April 15, 2019

Geno says he’ll take over Cavey’s restaurant

Connecticut Huskies carry head coach Geno Auriemma off the court after defeating the Louisville Cardinals in the finals of the 2009 NCAA women's basketball tournament at Scottrade Center.

Geno Auriemma has told diners at Cavey's restaurant in Manchester that he plans to buy the 85-year-old landmark.

While mingling with patrons Tuesday, the University of Connecticut women's basketball head coach and restaurant owner said he plans to convert the historic eatery's lower level, which formerly featured classic French cuisine, into a banquet hall for events.

If completed, the deal would see the Hall of Fame coach-turned-entrepreneur acquire one of the most storied fine dining institutions in the state.

It is not yet known whether Auriemma intends to keep the Cavey's name and signature style or bring the two-level building at 45 E. Center St. under his burgeoning "Geno's" brand.

Representatives of Cavey's, including longtime owner and executive chef Stephen Cavagnaro, did not reply to multiple phone messages seeking information about the potential sale.

Auriemma could not be reached for additional details following his conversations at Cavey's, and his marketing director declined to elaborate Friday, saying the restaurant group typically doesn't discuss any such matters before deals are in place.

Last month, representatives of Auriemma's restaurant ventures said through an intermediary that they were "always looking for growth opportunities, especially in the greater Hartford and shoreline area."

Town records indicate that the property has not changed hands from its original owners.

Cavey's was put up for sale last summer through Commercial Services Realty in Rocky Hill. At the time, the total asking price was $849,000 for the 8,096-square-foot split-level space, according to an online listing.

That advertisement has since been removed from Commercial Services Realty's website.

Cavagnaro's grandmother Florence opened Cavey's in 1933. Growing from a modest coffee shop and restaurant, it eventually became known as one of the best Italian establishments in Connecticut, and its reputation was such that the owners were called upon to cater a dinner for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they visited Hartford.

The restaurant's client base began to erode in the 1990s when the region's major employers, including East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney, underwent dramatic downsizing.

In a 2018 interview with the Journal Inquirer, Cavagnaro also blamed diminished business on a lack of appreciation for traditional dining fueled by online review sites, the constant distraction of mobile devices, and the quickened pace of modern life.

Cavey's had served northern Italian cuisine on its main floor and a French-inspired menu on the lower floor, but in 2016 the main level began serving both menus, and the lower level was set aside for spillover and special events.

Auriemma currently owns five restaurants, including Geno's Grille in the Storrs section of Mansfield, across the street from UConn's main campus. The other four — Geno's Pub, Geno's Fast Break, Geno's Daybreak, and Geno's Southside — are based at Mohegan Sun casino and resort in the Uncasville section of Montville.

A short-lived venture in downtown Southington, a second Geno's Grille, closed in November 2017 after about three years in business.

This story has been modified for the web

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