Shelton native to bring new restaurant to Canal Street

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON - Artan Ismaili knows Canal Street well. He grew up and witnessed the transformation from industrial hub to a wasteland, with dilapidated structures littering the streetscape.

Ismaili is now helping to bring life - and foot traffic - back to the Canal Street strip with his plan to open Pier 131 Kitchen and Bar in first floor space in the Riverview Retail Center - which sits on the former Rolfite property. He says he hopes to open next month.

“There have been some dramatic changes, definitely,” Ismaili said about the redevelopment of Shelton’s downtown, specifically Canal Street, which is now home to dozens of condominiums and apartments, with more development to come.

“I never thought it would be redeveloped, but here I am,” he said. “This is a perfect spot for what I plan to offer people here.”

Ismaili, a lifelong Shelton resident, was born into the restaurant business. His father, Agim, a native of Macedonia, formerly owned Artans Pizza, a deli-style pizzeria on Kneen Street, and Yolanda’s Bakery in Derby. He then opened Casa Nova Ristorante on River Road.

Ismaili broke off on his own in 2014, opening the popular Pizzeria Mazzo Wine Bar in Danbury. He chose to close Mazzo earlier this year, selling to IHOP, in June.

“It’s bittersweet,” Ismaili told Hearst Connecticut Media at the time. “This was my first venture on my own, so it was a good time [and] I met a lot of good people.”

The decision to close stemmed from “a lot of things” including his struggle to expand Mazzo’s patio and the pandemic’s impact on business, he said.

Ismaili continues to follow his father’s footsteps now as he opens his own restaurant in Shelton. He said when he closed Mazzo, he knew his next stop would be Shelton - he just did not realize that he would find a space that included a patio overlooking the Housatonic River.

“I was looking for my next opportunity, and I couldn’t have found a better place,” he said. “It’s a nice setting, looking over the river.”

Pier 131 will feature American pub-style comfort food, he said, and offer farm-to-table options, with a raw bar, salad and rice bowls, prime steaks, plant-based and vegan options, custom blend burgers and pizza. He said there also will be handcrafted cocktails.

“In Danbury, I was an outsider, I had to start from scratch,” Ismaili said. “Here, in Shelton, I’m home. We open and start with customers, but they always end up being family.”