping to reopen — with the name Mario’s — around Mother’s Day. After 5 or 6 months, Mario’s will transition into Harvest Wine Bar –similar to Siguenza’s restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list.

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich. (Photo collage/CTBites.com)

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich. (Photo collage/CTBites.com)

“I have no employees yet,” he said.

I asked directly: “Will you hire any former employees?”

“I don’t know if I can hire any of them,” he said. Then he paused.

“Probably not.”

Why not?

“No specific reason,” he said. “I have to put the new staff through training at my other restaurants.”

I asked again: If he’s reopening as Mario’s, why not hire Mario’s staff?

“It’s not that I don’t want them. I’d never say that,” Siguenza said.

“But this is Mario’s in name only. It’s not the same service or menu or wine list. It’s completely different. The only thing remaining is the name.”

He added, “The kitchen staff before was used to one style of cooking. This is completely different. They need a new type of training.”

Mario's matchesSo why is he reopening as Mario’s — but not Mario’s, really — and then closing after a few months to renovate, before reopening once again as Harvest?

“It will take a while to get all the approvals” for Harvest from Planning & Zoning, the Building Department and others, he said. He plans to work on the paperwork now, while operating as Mario’s. Once his permits are in hand, he’ll begin renovations.

Former employees plan a rally — with, they hope, “many loyal customers” — on opening day of the “New Mario’s.”

And So It Goes

The post-Mario’s era begins:

(Photo/Gene Borio)

(Photo/Gene Borio)

You Can Still Get Your Steaks At Mario’s

With all the hubbub over the closing of Mario’s, owner-for-at-least-a-little-while-longer Lori Kosut wants her thousands of loyal customers to know: The popular Saugatuck restaurant is definitely still open for business. Not one item on the menu has changed.

When there is a solid date of transfer, “06880” will have all the details.

So, mangia!

Except for Easter. They’re closed this Sunday.

The sun is setting on Mario's. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

The sun is setting on Mario’s. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

Mario’s: One More Time

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut confirmed this afternoon that the sale of the beloved restaurant will be finalized in “a couple of weeks.”

As reported yesterday, the 48-year-old Saugatuck landmark will eventually have a new look, menu and name: Harvest.

It won’t happen for a while. In the meantime — thanks to Westport native/superb photographer Lynn U. Miller — here’s one more look at the spot that long ago assumed a mythical place in Westport lore.

Mario's front - Lynn U Miller

The menu, in the front window.

The menu, in the front window.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Dinner was packed, earlier this week.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

Smiling host Paul Tolentino graduated from Staples in 1971.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Goodbye, Mario’s. Hello, Harvest

The rumors careening around town are true: Mario’s is being sold.

The legendary restaurant/bar — a Saugatuck mainstay since 1967 — will change hands soon. A new name, cuisine and interior will follow. The deal could be finalized tomorrow morning.

New owners Kleber, Nube and Vicente Siguenza own 5 restaurants in Fairfield and New Haven Counties (including 55 Degrees in Fairfield).

Mario's: A Westport legend.

Mario’s: A Westport legend.

Mario’s will remain as it is for the next year. It will then transform into Harvest Wine Bar — similar to the Siguenzas’ restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list. Harvest supports local, organic farms.

Mario’s — the official name was Mario’s Place, but no one called it that — was opened by Frank “Tiger” DeMace and Mario Sacco. Its across-from-the-train-station location was perfect for commuters looking for a drink and dinner. Wives picking up their husbands stopped in too.

Marios logoMario’s quickly became a beloved family restaurant. Its menu — featuring enormous steaks, popular Italian dishes and large salads — seldom changed. Neither did the comfortable, homey decor. That was part of its charm.

For nearly 50 years Mario’s has been Westport’s go-to place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions — or commiserate over job losses and divorces.

Mario died in 2009.

Tiger died in 2012. His daughter Lori now co-owns Mario’s, with her brother Dominic DeMace.

“My father told us to keep it for a year, but not worry about having to sell it,” Lori said this afternoon. “The restaurant was his journey, not ours.”

Frank "Tiger" DeMace

Frank “Tiger” DeMace

It’s been 3 years since Tiger’s death. Lori and her husband Fletcher have a 6-year-old daughter.

“It’s time,” Lori said. “I love Mario’s — the customers, the staff — but times have changed. It was a long, hard decision. But my father didn’t make us feel we had to keep it.”

Rumors have swirled for years that all of Railroad Place — with Mario’s smack in the middle — will be torn down, as part of Saugatuck’s Phase III renewal.

Lori and Dominic own the Mario’s building. The Siguenzas will operate Harvest on a long-term lease.

The rest of Railroad Place is owned by a different landlord. What will actually happen across from the station is pure speculation.

Meanwhile — 3.5 miles north — other rumors have the Red Barn being sold to the Westport Family Y.

The Y did not comment.

Marios placemat

Mario’s Adds Something New To Menu

Much about Mario’s is timeless. For 47 years it’s served the same great steaks and prime ribs, in the same place, to — in many cases — the same customers.

But on Sunday, September 14, something changes. For the 1st time in nearly half a century, Mario’s will serve brunch.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario's.

Sunday morning will soon be hopping at Mario’s.

For years, owner Lori Kosut says, customers have asked for the meal. She herself loves it. But, she says, “it just wasn’t something my father wanted to do.”

Lori’s father was Frank “Tiger” DeMace. A Westport legend, he opened Mario’s in 1967. And he owned and operated it until the day he died, in 2012.

“I am very proud of what my father built,” Laurie says. “I am proud that 3 generations of my family work here. Mario’s has always been a family restaurant.

“But as a mother, I don’t want to be home making breakfast for my family on a Sunday. That’s one of the changes I’m most excited about. I’ll be here for brunch just as often as my customers.”

Marios logoAs noted though, some things about Mario’s never change. To honor her family, her restaurant and her Saugatuck location’s heritage, the brunch menu will include Italian specialties.

Italian “French” toast, prosciutto di Parma omelets, eggs Benedict and Italian pastries lead the offerings. Non-Italian items include steak and eggs, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s — all for $19.95.

“My father always insisted on keeping Mario’s affordable for families,” Laurie notes. “That will not change. Sundays are a day for family — whether it be a family of friends, or a family with children.”

That’s our Mario’s!