The ‘Port — the casual family restaurant that opened in National Hall 13 months ago — serves its last meals and drinks this Saturday.
Owner Sal Augeri told his staff of the closing this afternoon.
Augeri told “06880””
It’s been an amazing year. I’ve had the privilege to meet and get to know so many wonderful people in our community.
We tried our best to bring something special to the community. We knew it was a challenging business in a competitive market, and it was difficult to maintain as an independent business.
The idea of opening The ‘Port was to create a comfortable space for families to gather and celebrate good times. I am thrilled we accomplished that. We loved hosting everyone from local teams for victory dinners, to Staples Players, to Catch a Lift, to giving local musicians a place to showcase their talents.
It was also wonderful to be able to give so many teenagers and young people an opportunity to work at The ‘Port.
So many people who have been a part of this have been so supportive, including all our local investors, and the friends and families who became our regulars. We appreciate everyone who filled this past year with great memories. We look forward to seeing these new friends around town.
The ‘Port occupied the site of the former Vespa. Before that, it was Cafe Zanghi,
It’s an excellent space, with views of the Saugatuck River and a nice patio. Nearby parking — shared with Bartaco and now OKO — is tight, though a multi-level garage sits across Wilton Road.
The ‘Port filled an important niche. But in today’s tough restaurant business, in the end it wasn’t enough.
There is no word on what may replace The ‘Port. An everything-must-go auction is set for Monday (July 2, 9 a.m.).
Meanwhile, we’ve still got 4 days to enjoy this true Westport restaurant.
For 2 months, Westporters have watched and waited as Vespa restaurant was transformed into The ‘Port.
At 5:30 p.m. today, the new restaurant — described by owner Sal Augeri as “approachable, authentic … a place to go after your kids’ practice or a quick bite with friends … a place with a definite local flavor” — opens its doors.
For the first week or so — while The ‘Port gets its sea legs — it will serve only dinner.
The ‘Port is located on the ground floor of National Hall, just across the river from downtown. It’s a great space, welcoming and warm.
National Hall, home of the new ‘Port restaurant.
And don’t forget the parking deck a few steps away, on the other side of Wilton Road.
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.
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