August 16, 2014 01:30AM
By Mary Ellen Godin
MERIDEN — The lack of restaurants in the city sparked a small crowd to head to the East Side Friday to show support for a Mexican favorite that is likely to shut its doors in several months.
“I lived all my life on the east side, but grew up eating in Wallingford,” said Ian Galligan. “When this spot opened up, it was fantastic. It was a gathering spot.”
Galligan and other city residents learned recently that the Frontera Grill on East Main Street was going to close to make way for an Advance Auto Parts store, and were outraged. Stories that appeared on the Record-Journal’s website about the pending closure garnered hundreds of comments, mainly from disappointed residents, including those who never stepped foot in the restaurant.
The deal is as good as done and the restaurant owner and manager are looking at other potential sites. But city officials and residents hope to encourage Frontera Grill to stay in the city.
Galligan created a Facebook events page to encourage people to visit the restaurant Friday and show the staff and management some support. By late Friday afternoon 700 people had signed on to attend.
“Please don’t take this away,” Galligan said. “I spoke with the mayor, the city manager and city planning director. They agreed they don’t want to see it go.”
City Councilor Kevin Scarpati attended Friday’s event and pulled the surprised manager away from his duties in the busy kitchen.
“We’re putting together this event,” Scapati told Marco Lopez. “A bunch of us are here because Meriden supports you. We’re going to do everything we can to help you stay in Meriden.”
Scarpati said he understood the closure was part of a business deal, but like the others in the crowd hopes that the restaurant can find a suitable place in the city. Scarpati has joined City Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski in trying to find a suitable place downtown.
“I’m really surprised,” Lopez said. “I never think that all this time the support is going to be on our side.”
Lopez said the owner is reviewing his options and has two more court appearances on a pending eviction before the restaurant shuts down for a planned demolition. He said they have several months to make a final decision.
“The problem is there are not too many locations in Meriden,” Lopez said. “She did find us two locations, one is downtown.”
As they munched on chips and salsa and toasted the restaurant with margaritas in oversized glasses, supporters talked about possible locations on the east side, including the former Colony Ford building that has been vacant for eight years.
Kathi Gorman attended the event to show her support for the restaurant.
She said that after transforming it from a former Friendly’s Restaurant into a Mexican restaurant with authentic tiling, decor and good food it’s a shame to close it.
“This is somewhere among fast food row where you could sit and eat instead of shoveling and running,” Gorman said.
“You can enjoy this. My husband lived in Mexico and he loves it.”
Mayor Manny Santos also attended the event to show his support and enjoy a meal. He also hopes the restaurant will stay in the city.
“I understand there is an event going on, I thought I’d lend my support,” Santos said. “I’ve come here a number of times. I like it.