Rob Ryder owns three restaurants and has been in the business since 1985, but if he were able to retire today, Ryder said he'd still spend his days in the kitchen, cooking at his Newtown home. He acquired his love of food, while growing up in California, 30 miles south of San Francisco.
"Dad was a knife and fork guy," Ryder said. "Everything was about food and wine in our household."
Ryder said he spent weekends stomping grapes in Napa Valley.
On Wednesday afternoon, bottles of wine covered one table inside the back room of Tavern restaurant, 262 Main Street in Monroe. Ryder, who bought the restaurant the day before Christmas, had a wine tasting with managers Dan Anderheggen of Monroe and Tony Carapezza of Southbury to determine if changes should be made to the wine list.
Ryder also owns and operates The Inn at Newtown, which he started 13 years ago, and The Cookhouse in New Milford, which he started 16 years ago.
Ryder and his wife had dined at Tavern before and liked the casual atmosphere. The restaurant has old fashioned horse posts outside the parking lot and Jack Daniels whiskey barrel staves adorn the hostess area and the front of the bar inside. Ryder believes the restaurant gives patrons a feeling of warmth and comfort.
"I think it feels like a pub/tavern should feel and I also think the menu shouldn't get away from that pub/tavern feel," he said. "We haven't changed the menu much at all."
Three Owners in Three Years
When Tavern closed its doors for a week last month to allow Ryder to prepare it for the transition, some residents mistakenly thought yet another restaurant had failed at 262 Main Street. Prior to becoming Tavern, it was Senior Pancho's and Rivalry Sports Grille.
"Tavern did great numbers their first year," said Steve Matsis, who brokered the latest deal with Brian Dornan.
Matsis, who is senior managing director of Pyramid Restaurant Group, a Stamford firm, handled the transactions for the last three lease holders at 262 Main Street.
While Ryder mentioned Tavern's close proximity to his home as one of the things that attracted him to the restaurant, Matsis said previous owner, Scott Beck, left for the opposite reason.
Beck wanted to concentrate more on his restaurants in lower Fairfield County, according to Matsis. Beck is a partner of Match and The Loft in SoNo and recently opened The Chelsea in downtown Fairfield.
Matsis describes Ryder as a "no nonsense guy." Of Ryder, he said, "He’s basically keeping it like the Tavern, but it will have his influences."
Cookhouse Smoked Pork
Tavern's burger selection is among the menu items that are here to stay. Burgers include the Tavern Burger with bourbon glazed cipollini onions, apple wood smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar, mayo and pickles on a toasted brioche onion roll; and the Bacon Egg & Cheese Burger on an over-sized toasted English muffin.
However, the menu has some tweaks.
Though Tavern already offered pulled pork and barbecue ribs, Ryder likes the barbecue at The Cook House better.
"We are smoking the pork and the ribs at The Cookhouse and they are on the menu here," he said.
For the most part, Ryder plans "to drive the bus for a while" before making any major changes.
Ryder said he has inherited "some really great existing staff." He also brought some of his own people in. Tony Carapezza has worked with Ryder for the past 12 years and the same goes for his chef, Milton Currillo, who has prepared meals in The Inn at Newtown's kitchen.
Ryder himself had started out in the restaurant business as a bouncer in college, before working his way up to bartender and short order cook. He's even waited tables.
"You name it. I've done everything," he said.
"I'm really excited," Ryder said of owning Tavern. "It's two weeks in and we're having fun. The place has great potential. We'll have our team of 'hospitalitarians' and we just want to give Monroe what it wants. And with our experienced staff we can make any changes they want, from hot dogs to caviar. We'll figure it out."