Persistence Key to Two Small Businesses Surviving COVID-19

North Central Connecticut small businesses have never faced so many challenges as in the past year. Persistence and creative thinking have kept many in operation and some have even managed to launch through these challenging times. We can best support area establishments, such as the two restaurants featured below, by ordering take out and shopping locally, as we continue to follow COVID-19 regulations.

Something Old Returns to Windsor Locks

The Windsor Locks Pizza Parlor was experiencing hard times even before COVID-19 limited restaurants to take-out sales last spring. Eight months earlier The Pizza Parlor’s owner, Gus Kostantakis passed away after a long illness. Gus’ wife Connie, a nurse by trade, struggled to learn the pizza-making trade her husband had perfected for 35 years.

“I wanted to keep it going,” said Connie. “It’s been rough.” Even with the help of her sons John and Michael and others who she refers to as “good friends,” the Pizza Parlor wasn’t able to return to regular hours until the summer of 2020 – that is, until a vehicle traveling on Route 159 lost control and drove into the building at 255 Main St., damaging the dining area store front and interior.

After extensive repair and renovation, the Pizza Parlor now looks like new on the outside and emanates a classy refurnished vibe indoors. The restaurant’s most recent Facebook review from late December reads, “We had Pizza Parlor tonight and I am so happy to say that the pizza is as good as it was when Gus was running the show…”

Something New Opens in Warehouse Point

One might wonder, “Who would dare open a new restaurant in the current COVID-19 climate?” Certainly no one but an experienced restaurateur, one who is skilled in construction and savvy with the state’s licensing requirements as well.

Mark Dion, owner of Mark’s restaurant in the Thompsonville section of Enfield, fits that profile. He had taken on a similar enterprise with the Enfield eatery in 2016. And while his first venture turned out to be  a small haven for comfort food with a seating capacity of 15, the new Warehouse Point Mark’s Tavern seats 48, serves liquor, and features a

variety of sandwiches and grinders, including Reuben, turkey club, roast beef, meatball, pulled pork and chili dogs.

But, to clarify, Mark did not get the idea to start a second restaurant during the pandemic. The plan began before the word virus connected to just about every one of our thoughts and actions. With the new venture conceived and started in 2019, the coronavirus presented additional challenges to a plan already in the works.

And just as Mark rehabbed a dilapidated building in the center of T’ville for the restaurant, he picked as down-and-out a property in Warehouse Point – the former site of JR’s Café at 16 Bridge Street. Today its doors open to a pleasing rustic interior with tables placed in accordance with social distancing protocol. An old upright piano, vintage record albums, a wagon wheel, antiques and other memorabilia on display make for a cozy, nostalgic setting.

Dion recently told the Enfield Patch that, at first, he had reservations about buying a building with “ a reputation of being just an awful dive bar for decades.” Its history included an employee or two arrested for selling cocaine to agents and police in an undercover operation as well as citations by the state liquor commission for numerous violations.  

But location, location, location offered three good reasons to take on the project. “Tons of cars go by it every day,” said Mark about the property that stands in between Windsor Locks’ restored Montgomery Mill apartments and a pending (albeit postponed) casino project in East Windsor.

“It took a year to get the (liquor) license,” said Mark. By the time it was granted granted in April of 2020, the license couldn’t be used because of COVID-19 restrictions on bar use.

Mark’s Tavern opened for business the first week in December.

By Laura B. Hayden 

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