A homespun, Connecticut-based chain is putting out a shingle on Chapel Street and adding chicken nuggets to New Haven’s foodie landscape.
The chain, Garden Catering, which started in Old Greenwich and specializes in chicken prepared in several ways but especially as nuggets, plans to open its eighth location in late August in the former Dunkin Donuts space across from the Green on Chapel near Temple.
The owners, the Carpentari family, isn’t serving up just any old pre-packaged chicken nuggets, from Anywhere, USA. Garden Catering serves hand-cut, hand-battered, 100 percent all-white meat chicken, just as the original restaurant did before their family took on the business.
Garden Catering, originally owned by Lou Landoli, opened its first location in Old Greenwich in 1978. Landoli ran it until he died in 1990.
Frank Carpentari Sr., who’d worked in the restaurant business all of his life, bought the business and reopened it with the same name and the same secret nugget recipe in 1991, according to Frank Carpentari Jr., who is now the director of operations.
“I was just a kid at the time,” Carpentari recalls. “Since then, my sister Tina and I both joined the business and we’re kind of the next generation taking the torch.”
Carpentari said New Haven was a natural choice for the business. In fact, the family tried to bring the restaurant here seven or eight years ago but the deal fell through.
“I’ve always thought New Haven was an amazing city to just be a part of,” he said. “It’s a fun, historic city, with great universities and colleges, and a thriving art scene. And the foodie culture makes sense for our customers.”
Carpentari said that restaurant will hire a staff of about 10 to 15 employees, with a mix of full and part-timers. He anticipated that the jobs might be attractive to college students who are working their way through school.
“I would define it as fast-casual with a little seating, about a dozen or so seats at the location,” he said. “We are primarily grab-and-go, but there are certainly some seats for those who would like to enjoy dining inside. It’s all counter service and we take a fairly casual approach—not to our guest experience. But our average ticket is $10 to $12.”
Unlike the original location, which is built in an old train car converted to function like what Carpentari called a “hole-in-the-wall” diner, the Chapel Street location will be more in keeping with their other locations around the state. But he said the spirit of the original location lives on through the restaurant employees, who are trained in the history of the family-owned business. They know that oftentimes customers might already have a history with Garden Catering from its other seven locations.
They also tapped New Haven design firm Box 8 Creative to update the brand’s logo and other elements that will be on display when the restaurant opens.
“We have a bit of a reach with our furthest north location in Fairfield,” Carpentari said. “I think we do draw into New Haven, and the name is already recognized by students and people who have moved to the area.”
Having grown up in the state, Carprentari said, he knows New Haven’s reputation as a food town. So he knows that people will have high expectations.
“I think we’ll be able to satisfy those,” he vowed.
But it’s not just going to be about food. Carpentari said Garden Catering likes to give back.
Carpentari said the company will also team up with local nonprofits. “We always make it a part of our mission to make the communities were we operate a better place with lots of give-back programs and through give-back nights,” he said.