It’s out with the old and in with the new for famed New Haven restaurateurs Arturo and Suzette Franco-Camacho. The couple signed sales papers and served their last dinners at Bespoke on New Year’s Eve, and then moved full-time to Branford, where they will open two restaurants this spring.
“We’re really excited to be on the shoreline. We’re looking forward to being a real part of the community,” Suzette said. “We’re thrilled to be starting something new in Branford. My husband told me he feels like a little kid at Christmas.”
They are targeting late February or early March for the opening of The Suburban at 2 E. Main St., the site of the former Brunello’s. The new restaurant will feature classic European comfort foods.
About two months later, the couple plans to open a yet-to-be named Mexican restaurant at the nearby site of the former Thai’s One at 1205 Main St. The Nuevo-Latino cuisine will be similar to the highly-acclaimed Roomba restaurant at 1044 Chapel St., which they ran from 1999 to 2007. “It will have the spirit of Roomba,” Suzette said.
The two new restaurants, separated by one long block and not far from the Green, will be an important part of Branford’s downtown night life. Brunello’s and Thai’s One closed last year.
In addition to moving their business enterprise to Branford, the couple and their two children moved over the holidays from their apartment above Bespoke to their Short Beach home, which previously served as a part-time residence.
“We’re excited to be here fulltime,” Suzette said. “We love the community.”
The couple had been embroiled in lawsuits with Yale University for several years over ownership of a walkway adjacent to the upscale Bespoke restaurant at 226 College St. The state Appellate Court recently ruled in the Franco-Camacho family’s favor, but the couple had already decided to move on. (Yale intends to appeal.)
Suzette said Branford was a natural choice for them, since they are passionate about the shoreline atmosphere. They wanted the challenge of operating two distinct types of restaurants, as they did in New Haven, and were thrilled to find two sites available in close proximity to each other.
Arturo will serve as executive chef and oversee both kitchens, and Suzette will do “everything else but the cooking.”
The Suburban will serve a “gastropub” style of cuisine, which Suzette explained is very popular in Europe where upscale dinners are served in pubs. They will combine European comfort foods with local, fresh ingredients. She explained that The Suburban will be more casual than Bespoke. “It will have more of a neighborhood feel,” she said. “It will make fine dining an everyday, informal experience.”
They will be renovating each site and adding unique touches to both. The Mexican restaurant will have an open kitchen area, similar to Roomba’s. The menu there will have a duality, featuring both informal traditional Mexican selections and some of Arturo’s signature entrees.
“A good many of our staff from New Haven will be joining us,” Suzette said, adding that the staff’s talents and commitment make the move easier.
Also making life interesting for the couple is an invitation Arturo recently received to be a guest chef at the Sundance Film Festival later this month in Park City, Utah. The annual 10-day festival has an international following and typically attracts more than 45,000 people.
Arturo, who was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, began learning his culinary skills at an early age as he helped his mother in her small restaurant. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he worked as a chef at restaurants in Spain, France and London, and spent five years as chef aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship.
Suzette, a Milford native, has an varied background in the restaurant industry. She was working as the general manager at the Park Place restaurant in Stamford at the same time that Arturo was serving as the executive chef. “It worked out ideally that we found each other,” she said. “We started off as friends and then realized we had a lot in common. …We feel very blessed that we have the skills and energy to work together and do what we love.”
She said they are looking forward to seeing former customers and meeting new ones as they continue their culinary adventures.
“It really does get in your blood,” Suzette said of the restaurant business. “There’s an energy about it. You get to see people being happy and enjoying food and you share special times with them…. We’ve met some incredible people.”