“Warm and inviting” is how co-owner Derrick Lee describes Center Street Social, the new restaurant and bar in the downtown Shelton space previously occupied by Caliente Bar & Grill.
Lee and co-owner John Barounis renovated the inside, installing antique wood from a West Virginia barn. “We spent the summer doing it,” said Lee, noting Barounis is the one with the superior handyman skills.
Center Street Social has been described as a gastro-pub, offering unique fare and a wide variety of craft beer, wine, cocktails, and adult lemonades and teas.
Lee described the menu as being “fun and innovative. We didn’t want to do the same food other restaurants are doing.”
He said some of the early favorites are chicken and waffles, Thai chicken lettuce wrap, lobster mac and cheese, and the deviled eggs appetizer.
The full menu includes bar snacks, appetizers, salads, entrees, desserts and a children’s menu.
Positive response from the public
Lee said the public response since opening a few weeks ago has been good. “People are receptive,” he said. “They love the room, with the renovation.”
The owners like being part of the downtown scene, where a number of food and drinking establishments are located. “It’s great because people can walk around,” Lee said. “I like that.”
He and Barounis were immediately attracted to the building. “I saw the potential, with the patio,” Lee said. “It’s so awesome, and we wanted to make it cool.”
Lee and Barounis, who owns a number of establishments in New York, have known each other for many years.
Connecting with customers
Lee first worked in the business as a bartender while in college. He liked it, and opened his first place in Manhattan — called Vermouth — in 1995 at age 26.
More recently, he has been involved in establishments in South Norwalk and Monroe. He lives in Trumbull and grew up in Greenwich.
Lee said success in the business comes from offering something out of the ordinary and treating customers well. “You give them good service and good food, and try to connect with as many people as you can when they come through the door,” he said.
He said comment cards are left for patrons to fill out, and the input is valued by the owners and staff. “People know what works and doesn’t work,” he said of customers.
Center Street Social is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, plus a Sunday brunch. It employs about 15 people.
Located at 127 Center St., it has a three-hour happy hour, karaoke, and DJs on the weekends. Live acoustic music may be offered in the future.