EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT
Our Unique Restaurant Concept was originally developed in 1996 by two college friends Robert Rickwell, Jr. from Monroe, CT and me, Steven Weronik from Meriden, CT, who just weren’t satisfied with our current sports restaurant experiences. Typically Sports bar’s did then what they do now, open their doors to beer drinking young sports enthusiasts from age 21 to 35 and try to hold onto them for as long as they can, before 95% of them settle down and build a family. The truth is that marketing niche is and always will be successful on a limited demographic scale, so it was our mindset from the start to develop a concept that would capture a larger audience.
After graduating college Rob began working with Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Company in New York City while I began my career as a Highway Transportation Engineer with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. We continued our close friendship over the next 10 years spending time together in Connecticut, New York and throughout New England along with a group of close friends we shared from college. We both always had outward personalities and enjoyed being a part of competitive men’s sports leagues as well as going out to restaurant hot spots after work and on weekends. As avid sports enthusiasts we both always seemed to gravitate toward sports restaurant’s we could find in our travels to watch our favorite teams compete while enjoying our favorite libation and bar food.
As we both reached the age of 30 our energy level for going out started to slow and since neither of us had started a family we decided to embark on a business collaborative together. Each with a small savings nestled away from steady work we wanted to do something that didn’t seem like work or was different from what we did during our normal 9-5 day jobs. So we sat down and created a list of things we both enjoyed participating in with the hope we would come up with a business idea we were both passionate about developing. It didn’t take long to determine we both had a strong desire to open a sports restaurant.
As we began to draw out our business plan we thought about Name, Location, Ambiance and Food. Since we were both in our early 30’s we understood the hassle in dealing with the younger bar crowd so from the outset we wanted to attract sports minded clientele that would enjoy a more upscale dining experience. Over the next few months while developing our business plan we had discovered a building which fit into our demographic and geographic criteria perfectly.
The building was in our price point, could be renovated into a restaurant, was surrounded by sports entertainment venues and was close to the I-95 corridor. We believed the historical building we purchased would become the corner stone of a Yale-Cooperative city development project in the “Ninth Square” district of New Haven, CT, directly across the street from the New Haven Coliseum which drew over 500,000 people annually in attendance.
With the love for sports and great food we wanted to combine that into something beyond the commonality of your typical sports bar, which generally focuses on a favorite team and its players of the ownership. We felt it would be imperative in our overall success and longevity to develop a specific niche. As we began to think through ideas on how we could significantly differentiate ourselves we thought about the different sports we enjoyed watching, our favorite teams and players. Players we admired from afar growing up and players we connected with today as adults. For myself being a competitive athlete growing up I found it interesting to see Jay Murphy and Robert Biestek from my hometown of Meriden make it to the professional ranks. In high school I played against future professional hockey players Brian Leetch and Craig Janney, professional baseball player Rob Dibble and alongside the Ortega boys who became professional soccer players. That common bond we had in being from the same local area always connected me with those players during their careers. Even though they weren’t on my favorite teams I always routed for them because our connection was at a deeper level, we were from the same state and they were renowned as local Sports Heroes! As I presented my idea to Rob of us showcasing only local in state sports figures throughout our restaurant he also came to the same revelation that throughout all of our travels we had never been too or heard of a sports restaurant of that ilk. At that moment we both knew we had found our niche idea that we could fully develop into a theme unique in the sports restaurant market.
As we began working with our new found concept we were now challenged with the task of implementing that idea to reflect the restaurants interior design and ambiance. We ultimately decided to showcase local current sports figures in the sports bar area on the 1st floor carrying live television of current games throughout and feature local retired sports legends in our upscale dining area on the 2nd floor with a more refined historical ambiance, staying true to market research demographics. As the interior design began to come together we were able to extend the 2nd floor off the back of the building with a balcony that would carry additional seating and overlook an open kitchen design, we had hoped to achieve prior to purchasing the building.
