Newtown may not immediately spring to mind when “oyster bar” is invoked — and that’s kind of how Vince Cappelletti likes it.
“It’s something that people here aren’t necessarily used to,” he said at Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery, the cozy, 3,000-square-foot eatery he opened Friday, Oct. 13 (“We stared danger in the face,” he said) at 48 S. Main St. “I thought that a boutique restaurant in a small, intimate space like this would be something they could appreciate.”
Most recently a home to a Peachwave frozen yogurt shop, the restaurant is near the busy intersection of Main Street and Wasserman Way, which leads to Exit 11 off of Interstate 84. Although getting in and out of Lucas Local’s parking lot can be tricky, support has been strong so far, Cappelletti said.
Lucas Local is one of the latest additions to a burgeoning Newtown dining scene that was previously marked by a glut of pizzerias and the occasional Chinese restaurant. Swankier dining options like farm-to-table restaurants Market Place and Farmhouse have opened over the past 12 months, while upscale British/Italian restaurant/bar/bakery Dere Street, spiffy sports bar/restaurant Red Rooster Pub, and Beef and Barleys steakhouse made their debuts during the past three years.
Cappelletti has been in the restaurant business in one way or another since his days as a 14-year-old busing tables at Mamma Francesca, the long-lived Italian eatery in New Rochelle, New York. He said he’s been involved in opening some 30 restaurants over his career, either as a direct owner or consultant. His resume includes serving as director of operations for Manhattan’s Meatball Shop, a district manager for Chopt Creative Salad Co. and even a stint as a managing partner at the Outback Steakhouse in Danbury.
Unlike those endeavors, he said, Lucas Local is meant to be “an adult restaurant. We have some kids’ items on the menu, but we don’t have high chairs and things like that.”
Instead, the restaurant is carefully appointed with a number of antiques and bric-a-brac that Cappelletti, his girlfriend and his two children have picked up over the years. Seating consists of beer garden chairs from Germany and pews rescued from a defunct church in New Haven, while the floorboards were originally part of a tobacco barn in Windsor Locks. A moss wall at the end of the restaurant was built by daughter Isabella and girlfriend Sue. (Cappelletti used to run an eatery called Isabella in Poughkeepsie.)
The centerpiece is the oyster bar, featuring freshly shucked oysters from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and the like.
“‘Local’ in our case can mean ‘regional,’” Cappelletti said. “It all depends on the quality — I sent back a shipment of oysters from Virginia because they just weren’t right.”
Lucas Local also features an array of other seafood dishes, as well as salads, steaks and chicken dishes. “But it’s really all about the seafood,” he said.
The restaurant is named after his 11-year-old son who had a severe shellfish allergy when he was younger. “The day the allergist said he was completely free of allergies,” Cappelletti said, “the two of us went to SoNo in Norwalk and knocked down a couple dozen oysters.”
The Southbury resident said he’d like to expand Lucas Local into a Lucas-branded empire once the Newtown restaurant is firmly established: “Lucas Taco, or whatever, within the region.”
Having “put this place together in about three months,” Cappelletti said his next goal is to build an outdoor patio on the front of the building, probably by mid-April. That would add 16 seats to Lucas Local’s current capacity of 50.
He’d also like to add a garden in the back to provide fresh vegetables and herbs during the warm months. “The vision is there,” he laughed, “but that might be another season away.”