Oakville Restaurant Surviving Pandemic Debut | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Oakville Restaurant Surviving Pandemic Debut

Jun 16, 2020

While many restaurants worried about keeping their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic, one Oakville restaurant was opening its doors for the first time. 

As Giovanni “John” Rubano prepared Vintage 471 for a March 15 opening, he didn’t think it would be for takeout only. But his restaurant was opening just as the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic began to take a toll on the state. 

“I’ve been in the restaurant business before and never experienced something like this,” Rubano said. 

The day before, Rubano hosted a soft opening for family and friends. But then the state declared that restaurants could stay open only for takeout or delivery in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, starting March 16. 

Even though this wasn’t Rubano’s first time opening a restaurant -- he used to own Giovanni’s in Watertown -- he said the lack of a grand opening put a damper on greeting the public for the first time.

“This is not how I wanted to open this place after remodeling it for five months, putting our everything that we had into this, our heart and soul into this whole thing,” he said. “It was very hard for us to adjust this.”

The quiet interior of the restaurant is ready for indoor diners.
Credit Olivia Hickey / Connecticut Public Radio

The new restaurant faced some obvious challenges in its first few weeks. Business was slow, advertising opportunities were limited and the restaurant was not eligible for help from the state since it was new.

“We had to take that leap one day or another, so might as well, you know, push through this and get whatever we can,” Rubano said. 

The restaurant ended up temporarily closing even for takeout from March 28 to May 10. With the help of friends and family sharing the restaurant’s information and posts on Facebook, Vintage 471 began to receive attention, attracting both new customers and local media. 

“People didn’t even know that we were here. People that live literally like around the corner that didn’t know we were here, so that really helped us a lot,” he said.

Rubano said he originally planned on adding a dressed-up patio in the fall or spring, but to stay up-to-date with the state guidelines, he set up seven tables for outdoor dining to allow customers to enjoy their meals while practicing social distancing. It’s been booked solid on the weekends for the past two weeks.

“I’ve had a lot of support from customers in town, out of town. I can’t thank them enough for all the support that they have given us, you know, throughout this whole thing,” Rubano said.

The Italian American restaurant is currently preparing for indoor dining at half capacity Wednesday. The staff is continuing to take precautions to ensure everyone’s safety and hopes people will come to enjoy dinner inside.