CHESHIRE — The overall scale, dramatic features and intricate details of Viron Rondo Osteria’s $7 million expansion and renovation have customers buzzing.
“I was just overwhelmed and in awe … it’s just breathtaking,” said Cathy Ducharme of Wolcott, describing the 381-bulb chandelier hanging above a marble bar, which forms the centerpiece of the restaurant’s expansion.
Ducharme and friend Roz Katz of Wallingford have been to Viron Rondo dozens of times, but were seeing the expansion for the first time over lunch recently, they said.
“I think we have done something very beautiful here that our guests will enjoy for a long, long time,” said owner Viron Rondos, adding how thankful he is to the guests who supported them through the construction process.
The expansion adds more than 10,000 square feet to the existing Italian restaurant at 1721 Highland Ave.
In addition to the original lounge and dining area, there’s a brand new kitchen, more parking, the large bar and dining room, a new entrance, outdoor bar and patio, along with new restrooms.
And a second new kitchen is in the works.
“It’s been a very hectic and challenging project, but we're all very happy at the end,” Rondos said.
The construction was completed in eight months, for which Rondos credits Nosal Builders of Cheshire and the entire group of contractors.
The expansion stemmed from needs.
The restaurant needed a bigger kitchen, a bigger bar, better sound quality — Rondos said he tried to address all these things. But with a custom-built, European aesthetic.
Glowing orb effect
The most eye-catching feature of the new expansion is the giant chandelier hanging above the new bar area.
Rondos acquired it through a dealer after it was taken down from a New York Film Academy theater in 2017.
Restaurant owner Viron Rondos acquired the chandelier through a dealer after it was taken down from a New York Film Academy theater in 2017. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
The grand chandelier was built in the 1970s and includes 381 light bulbs, which create a glowing orb effect, drawing people into the light-filled space.
“It's a centerpiece, it’s a conversation piece. It draws a lot of attention and it makes the space even more special than what it is,” Rondos said.
To accommodate the 14-by-8 foot, 1,500 pound chandelier, the bar room’s ceiling had to be redesigned.
Rondos said he was terrified of a piece being lost in transit since it had to be completely deconstructed in New York and then rewired, with the original patina recreated, at the restaurant.
The first time he actually saw it in person was when it was installed last month.
“I knew it was gonna be a big hit, but when I saw it up, it's really spectacular,” Rondos said.
African stone, wine room, acoustics
Rondos said he’s not the type to cut corners, and you can see it in the small details all around the new space.
One of his favorite pieces of the expansion is another 1970s light fixture, tucked away on the ceiling behind the front desk. The smaller chandelier is a yellow hand-blown Murano glass piece.
The marble-like stone that makes up the front desk and new bar is from Africa.
Near the new main entrance, to the right, is a new temperature-controlled wine room that Rondos said can fit about 3,000 bottles.
On the opposite side of the room is a large gas fireplace, made with stone from Italy, and an old New England wood beam serving as a mantel.
Roz Katz, of Wallingford, enjoys lunch in front of a new fireplace at Viron Rondo Osteria, 1721 Highland Ave., Cheshire, Nov. 13, 2019. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
Rondos said the fireplace adds a cozy, home-like atmosphere, especially for the winter months.
Although the new bar room may look completed, Rondos said it will be a few more months before all the finishing touches are added — including more artwork and banquette seating.
One of the focuses of the expansion was also addressing a common customer complaint about noise.
Rondos said he used experts from the New York theater district to help design the ceiling tiles of the new bar room, to create better acoustics.
“It's a dramatic difference,” he said.
‘Somewhere in the Mediterranean’
Besides the indoor bar, with 22 beer taps and a large wine room, “The Veranda” outside has been dubbed the “Connecticut Craft Corner” with 12 lines for local draft beer.
The new outdoor patio space had a couple weeks’ use before the weather cooled, but Rondos is excited to use it more next season.
He said while others were skeptical about putting so much effort into outdoor dining, he sees value in giving people an experience they don’t get much in this area of the state — even if it's just for a few months.
Customers enjoy lunch on the new veranda at Viron Rondo Osteria at 1721 Highland Ave. in Cheshire, Mon., Sept. 23, 2019. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
“The goal is to make it feel like you are somewhere in the Mediterranean, not in Cheshire,” Rondos said.
Viron Rondo Osteria also has 220 more parking spots, another direct result of wanting to correct past limitations.
The new entrance is along the side of the building in the center of the restaurant, facing out to the road, with stone steps and a ramp up to tall double doors. The stones used for the entrance were pulled from the old patio.
Temporary kitchen, ‘seasonal touches’
The Highland Avenue building was previously home to Luca Ristorante, the Pavillion and Brix Restaurant before Viron Rondo opened in 2014.
The kitchen was about 600 square feet, too small for what the restaurant was putting out. As part of the expansion, that original kitchen was torn out and a new, larger one is being built.
The new entrance to Viron Rondo Osteria, 1721 Highland Ave., Cheshire, Nov. 13, 2019. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
Rondos expects the upstairs remodeled kitchen to be finished by the end of January.
Meanwhile, the staff is working out of the brand new downstairs kitchen, which is about 3,000 square feet alone, Rondos said.
The downstairs kitchen was built underneath where the parking lot used to be. For now, the staff is working solely in that kitchen, but in the future, the downstairs will only be used for prep and parties and the upstairs kitchen will take care of the day-to-day cooking.
The restaurant’s co-executive chefs are John Medonis and Tim Demers, with Nick Mexhuani overseeing pizza.
They will continue a focus on using fresh, local produce and are looking into more wild-caught fish and organic meats.
The menu structure — with specials for dinner, social hour, and more — won’t change, and the classics will remain, Rondos said. While 70 percent of the menu will stay consistent, he expects to add some “new seasonal touches.”
‘Not another investment’
Rondos has been in the business of food since he was 17, starting out as a busboy in his home country of Greece.
“I come from the land of hospitality … When people come (to Viron Rondo Osteria), I feel that they are in my home, my living room and I try to do as much as I can to please them,” he said. The term osteria in Italian suggests a more casual, communal dining experience, compared to trattoria or ristorante.
At 25, he moved to Manhattan, where he continued in the industry for a decade before moving to Connecticut. Before Cheshire, he owned two restaurants in Avon and Litchfield.
Owner Viron Rondos. | David Zajac, Record-Journal
Rondos said his Cheshire osteria is more than just a restaurant to him.
“This is not another investment for me,” he said. “This is my livelihood and I have three children, and I'm looking in the very long term.”
And that’s the whole point of the expansion and all of his investment into this restaurant: he plans to stay, and he wants his customers to remain, as well.
“I'm extremely excited and I'm looking forward to many many more beautiful years here, and to offer the best that we can,” he said.
‘Screaming’ for entertainment
In sync with the expansion is a new schedule of entertainment at the restaurant, including live music and DJ late nights.
Pianist Michael Ford performs every week, from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
A rotating cast of DJs will be at the restaurant from 9 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Rondos said more events may be added around the holidays, and others when the outdoor space reopens in the spring.
“The place is screaming for (entertainment),” Rondos said.