The newest tenant at Hartford’s Colt complex certainly isn’t one of the biggest, but the lease signals a new kind of optimism about the redevelopment project.
Cafe Colt, on the ground floor of the South Armory, is the first retail lease for the complex, known for its iconic blue onion dome. In redeveloping areas, shops and restaurants typically follow the leasing of apartments and office space.
“This is going to have a huge impact on the project,” Larry Dooley, of developer CG Management, told me Monday during a reception celebrating the opening of the cafe. “It’s the first food service here, since the days of the artists living here.”
The lease follows the signing of a major commercial tenant last year, Foley Carrier Services. Foley joins two other major tenants, Insurity, a software and service provider to the insurance industry, and the Capitol Region Education Council.
More residential units are planned in the South Armory, with the addition of 79 apartments to the 50 that already exist, mostly all leased.
The cafe — operated by Harry and Laurie Schwartz — was opened a week before today’s reception. The cafe will be open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfasts range from a bagel to “Bangin’ Waffles & Whip,” while lunch offerings include sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads.
Harry Schwartz, known as “Chef Harry,” built a career as a regular contributor to “The Today Show” and as author of five cookbooks. He also has appeared locally on FOX CT, owned by Tribune Co., parent of The Courant. The Schwartzes, who recently redeveloped a rundown vineyard on Lisbon, Conn., have lived in Malibu, Calif., and on an island in Florida.
So why Hartford?
“It was an opportunity to be on the ground floor of a national park,” Harry Schwartz told me at the reception. “We can be a part of a building a model of what a community can be.”
Colt is a mixed-use redevelopment of the former gun manufacturing complex into apartments, offices and retail space. It has gained momentum in the past two years, after previous developers ran into money problems and the last recession.
It is hoped that the complex will be designated a national park. That, supporters say, would bring more funding, attract more visitors, and raise its profile as a place to live and work.
U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, couldn’t attend Monday’s reception but, in a statement, expressed hope that the national park designation for Colt would pass in the next two years.
“I am very encouraged by recent investment in this community, and [I] will be pursuing all opportunities to obtain this designation this Congress,” Larson said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar supported the designation, but he steps down in March.
In addition to the 1,000-square-foot cafe, the Schwartzes also are leasing 1,200 square feet of space on the sixth floor of the South Armory. The space will host events and corporate meetings, which the Schwartzes will cater.
Harry Schwartz envisions expansion in the next few years at Colt, including the opening of a restaurant and a wholesale bakery. He hopes high school students from Hartford and elsewhere might work and gain training in the food industry.
Six floors below the celebration and parked on Huyshope Avenue near the South Armory, Charles Williams took a phone order for a cheeseburger at his food truck, which was blanketed in snow.
Williams told me he moved his Urban Gourmet truck from Bushnell Park in November, after a second major commercial tenant relocated to Colt, in the South Armory, bringing 110 jobs and plans to hire more.
Williams said he’s felt a pinch since the Colt Cafe opened, as workers have been curious about new venue. But long term, he said, he believes there is room for the Schwartzes and himself.
The Urban Gourmet’s menu goes well beyond burgers, Williams told me, with offerings such as Israeli cous cous with vegetables and fish tacos.
“Competition is good,” said Williams, a former chef at the Simsbury Inn and Avon Old Farms Hotel. “We’re doing different things.”
For more photos, click here.
Watch Jim Altman’s Fox CT package about the new Cafe Colt: