NORWALK, Conn. — It’s been months, but “Byron the Baker” Sanchez and his family are finally hard at work, stocking shelves and refrigerators in their new bakery just off Wall Street.
Byron Sanchez said it happened so fast, he’s “a little worried” because he “wasn’t ready.” Now, with baked goods neatly displayed in glass cases and frozen concoctions offered across the aisle, he needs to get the word out.
Last year, Sanchez, an Ecuadorian immigrant, emptied his bank account to invest $100,000 in equipment custom made for the River Street space, only to find he couldn’t open his store due to an impasse between his landlord, real estate broker Jason Milligan, and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.
Redevelopment wouldn’t issue Sanchez a certificate of occupancy without Milligan submitting to a design review process for the store’s exterior at the former My Three Sons building. Milligan, who is embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with Redevelopment and the City, said his civil rights were being violated by “a sudden new process” allegedly “invented” by the Redevelopment Agency.
In October, Jessica Vonashek, Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development promised that the City would work quickly to get Sanchez the CO he needed to open, if the fees were paid. She said, “We believe that if Jason was to go through the process, it would be $2,000 or less.”
In November, a Group of Sanchez supporters gathered at the closed storefront and chanted, “Let Byron Bake.” Milligan told them that Sanchez was being “punished” in a “political vendetta.”
City agencies, in a joint statement, said Milligan was making “false and baseless accusations” and “other property owners have worked through the process in a mere number of weeks.”
The bakery, named Sabor Ambateño, opened Wednesday, said Sanchez’ wife, Mercy.
Sanchez said he told Milligan, “You have to do something.” He also talked to someone at Redevelopment and said, “Listen, you need to work with me here.”
The next week, Redevelopment people said, “very shortly.”
“I don’t know, something happened,” Sanchez said. “…. It was in (Milligan’s) hands, not in my hands. It was a problem, it was not me.”
“Mr. Milligan paid the fee, and followed the standard process. Very happy to hear the bakery has opened, and we wish Byron much success,” wrote Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Brian Bidolli.
“I would rather not get into what happened,” Milligan wrote. “I can say that the Agency is a disaster and it is absolutely not helping the area. Their actions are hurting the area.”
Milligan owns approximately 40 properties in the Wall Street area.
Sanchez, who came to America from Ecuador in 1994, set his sights on Norwalk after considering Bridgeport, Stamford, and New Canaan. The rents were too expensive in Stamford and he was concerned that there were too few Hispanics in New Canaan.
He owns a bakery in Ossining; his partner there was his brother-in-law, who died of Covid at age 44, leaving a wife and three daughters, Sanchez said.
Sabor Ambateño is Spanish for Ecuadorian Flavor; Ambato is an Ecuadorian city. Family members working in the bakery Thursday included the son of one of Sanchez’ cousins.
Sanchez said he needs to hire two employees who speak English, because some family members aren’t fluent. It’s especially tough to find help for the weekend.
It looks like other businesses are opening soon next to Sabor Ambateño. A carpenter working in the storefront on the corner of Wall and River Streets said a juice bar was coming in.
“Byron is open. Hooray!
“Bubbly Tea is opening on the corner. They will serve bubble tea, noodles, frozen treats.
“Woww Nails has their C of O and will be opening shortly at 3 River St.
“Thrift women’s clothing store will be opening very soon.