Jared Schulefand has been working hard to keep his new restaurant's name under wraps. But he'd been thinking about it for ages.
“I’ve had the name in mind for three years,” he says. “Basically, where we’re going with it is: comfort. It’s the kind of food you could make at home – if you had culinary training.”
Before he leaves our interview to head back to the restaurant – he and his team have been working to redecorate at a frenetic pace this week, right up until the last few minute before the doors open Thursday afternoon – he asks, “Do you think you can guess the name?”
I throw out the two names that make the most sense.
“You’re right on the first one,” he says, smilng. “Home.”
In March, Schulefand launched the same space (at 1114 Main St.) as The transition to Home hasn’t been easy, but it has been fun.
It means culinary changes: a focus more on appetizers and sandwiches than on the high-end entrees. It means revamped decoration: a change toward a “casual, comfortable atmosphere,” Schulefand says, with plush, café-style furniture like couches and leather chairs.
“It’s really been my style through all my management jobs: making the customers feel like they’ve known me forever, making both the employees and the vendors feel at home. Just making everyone feel at home.”
It’s the kind of place Schulefand has been waiting to open since he started in the restaurant industry, years ago, as a 15-year-old busboy at Modern Apizza in New Haven.
When Schulefand moved to Branford to open Foe earlier this year, – how he grew up in Hamden, then left to take on a string of successful restaurant management gigs, including the four-star Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod.
He brought his chef, Mike DiVancesco, who moved to Branford specifically to work for him. The restaurant would keep the name Foe for two months.
“A lot of the change was welcomed,” he says. “A lot of people wanted to see fresh air. A lot of people were weary, wondering where their sweet potato fries were. I think Chef Mike's food speaks for itself – if you don't like it we'll talk about why you didn't like it. We have combined 10 years at a 4-star resort. The caliber of food & service i'm not worried about.”
So how is Home different from Foe? It’s all in a few telling items on the menu. Items you may recognize from childhood.
Burgers and salads. Chicken spring rolls. Homemade potato pancakes. Local and craft beers. Even macaroni and cheese.
“Chef Mike has a dish called ‘spaghetti & meatballs,’” Schulefand says. “He makes this entire dish from scratch topped with a little bit of parmesan cheese. In fact, that’s exactly the description on the menu. It’s got homemade pasta and a secret meatball recipe.”
Schulefand expanded the building, dividing it into a “living room” and a “dining room.” It finally feels like what he was going for when he found a little place of his own.
“The way the restaurant was set up, the front room and bar area was restaurant,” he says. “There was linen on the tables, and had a feel of upscale. But I think the tablecloths scare people, and most people in Branford didn’t even know it has a back dining room.”
Schulefand loves these concepts – the living room, the dining room – and has obviously been tossing them over for years. He’s finely perfected them, and now he finally has a chance to show the world how fine dining can be made, well, homey.
“It's just more fun,” he says. “It's not as stuffy. I've always wanted the type of restaurant people could come to once a week as opposed to once a month. My whole life, I’ve enjoyed having a good time. And now I can share that, my idea of a good fun time.”