Norwalk’s Ripka bullish on Calf Pasture Beach as he revolutionizes its food service

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Clyde Ripka of Bull’s Head Market plans to give the Calf Pasture Beach concession stand a nautical feel as he begins a 10-year lease granted by the city of Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – The weather is not inviting, but there’s action expected Tuesday at Calf Pasture Beach: A crew employed by Clyde Ripka will begin tearing up the concession stand formerly operated by Stew Leonard’s.

Ripka’s business is moving in; Stew’s is already gone. There are big changes in store. For one thing, Ripka plans to be open year round; for another, he’s offering a lot more than hot dogs and hamburgers.

Hey, you may be able to send a text to Ripka’s and have an employee bring you your food – no need to leave the comfort of your beach chair on the sand.

The 10-year lease for Ripka’s on the Beach, an offshoot of Bull’s Head Market, was authorized at the Feb. 26 Common Council meeting. Stew’s did not apply, Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Jerry Petrini said, and Ripka’s offered the most money of the three businesses competing for the space – $16,000 in its first year, $27,000 in its second year.

Only Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) voted against the lease. Miklave was concerned about the terms: 10 years initially, with two 5-year options, a 20-year commitment that he said was inappropriate and an example of how the city should not be run. Stew Leonard’s ran the place for 10 years on two five-year contracts.

Ripka is also taking over the concession stand at Veterans Park as part of his lease. “It’s a diamond in the rough,” he said Monday. He’s going to call it The Dug Out, with typical grilled foods and salads, as well as ethnic foods suitable for the clientele, such as quesadillas. He hopes to attract the boaters using the city docks by offering ice and beverages.

Ripka said he’s “a little crazy,” which is why he does things like pack clams, lobsters and ice cream into a boat and head for Sheffield Island, where his business does clambakes for the Norwalk Seaport Association.

“I’ve been dealing with food on the water for six years, so we’re closing the circle a little bit (with the beach concession).” he said. “I was very, very happy when it became available; I was more passionate about it, I pushed harder than the other people because I do see the value in it.”

Clyde Ripka thinks he can halve the utility bills at the concession stand with new light fixtures and other things. He plans to use as many green products as possible, including corn-based straws.

The concession is currently gutted, with a look Ripka associates with “a ’50’s bathroom, with hideous colors.”

The wood that is currently on the walls will come down and be replaced by wainscoting with either a nautical or New England feel, he said. The tiles will be covered with an epoxy paint. The floors will covered with decking.

Coastal Fine Finishes is collaborating on the project, a process Ripka plans to videotape.

Ripka drafted a menu for his proposal to the city; he said he has since scaled it back a bit, on the advice of his executive chef, who has experience with high volumes of people.

“We’ll serve what Stew had here — it has to have kid food, the hot dogs and the hamburgers,” he said. “But we’ll also have healthful food, salads.” He also plans a raw bar and steamed lobsters.

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae thinks Ripka is bringing an enthusiasm to the small stand that big businessman Stew Leonard did not have, a natural for a “ma and pa” store.

Among the things Mocciae is excited about is the planned “blanket service.”

The plan is to develop an app on the Bull’s Head webpage so people can order and pay for their food via their smartphones. Customers can then come to the concession stand and get into an express line  – or stay where they are.

“If you’re two moms with eight kids out there, you can keep them on the sand, we’ll bring the stuff out,” Ripka said.

Ripka said his wife wants to get little flags to mark different areas on the beach, to identify where people are, as part of the system to make that work.

There’s more: deliveries to the ball fields via golf carts.

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This building will be spruced up with light paint and a new stockade fence, Clyde Ripka said.

Ripka said Mocciae wants to create a beach area next to the stand. “If he puts the sand out there we’ll finish it, I’ll get the tiki torches,” he said.

Like Stew, he will have a tent for the outdoor seating. He’s looking for a corporate sponsor – it’s an advertising opportunity, with “good visibility” – so he can get a better one. The city is going to paint the building the same beige color as the other buildings, and the dilapidated red stockade fence that faces the parking lot will be replaced.

“As with any park facilities that cities have, people want to use them,” Ripka said. “You’ve got to cater to them, you’ve got to try to do something to get them down here. How many hot dogs are you going to eat? You bring some guests down from New Hampshire? Bring them to the beach, plan on having a nice casual dinner outside, actually have some nice crab cakes on a salad, or lobster roll, steamed mussels and clams, or a steamed lobster for those people coming from Indiana or wherever. Bring them to the water.

“Hot dogs and a hamburger doesn’t spell Long Island Sound,” he said. “I mean, it is good, it’s good beach food, but it doesn’t say New England, it doesn’t say what we do. We need to certainly have a little bit of that. Rhode Island chowder. New England clam chowder. Other things available.”

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Clyde Ripka says he knew Stew’s would take it’s equipment out of the Calf Pasture Beach concession when its lease ended. The new range hoods are a nice surprise.


