DURHAM – Softail has taken over the former Artie’s Bar & Grill location at 980 New Haven Road. Artie’s closed late April after about five years in business.
When the spot became available, Softail owner Paul Pastet saw it as the perfect opportunity to try his hand in the industry.
“It was like a golden opportunity, a turnkey operation,” Pastet said. The site’s owner owned most of the furniture and kitchen supplies, so the place was pretty much ready to go when he arrived.
A Northford native and current resident, Pastet manages an auto body shop in Woodbridge and owns a Yankee Flooring sanding and polishing business. As his wife Kelley says, cooking comes naturally to him and although they weren’t looking to open a restaurant, it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to try.
Kelley Pastet said her husband would make “amazing meals for family on holidays” only to have everyone encourage him to open a restaurant because his food was so good.
“I've been cooking for a long time but I never owned a place,” Paul Pastet said. “Everybody always tells me, 'you should open your own place and you'd do good cause your food is so great.’”
Paul Pastet will be the primary cook and has focused the menu on American-Italian food that’s all homemade. Since this is his first time as a line cook, Pastet brought in chef Ralph Bonanno to help.
The menu features classic appetizers like fried mozzarella and loaded cheese fries, plus special meal items like a cheese steak sandwich with chopped up rib-eye and broccoli rabe with sausage. Pastet said he plans to keep a core menu, with changing specials.
With the help of his wife, who works in financial services for the Yale School of Medicine, the couple was able to open Softail in less than three weeks.
Most of the inside will look similar to returning customers, but the outdoor patio was redone.
With a family-friendly mantra in mind, they hope to integrate more and more into the community by hosting events and fundraisers. Paul Pastet said the fire company is already holding their weekly meetings there, and they have ideas to sell things like Christmas trees during the holidays to raise money to give back to the town.
They hope to make the atmosphere welcoming to families to come hang out with their kids, instead of just being a “biker bar” as the location has been in the past.
While bikers are still welcome – the restaurant’s name refers primarily to softail Harley’s, which Paul Pastet rides – the couple wants to make sure families feel comfortable, too.
Since opening on May 31, Paul Pastet says everything has been great.
“People have been coming back here, telling me how good the food is and keep doing what you're doing,” he said. “A lot of the locals in Durham haven't been in here 4 or 5 years, so now they're all coming back in.”
First Selectman Laura Francis was one of those visitors. She stopped in with her family. “It was really nice because there were other Durham people there that I hadn’t seen in awhile and that’s what we need, we need our destination where we can meet up with each other,” she said.
Softail Cafe & Grill’s grand opening will be June 29, with two live bands, giveaways and other activities. The band Gear Junkies will play from 2 to 6 p.m. and Unfinished Business from 8 to 11 p.m.