The Porch revives a Staples student staple
May 27, 2021
The restaurant space previously home to Christie’s and Chef’s Table has offered breakfast, lunch and french fries to generations of Westporters, creating a center for community and coffee. However, new restaurant The Porch owners Andrea and Bill Pecoriello have added something that has never been seen at the building before, a wheelchair ramp.
Bringing back the classics
Situated at a recently installed gap in the white fence surrounding the restaurant’s titular porch, the ramp allows wheelchair users to enter through the slamming screen door (actually a new nostalgic touch, despite feeling as if it’s been there all along). This addition fits into the broader mission of these two owners of Sweet P Bakery in Norwalk, a non-profit bakery that employs adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, that are now also leasing the building next to Christie’s Auto Body on 161 Cross Highway.
The Pecoriellos are bursting with ideas to sell their Sweet P treats and hire both disabled and non-disabled people, including many Staples students, all while creating the quintessential New England country store and restaurant that everyone can enjoy and love.
“This property just felt so right for what we wanted to do,” Andrea Pecoriello said. “People love it and have wonderful memories of it, and we wanted to restore it so that the next generation could have wonderful memories here.”
Some may find resemblance between The Porch and the Remarkable Theater, a Westport non-profit drive-in movie theater that also employs disabled individuals.
“Actually, one of the founders of the Remarkable Theater did a video for us at Sweet P, so, we have a documentary over there of that,” Pecoriello said. “We plan on having a remarkable flavor of the month at our ice cream hut so that we can give back to them.”
The Pecoriello’s focus on local business fits into their broader goal of creating a space for the entire Westport community. They’ve added a sound system, entertaining the idea of an acoustic guitar on weekends. They also envision everything from fancy, hosted dinners to show off the expertise of their chef or guest chefs, to a bit of family-fun children’s events with discounts for parents’ lunch.
“What Bill and I tried to do here,” Pecoriello said, “is exactly the little kind-of country store restaurant that, if we were driving somewhere in New England and we came upon this, we would say, ‘Oh my goodness, if that was only in Westport, I would go there all the time.’”
To get the restaurant ready for the approaching mid-May opening, the Pecoriellos have had to balance making the old building spic and span while still conserving the country store’s small-town spirit.
The fundamental characteristics remain: the café is still nestled in the left corner, the ordering counter runs half the building’s length and the stone fireplace guards the right wall.
Otherwise, the restaurant has had an extreme makeover. What were once pea-green walls are now decked out in black and white subway tiles, and the floors have been refinished. Due to the building’s age, many things have needed to be cleaned and old, malfunctioning equipment had to be replaced.
“When you walk in, I mean, if you’ve seen it before, I think it looks totally different,” Pecoriello said. “So again, we tried to keep what was charming about it. We hope people see that we kept the exact same feel to the place.”
With their lease beginning on Sept. 1, 2020, the Pecoriellos also came to The Porch ready to take on a post-COVID consumer market. Fittingly, they have emphasized their porch seating and added heat lamps to extend the time frame of outdoor seating.
“I think that we thought about the porch now as kind of the restaurant of the future,” Pecoriello said. “We all see that we’re willing to eat outside in much more extreme weather conditions than I think we ever were.”
The Pecoriellos have also digitized their ordering and are entering the restaurant business with full expectations to be doing take-away and delivery, including curbside pickup, in addition to their in-person dining.
As a whole, the Pecoriellos hope to both give employment to disabled adults while also reviving the Westport mom-and-pop spirit. They believe that The Porch can fill the hole in Staples students’ hearts after the loss of Christie’s Country Store. One Staples student, Sophie Spheeris ’23, remembers fond memories of visiting Christie’s with her friends.
“It was a nice spot to meet up and mingle with other people who you’re not as close with. And they had pretty good food,” Spheeris said.
Like many of her peers, she is hoping for The Porch to be a place to get good food, grab a coffee or hang out with friends.
“I’m excited, just because it’s nice to have a food place so close to school. I miss Christie’s, and Chef’s Table was also pretty good, but yeah, I’m excited,” Spheeris said.
The Pecoriellos are ready to cater to the hungry tummies Staples students such as Spheeris, as well as the greater Westport and Fairfield County community.
“People love this property and have wonderful memories of it,” Pecoriello said, “and we wanted to restore it so that the next generation could have wonderful memories here.”