RWC Enterprises, LLC was formed by Robert Rickwell, Jr. and Steven Weronik, in 1996 doing business as Legends Grill, with the intentions of creating a unique upscale sports concept restaurant showcasing professional athletes who were raised exclusively in Connecticut.
Upon completing their geographic and demographic study they concluded their best recipe for success would be; to position themselves close to the center of the state between Hartford and Fairfield Counties, along the I-95 corridor, 2 hours from Boston and New York City, surrounded by sports friendly entertainment venues. New Haven became the future home of Legends Grill.
Once they had determined their location the search was on to find a building and location within the city that would appeal to the refined sports minded patrons they were seeking to attract. Factors included parking, curb appeal, safety, street scape and how our building and business concept would fit into an existing neighborhood. Knowing from the outset finding a building that needed renovation would be much cheaper than building from the ground up they limited their choices considerably. After carefully Value Engineering a few properties they decided to purchase an old building with plenty of charm and history located at 11 Orange Street, formerly The Rundbaken Engraving Company.
The building was situated directly across the street from the New Haven Coliseum (which drew over 500,000 people in attendance annually) and within the neighborhood footprint of “Ninth Square District”. Ninth Square was beginning to undergo a $102.5 million dollar preservation and redevelopment program financed by Yale University Coop Partnership. In our analysis not only where we going to become the Corner Stone of “Ninth Square” but we would also be positioning ourselves to be located in the Heart of New Haven for decades to come.
With the help of our friend and architect Carmelo Rosa of Hibbard and Rosa Architects we started to develop a renovation and expansion plan for our circa 1800 two-story standalone brick building. With the building’s existing historical features we planned on melding old world charm with an infusion of present day energy by adding a new addition off the back of the building highlighted by a structural steel balcony to hold additional seating to overlook a state of the art two-story open air kitchen.
Building Floor Plan
After spending over 2 years cleaning out the building, environmentally cleaning upthe site, finalizing the development of the business plan, preparing, submitting and obtaining City and Federal Government approvals for the historical renovations and new construction the owners fell short in raising the additional capital needed to complete the project. Determined to see their dream become a reality they applied for a small business loan through The Money Store, which at the time was the premier lending institution in America. During those years, many loan seekers were influenced by their commercials featuring TV spokesman, Phil ”The Scooter” Rizzuto. Phil Rizzuto had been a celebrated Hall of Fame shortstop with the New York Yankees and also a famous broadcaster who popularized the expression “Holy Cow“. Within months the owners where awarded the financing they needed to finally set the wheels in motion of completing their restaurant project.
Months after receiving approval on their loan news came out that the City of New Haven had decided not to renew the contract of the New Haven Beast, the American Hockey League’s farm team of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers playing in the New Haven Coliseum when it expired in 1999. Just a few months later the City announced it had no intentions of renewing the operating lease for the New Haven Raven’s the Eastern League’s farm team of MLB’s Colorado Rockies when it ran out at the close of the 2003 season. The Ravens where playing at historic Yale Field, where Yale’s baseball team had played continuously since 1885. The stadium was constructed and opened in April of 1928, and seated 5,000 people at full capacity. The concourse underneath the stands was lined with the names of famous players who made appearances at the stadium. These names included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, A. Bartlett Giamatti, and Yale’s First Baseman and Captain George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America. These city wide initiatives gave pause to carefully reevaluate establishing a Legendary Sports Restaurant in The City of New Haven. It was clear that the city was truly trying to guide itself away from sports and into an exclusive Arts Entertainment destination. These factors could certainly jeopardize the success of a Sports Restaurant business concept but with subjective scrutiny the owners decided to continue moving forward with their enthusiasm still believing in the vision predicting a robust economy for the City of New Haven in the coming years.
Almost a year to the date after receiving approval on the business loan and with much money and time already spent unfortunate news was surfacing that would necessitate taking a critical eye to the restaurant venture. The City of New Haven announced they would tear down The New Haven Coliseum by 2002. That news dealt a heavy blow because removal of The New Haven Coliseum would have a devastating result on the foot traffic in New Haven’s Ninth Square District. It would decrease our restaurant visibility from Coliseum visitors by 500,000+ people per year, and that, in turn, would do significant damage to our revenue projections. Again the owners had to weigh all options in determining if New Haven’s Ninth Square District could still be viable enough to sustain our business pro forma and be able to meet the financial obligations including now the $8,000 per month loan obligation on a 23-year mortgage. With great objective scrutiny, they determined that the risk of failure brought about by the City of New Haven’s mission to disregard the sports entertainment industry outweighed all rewards previously forecast. As pedestrian traffic would shrink to record lows within the city at the closing of the Coliseum, so would the patrons once expected to grow our start-up sports restaurant.
After spending over three years developing a unique business concept and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project, Rob and Steven, two young, energetic, hardworking, proud entrepreneurs, from working class families, who became friends in college and called Connecticut there home, finally shut the door on their immediate restaurant development dreams. In doing so at that 11th hour their hope was someday they would be able to revisit their dream and have another go at it when forces beyond their control would be more favorable.