It’s easy to spot Capitol Lunch on Main Street, New Britain. If the locals don’t fervently point out the beloved spot, the red sign advertising “Famous Sauce,” or the bright neon weiner in the window will surely tip you off. Inside, Gus Ververis spreads half a dozen hot dogs across the grill with practiced ease, following a routine that became automatic for him years ago.
A short trip south across the 72 and into downtown New Britain leads to Mofongo, a hip Spanish dinner joint. Upbeat salsa music blends with college student chatter as you step through the door. Owner Vincent Placeres keeps a watchful eye over his establishment, his arms crossed in a posture that suggests calmness, yet complete control.
Just a few doors down, a big sign proudly draws attention to Sweetwater Juice Bar & Deli. While you pick a treat off the large chalkboard menu, blenders whir in the kitchen as Mark Schand whips up fruit smoothies and other snacks and dishes alongside his employees. The perpetually grinning owner stops his work only to offer a greeting or a high five to local kids who come into his shop.
These three men run three very different restaurants, but all were eager to share some of the history of their businesses, and the positive relationships they’ve formed as providers of food in the local area.
Constantine “Gus” Ververis: Capitol Lunch
As told to Bailey Mackowitz
Opening Year: 1929
What to Try: Hot dogs, burgers, fries, onion rings, and plenty of famous sauce
I’ve been in the pizza business since 1975. I was going to UConn and was undecided on what I wanted to do. I had the opportunity to buy a pizza place in New Britain called Cozy Corner. The thought of being my own boss really appealed to me. I had many jobs with bosses I really didn’t care for. So, we bought Capitol Lunch in 1982. I actually met my future wife while working at Cozy Corner, and her father owned this place. Kind of like a chain of events led me here.
Our main obstacle is financing. Buying a new business, you got an empty location, you got to put down some money. But to buy an existing business, you need serious money. New Britain has changed over the years; I’ve been here for almost forty years. New Britain was bigger than Hartford at one point.
I love dealing with people, I love serving people, I love taking care of the place. All I had to do was learn how to do the job, which was easy. We added fries and rings, which the old owners didn’t have. Every third customer would ask for a fry and I was like, guys, what are you waiting for? They’re not asking you to make guacamole, they’re asking for fries. It’s a no brainer, but yeah, they were really old school.
Vincent Placeres: Mofongo
As told to Mary Elias
Opening Year: 2017
What to Try: Shrimp or Pork Mofongo, Pork Bowl
My family has been in the food industry. My mother, believe it or not, has worked for McDonalds, Subway, Quiznos. She’s always been a store manager for different fast food restaurants. My father is not in the restaurant business, he’s an engineer, but my grandfather had five restaurants in Puerto Rico. I met him for the first time five years ago. I didn’t know that he had a restaurant. I didn’t know that he had a passion for food. He had a drive to open restaurants, the same drive I have, and of course, I got my mom.
What makes us different from other cities is the passion from the owners on the quality and the guest experience. We got a lot of stuff happening in downtown. We have a CCSU building around the corner. There are so many things that really help me as a business owner to bring more people downtown to help our success. We’re really a community-based restaurant. We take care of the community. We’re always donating to great causes. We’re helping out the city, helping out the police station, the arts program, The New Britain Museum of American Art.
We were striving for excellence, for great service, for great food, and if you strive for those things, I think you know at the end of the day you’re going to get rewards for it. My chefs are the ones that cook all day. They’re the ones that stay consistent with the food and work hard for guest service. That award goes to them. I hope that we can keep that up and I hope we win this year, and next year, and the year after that, and we keep on expanding.
Mark Schand: Sweetwater Juice Bar & Deli
As told to Clark Otis
Opening Year: 2018
What to Try: Customizable Breakfast Bowl with Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and nuts
My father was in a residential building for the elderly near here, and I just happened to see “For Rent” on the window. I noticed there were no fresh juices or food in the neighborhood, so I tried to rectify that and fill that hole. You got two McDonald’s within a five or ten-mile radius. You got Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes. That’s the reason I did it, because there was no healthy alternative in the area.
We got a mixture of a little bit of everybody. We got City Hall across the street, Board of Education. The police station’s around the corner, the hospital, and the court. So, it was a mixture of everyone. We’re not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant per se, but we can accommodate. We got a lot of those people that like to eat healthy and natural foods. We [use] no sugar, no butter, no oil. It’s clean food, it’s good food. It’s something that was missing. A lot of people come in here and say they’ve been waiting for something like this to come to the neighborhood.
In a year, I would hope to open up a third and a fourth and a fifth location. Wherever I can find a place where this type of thing is missing, I would hope I can fill that void. That’s where I see it going.
Bailey Mackowitz, Mary Elias, and Clark Otis are staff writers for Blue Muse Magazine.