We were then tasked with designing a menu that would entice the hardcore sports enthusiast with a refined palate. We spent months going over menus and recipes and in the end since Rob and I both had a love for steak and seafood we decided to carry that food passion forward onto our very own menu. Once the menu was developed we had to make sure our kitchen was built to handle the type of food we planned on serving, so together along with the guidance of our friend and Architect Carmelo Rosa and the kitchen equipment manufacturers we agreed on making the focal point of our open kitchen design a large grill area with an expansive exhaust hood that extended up through the 2nd floor roof. The combination of our menu featuring grilled meats and seafood with an ambiance showcasing Local Legendary Athletes was how our name came to life, Legends Grill and so the concept was born.
20 years have passed now since our Legends Grill concept was originally developed and came close to opening but never happened. 5 years of our lives where exhausted working on developing a sports restaurant concept never seen before, hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent on purchasing an old historic building, performing the demolition work and beginning the renovation process. Blood and Sweat where poured out by two men who knew their idea was much bigger than any unknown circumstance which could derail their dream but in the end when you have depleted all your financial resources, everything around you literally implodes and in my case “your heart breaks to a point where you cry out uncontrollably”, I knew it was time to close the doors with the hope someday our dream could come back to life.
As time moved forward for both Robert and myself we have continued our friendship, Robert has moved onto a new career path managing an entertainment company while I kept my focus in the construction industry. For 15 years of my life after the decision was made to pull the plug on the restaurant project I had carried the burden “like a Monday morning quarterback who came up just short on the game winning drive”, knowing what we had developed in theory and on paper then was monumental. Then about 5 years ago I made a life changing decision which would be to dedicate every possible free minute outside of working to pay my bills to revive the dream I once had and bring Legends Grill’s back to life!
Over the past 5 years I have further developed the original Legends Grill Concept into a national family sports restaurant model. Continuing along the same path of showcasing past and present professional athletes raised from the state where each restaurant is located, I have expanded the idea to also include student athletes and athletes who have made it to their respective sport’s “Hall of Fame”.
During this redevelopment process I came across an article about the Famous Chef Wolfgang Puck. He spoke of how there must be constant evolution in business especially the ever changing restaurant industry to remain successful. That’s when it hit me unbeknownst to me Legends Grill CT is that restaurant concept. By expanding our concept to showcase the best athletes from their adolescent years through retirement I created the perfect circle of perpetual athlete evolution. Everyday young athletes are evolving within their local communities into sports professionals, then they retire and some get elected into their respective sports Hall of Fame. Then without any cause of outside influence the process regenerates itself over and over, year after year, growing future generations of professional athletes. Through that natural process we have closed the circle of Athlete evolution that will continue to grow our brand forever! A concept never achieved in the Restaurant Industry, Period!
With the addition of the Student and Hall Of Fame Athlete’s the building design expanded from 6,000 sf to 12,000 sf. Within that expansion we have designed (4) distinct dining rooms showcasing Past, Present, Future and Hall of Fame Athletes independently, serviced by separate kitchen’s on each floor. On the first floor the ALL-STATE Sports Bar “showcases current professional athletes” and the FUTURES Room “highlight’s the achievements of student athletes” along with its own interactive XBOX/EA SPORTS Mezzanine Theater. The second floor houses LEGENDS Lounge “celebrating retired athletes” who have reached a specific merit of achievement in their sport and the HALL of FAME Dining and Banquet Room “honor’s Connecticut’s National Sports Hall of Fame Inductee’s”.
The new marketing strategy also puts emphasis on our Trademark Seasonal Sports Menu’s, designed of recipes made up from locally sourced farm fresh foods, built around the (4) specific harvest seasons in Connecticut.
Legends Grill CT will not just be a restaurant but a destination location,
The Disney World of Sports Restaurants!
I believed today as I did 20 years ago upon our original concept inception that our theme has never been implemented as the foundation to build around for any sports restaurant in the world. Over the past 2 decades this concept has not only stayed the test of time but acknowledges how simple but genius the idea truly is. The evolution of Legends Grill came to life by two friends who shared their love for sports, food and an endearing friendship and somehow in the end will be known for founding;