By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The good news: A SoNo restaurant has been recognized by Connecticut Magazine for the quality of its food.
The bad news: The restaurant has gone out of business.
A notice of bankruptcy was issued in Stamford Court on Jan. 7 for Jeff Esaw of Jeff’s Cuisine, located at 54 North Main St.
The restaurant is one of five eateries recognized for “Best Barbecue” in Connecticut Magazine’s 2013 Best Restaurants article, published in its February issue.
One of Esaw’s Zagat magazine “Best Barbecue” awards was still sitting in the window of the darkened store Wednesday evening, next to other framed samples of the recognition the restaurant has received.
Jack Chiaramonte, whose parents own the building in which Jeff’s Cuisine was located, said the award-winning chef moved out the day he went bankrupt. The utilities were being shut off that week, he said.
“I feel bad for him,” Chiaramonte said. “He ran out of money; he’s gone.”
Chiaramonte did not know how to get in touch with Esaw. No one answered the phone at Jeff’s Cuisine.
“I can’t reach him either,” Chiaramonte said.
The rent for the store was as low as it could be, Chiaramonte said. “No one had the rent as low as we had it,” he said.
Esaw learned to cook authentic Gullah food from his Aunt Daisy Bell, according to the Jeff’s Cuisine website, which is still up. He has been featured on the Food Network and on “Roker on the Road.”
Business is tough right now due to the weather, Chiaramonte said, explaining that he has seen one customer in two days at his SoNo Silver Company store, next to Jeff’s. “It’s cold. They’re not coming out,” he said.
Chiaramonte thinks SoNo lost customers years ago, when it was difficult to get out of the Webster Street lot, especially when the movie theater let out. The lot has been redesigned and the problem solved, but Chiaramonte said people haven’t come back.
He pointed out that the panini restaurant that used to be across the street from the Black Bear Saloon on Washington Street also closed.
“I think business, honestly, isn’t good for anybody,” he said.