15 responses to “Norwalk’s Ripka bullish on Calf Pasture Beach as he revolutionizes its food service”

  1. Tim T

    Bulls Head Market food is fantastic. A bit pricey yet worth every penny. My concern would be the basic family food needs to be modestly priced like hot dogs fries and burgers as Stews was. I also do have some concern with giving anyone a 20 year lease.
    Best of Luck to them and I know I will be a steady customer

  2. Dorothy Mobilia

    A good beach presence is a great idea and very popular in other places. Stew had a more well-rounded offering in the beginning but cut back and we ate there less than before. Now, with changes being suggested by the new vendor, the concession could be a destination for beach lovers and walkers, not only for teenagers and families with children. By the way, more people should also visit the coffee concession under the palms near the flagpole.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    The Council voted 14-1 to approve the ten-year lease, with two five year options, because there were opt-out clauses that protected the city. With these types of municipal contracts, vendors are taking a chance since the local legislative body can simply negate the contract by refusing to allocate funds. Also, whenever the vendor intends to make rather large capital investments, as Ripka does, both sides of the deal can cut costs by lengthening the contract, which allows the vendor more time to pay off the loans.

  4. oldtimer

    I hope somebody is keeping an eye on the plumbing for the renovations. There was a problem there with sanitary drains connected to storm drains that kept oyster beds nearby closed until the misconnections were found and fixed.
    Anybody who has ever eaten at a Bull’s head market knows the food should be excellent.
    What “funds” is Kimmel talking about ? The city should not have to appropriate funds for this beyond minor expense for outside maintenance of the building. This should be income for the City.

  5. LWitherspoon

    I share old timer’s question, how would this contract be cancelled by Council’s refusal to appropriate funds?
    More options will be nice, but Stew’s ice cream will be missed. Anybody know why Stew’s didn’t even apply to continue as the vendor?

  6. Dave McCarthy

    The ability for the city to cancel the contract goes beyond the ability to do so for “non-appropriation” or not authorizing funds. It also includes the right to Terminate for the Convenience of the Government. This would cover the council simply refusing to authorize the contract to be extended.

    I was taken aback by Mr. Miklave’s statement at the time that he would be very surprised if we were simply allowed to cancel a contract like this. If it weren’t late and the vote were different than 14-1, I would have been happy to demonstrate how wrong he is. I work specifically with federal government contracts, so I have a little more knowledge of this than most are, but even for a labor lawyer to not be familiar with the basic tenets of government contracting seems odd to me.

    From an internet search “Termination for convenience is intended to provide the government with the option to terminate the remaining balance of contracted work, in whole or in part, at any time in its sole discretion, for a reason other than the contractor’s default, if it is determined that such termination is in the best interest of the agency. A Termination for Convenience clause is required to be in the contract.”

    I asked if such a clause would be in the contract and was told that it would be.

    1. Just for the sake of accuracy, the vote was 13 to 1. Doug Hempstead was absent.

  7. Suzanne

    Mr. McCarthy, Do Council members typically approve contracts that have not been completed and/or read? You state: “I asked if such a clause would be in the contract and was told that it would be” in reference to the right to Terminate this contract for the Convenience of the Government. To me, this means the vote was taken without the written confirmation of the actual contract to be able to limit or terminate the services of the contractor, Bull’s Head, if necessary (or what if they just want to get out of it?) It seems a bit careless but, then, maybe this is just a part of Council process I don’t get – I wouldn’t sign up for a new phone contract without reading the fine print.

  8. Old Salt

    Clyde is a good man. honest food at a good price. I have done bussiness with him in the past. I am a satisfied customer.

    best of luck, to you Mr. Ripka, you will need it working with Moccaie. count your fingers every time you shake hands. Record your phone conversations, get everything in writing. you have been warned.


  9. Steve Colarossi

    Clyde and his staff from Bulls Head catered our wedding– all the food (and especially the seafood) was absolutely amazing (as was the service). I’m looking for more of the same innovative tasty items from Clyde’s beach venture.

  10. Don’t Panic

    Last night’s agenda contained a technical correction with regard to this contract, which changed the name of the party entering into contract with the city from MRC
    Ventures d/b/a Ripka’s Bulls to Norwalk Concessions L.L.C. which suggests that Mr. Ripka formed a separate LLC after he secured the contract with the city. Would a LLC help limit some of that risk?

  11. Tim T

    Looking forward to the Bulls Head Market chicken caesar salad. The best I ever had. Hopefully he will be serving salads at the beach location.

    1. He specifically mentioned salads on the menu.

  12. Tim T

    Thank for the info Nancy..Now only if we can get some spring weather before he opens so we can all enjoy the food

  13. Dean Harris

    This is a good idea, but the place is awful so far. I don’t understand what they renovated as the paint still is peeling on the outside of the structure. The food was overpriced compared to Stew’s (the former tenant), it was poorly prepared and the woman behind the counter was clueless I doubt that they will survive the 10 year lease given what they are providing.

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