July 18, 2014 09:09PM
By Mary Ellen Godin
MERIDEN — The cafe next to the downtown courtyard at the former Silver City Museum will open next month featuring Mediterranean and American al fresco and indoor dining.
Wagid Yousef’s new restaurant, called Nina’s Cafe, will serve breakfast, lunch and early dinners. The menu will include gyros, kabobs and falafel in addition to grilled burgers and other American fare. Yousef expects a mid-August opening.
“Everything is going to be fresh-cooked,” said Yousef, who said he will apply for a beer and wine license.
Yousef, originally from Baghdad, Iraq, has been in the food preparation and service business since the 1980s and served as the food and beverage manager for Foxwoods Resort Casino in the 1990s. He continued working in the industry in California but wanted to return and open his own restaurant.
A relative, Danny Baba, told him he was getting a building in Meriden and in July 2013 Baba Realty bought 39 W. Main St. from 39 West Main St. LLC for $500,000. Baba owns Ali Baba Bail Bonds, which leases space on the first floor. Weststaff staffing services moved its second-floor operation to 639 Research Parkway last month, according to Lou Corte, chief executive officer of Outsource Solutions LLC and a partner in 39 West Main St. LLC.
Yousef is cleaning and managing the 14,528-square-foot building for Baba and has plans to add an ice cream and coffee shop. He also wants to expand into catering and hopes to open the former museum’s auditorium for banquets and meetings.
“Next year, I’m going to paint the building,” he said. “I’m fixing it up, cleaning up the upstairs.”
Yousef would like to see the city better maintain the courtyard, he said, pointing to exposed electrical wires next to a tree and loose brickwork.
“This is beautiful,” he said. “Why don’t you fix it?”
As workers installed the ductwork for a new grill, Yousef talked about downtown Meriden and competition from nearby restaurants.
“This is a nice place,” he said. “There are little things to make downtown happen. I’m going to do my own thing. Competition is always great; it will improve on performance.”
He said he hopes to draw customers from the police and court complex, from Middlesex Community College, and from offices on West Main and Colony streets. The cafe’s hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
As a business within the city’s Transit-Oriented District, Nina’s Cafe had to get zoning permits to operate.
“People are looking for more places to eat and more things to do downtown,” said Assistant City Planner Thomas Skoglund. “This generally fits within the scope of the vision for downtown.”
City Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said being in the Transit-Oriented District means Yousef should be able to get a wine and beer permit with little difficulty.
“Hopefully, all that will be streamlined for him,” Burdelski said. “All of our research shows we need restaurants downtown. We’re excited to have him.”