NEW BRITAIN – Vincent Placeres has been able for months to envision, almost to the square foot, the layout of his new West Main Street restaurant.
Sidestepping construction workers and kicking up dust as he walked the gutted site, the city native indicated the imminent locations of order counters, television screens and windowside tables. Placeres talked of warm, upscale decor, granite countertops and furniture that will complement tiling and a recently uncovered hardwood floor.
Eyeing exposed walls and missing ceiling tiles over the sounds of hammers and electric saws, one is left to take Placeres’ enthusiastic word for it.
A restaurant industry veteran at age 30, Placeres plans to unveil the culmination of his years in the kitchen by the end of the month: A restaurant cultivated from his Puerto Rican roots with a name familiar to the culture – Mofongo.
“We’re going to offer food that is made fast, but it will be the farthest thing from fast food,” Placeres said. “The idea is that people in the downtown district sometimes have only 20 minutes to get in and out for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. I want people to be able to come in and get some really good, authentic American-Puerto Rican food without having to wait too long. That’s why the ‘go’ in our name is capitalized.”
Regular and specialty menus that will include chicken dishes, fish, steak, burgers and salads also feature the namesake dish, mofongo. An ethnic favorite, mofongo in its most common recipe consists of deep-fried green plantains mashed with other ingredients including pork or seafood.
“The name of our place is Mofongo, so we better have the best damn mofongo that you’re ever going to have,” Placeres said with a laugh. “It’s one of the things that will set us apart from other restaurants like us. Our concept is about speed of service, but since we’re starting with fresh ingredients every single day, you’ll be able to taste the quality that is put into it.”
Placeres spent much of his youth in New Britain before a family move to Florida. He later relocated to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and back to Connecticut for culinary work, including a stint at David Burke Prime at the Foxwoods Resort Casino.
The father of two young children, Placeres said he chose a spot in his hometown because of the amenities it offers and the ease with which it will draw his target audience. He’s also looking to becoming active in the downtown business district. That should come easy, according to Gerry Amodio, executive director of the Downtown District, considering Mofongo’s location in the heart of downtown.
“Vincent is an energetic young man who really seems to understand the business. He has a background that will really help him capitalize on things like CTfastrak and the number of people working downtown,” Amodio said. “He recognizes the demographics of the city and the best way to attract a customer base. It will be great to watch his business grow.”
The 260 Main St. location, the highly visible corner piece of the Beloin Building opposite City Hall, has been empty since Liberty Pizza closed abruptly 15 months ago.
City business development director Bill Carroll said that, since he first met Placeres last year, he has been impressed with his business plan and his commitment to becoming imbedded in the community.
“We need young entrepreneurs like him with vision and experience to make their dreams become a reality right here in the city,” Carroll said. “His background and work ethic are impressive. His goal to make Mofongo a destination point in downtown is the root of his desire to succeed.”
Amodio said he recently mentioned the restaurant in a conversation with Zulma Toro, the new president of Central Connecticut State University. Sharing an ethnic background with Placeres, Toro smiled when she heard the name and its marquee dish.
“Here’s a woman who can eat at any restaurant she wants, but because of the name ‘Mofongo,’ she lit up,” said Amodio. “I think a lot of people are going to feel that way.”
Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.