Dinner theater moving into Meriden Mall

reporter photo

MERIDEN — A restaurant offering a variety of entertainment is planning to move into the Meriden Mall.

Daniel Grant and three partners plan to open The 78 Dinner Theater in three vacant stores covering 13,000 square feet. The new business will have a restaurant, lounge and stages for theater and other entertainment. 

“This is a fun idea whose time has come,” Grant said. “We looked at places in Hartford...Meriden seemed very inviting with its central location.”

The announcement comes several months after MedCraft Healthcare announced plans to convert the 180,000-square-foot former Macy’s into a new medical building for private practitioners, including physical therapists, optometrists, mental health professionals and dentists.

City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest has been in talks with Grant and the architects for MedCraft.

“Daniel and I have been talking for over a year,” Feest said. “He’s really excited about opening up the theater concept.”

Feest called Grant’s vision and business plan an interesting mix of dinner and entertainment. One side will be a restaurant and bar, with a stage for smaller bands or comedy, while the other side will host larger-scale productions. He feels the restaurant and theater will draw people from the medical offices. Plans call for a marquee entrance to the theater from outside.

“I think this is one of the injections we need to have coming into the mall,” Feest said. “I don’t think we’ve done a new entrance into the mall in decades.”

The 78 Dinner Theater idea stems from Grant’s visits to dinner theaters in Darien. Grant doesn’t see his audience coming from Hartford and New Haven, but rather Fairfield County, New York and Boston.

Grant has a culinary background and his partners have experience in theater. The group will be working with Ervis Nallbani of “Dancing with the Stars” on directing, writing and choreographing the first several shows. A smaller stage will host comedy nights and local bands. Dance companies at local universities and acrobatic dancers have also been contacted.

Grant is also working with the MedCraft architects on exterior design that could benefit both operations.

He also met Sebastian McCall, another newcomer in the mall. McCall is the owner of Dragon Novelties, an anime and manga hobby shop that offers books and accessories from the popular genre. The two discussed ideas such as hosting cosplay events for anime enthusiasts.

Feest is pleased with the efforts of the city and mall manager Chris Powers to attract new and different users to the mall at a time when others are struggling.

Although, Meriden Mall has lost its three anchors, it filled one space with Boscov’s Department Store, and the former Macy’s with MedCraft. It also added two restaurants to its food court and a boutique, Classy Spark. Topaz Books and Art Gallery plans to open in the former Game Stop space in September, Powers said.

“That’s good summer activity,” Feest said. “We have to remember malls are changing. Our mall has been adapting and reusing space for different things.”

Feest has hopes for a turnaround.

“Coffee shops are showing interest and now you’re back to a traffic level that the chains are looking at and might come back,” Feest said.

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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