SOUTHINGTON — For Mike Truss, the owner of Craft Kitchen in Southington, moving into the restaurant’s new location at 42 W. Main St. in Plantsville is like coming home.
Truss grew up on Pine Street, only two miles from the new location in Plantsville. Much of his childhood was spent in the Southington area, working for his grandfather and for the local businesses in town. That’s where he initially found his passion for cooking, which ultimately led him to open up his growing restaurant ventures in Southington.
When he was growing up, Truss’s grandmother operated a catering business on the side, which he often helped with alongside the rest of his family. Once he became old enough to work, he got a part-time position at Krys' Pizza. Truss’s experiences throughout high school having worked at restaurants like these and the Aqua Turf Club spurred him to pursue a culinary arts degree at Newbury College in Boston.
Truss has several personal connections to the buildings his restaurants occupy, having been to both Jimmy’s Drive-In, the restaurant that once occupied Craft Kitchen’s current 1244 Meriden Ave. location, and Taylor’s Market — a store which had once filled half of his location in downtown Plantsville. Truss believes it’s important for him to leave a positive mark on these buildings, which were such a nostalgic part of his childhood.
“I worked throughout the area, the Aqua Turf, all the normal spots that were here. But I always gravitated towards here. And even this building, half of this building, used to be Taylor's Market. So we would come in, we could still hear the way that the floor squeaks when I was 10 years old walking through this place,” Truss said.
“It's awesome. It's a section of town where, especially with the past few years, it seems like tradition kind of went out the window. To be a part of it, trying to bring something else back to this section of town, it's huge. With Christmas and Halloween In the Village, this little area is a special little side of town as opposed to being right downtown, like Center Street. We want to see this become the next Center Street of Southington and bring back those old businesses.”
One of the points of pride in Truss’ business is its commitment to a ‘field fresh scratch menu,’ which is locally sourced food that is all prepared in-house. It’s a process he was first exposed to working for his grandfather, who owned a farm on Pine Street that consisted of more than nine greenhouses where they grew over 5,000 tomato and pepper plants a year. The produce was then sold to local stores.
After his time in school and learning at other restaurants on both the East and West coasts, Truss returned to Plantsville to open Napoli Deli, which he ran from 2010 to 2014. After he wasn’t given the option to renew his lease on the building, Truss closed the business and opened Craft Kitchen in 2018. One of the most important ideas he brought to his new venture was to rely on the relationship between local vendors and hand-crafted food. The ability to give customers a different culinary experience is a skill Truss thinks has been lost at many other restaurants.
“The restaurant industry is a tough, tough industry,” said Truss. “One of the biggest things I learned throughout my career was that connection between the local products, local farmers, and where and how you use their product, and how you showcase it,” he said.
Creating hand-crafted food is a longer process, he said. “Certain things that we have on our menu, we have to be three days, four days ahead of to have prepped … So that's like a three-day process just for one appetizer on our menu. It's all those little steps, procedures, and techniques that are kind of a dying breed. We try to keep them alive and bring them to local foods,” Truss said.
Offering a unique dining experience and cultivating good community relationships has helped Truss to build a loyal customer base. He has been able to continue being successful while other restaurants have had difficulties since the pandemic.
This continued popularity was the primary motivator for the move to their new Plantsville location, occupying the Fireside on Main building, previously Tavern 42. The current flagship location of Craft Kitchen can only seat 36, with 40 additional seats on the patio in the summer. The new building drastically increases its occupancy to around 358. The bigger location also expands how much food they can prepare in the kitchen, though Truss wishes to continue working in the previous location to prepare some of their more intensive food items.
While some customers have expressed concern about the location shift, the reception has been largely positive. Truss still has plans for the existing restaurant, spinning it off from the Craft Kitchen brand into an old-school barbecue joint specializing in smoked foods.
The employees working for the Craft Kitchen are just as excited about the venue change. “I was able to finally get down there last week and look at everything, and I think it's just a beautiful spot. I think it's going to be really good for us. We have a good following here at the Southington location, but we've definitely outgrown this spot,” said Elizabeth Pabon, who will be the manager of Plantsville location.
Pabon has worked for Truss for four years and has had nothing but a positive experience at the business. “I've loved working here since the first day when I started,” she said, “I love working for Mike. I think he's a great guy and he makes the work environment very comfortable. I love working for him so much because I feel like he cares about his staff.”
One of the major accomplishments that Truss is looking forward to is the opportunity to create new jobs for the Plantsville community. He will need to hire more than 15 new employees once they open in May.
The staff is currently working to renovate the location with a new coat of paint and new wood furnishings to match the aesthetic of the first Craft Kitchen location. While details remain tentative, the goal is for the restaurant to have its grand opening sometime in May at the beginning of the summer season.
Both Pabon and Truss thank the community for its ongoing support, and are excited about the new possibilities with their expanded space.
“If people have never tried us before, it's such a great opportunity to, especially when we have our little grand opening. It's going to be great for everybody to try our food and see just how Mike likes to do things in the kitchen,” said Pabon.
“It's been amazing. Absolutely amazing. Since day one, if we don't have the support of the community we don't have anything,” Truss said. “We would never be able to expand or move or try to provide everything that we do for the community without them. We couldn't be happier. We couldn't thank everyone enough for supporting us. That's all we can do.”