MERIDEN — Serving in two cities and three locations, The Cabin restaurant was once dubbed the “Copacabana of Meriden.”
The restaurant venture began in 1935, when the Paguni family opened a restaurant in Middletown called The Rose Garden, which was later relocated and renamed. In a Record-Journal article from 1965, Sebastian Paguni, son of owner and founder Anthony Paguni, said the restaurant was a popular location during World War II, when it provided free lunch and dinner to members of the National Guard Unit before they were deployed to training.
In 1947, the family moved the restaurant from Middletown to Meriden. Anthony Paguni said the city had a larger population and the move was “more advantageous to their business.”
The Cabin Grille was located at 29 State St. and played host to family dinners and wedding parties until 1960, when a fire tore through two floors of the building.
“That fire all but wiped us out,” Sebastian Paguni said. “Getting the business going again afterward was worse than starting from nothing.”
According to archives from 1960, the fire that gutted the restaurant began in the kitchen and spread to the second floor banquet room. Two firefighters were injured fighting the blaze.
Although the building was not condemned, the Meriden Health Department found several violations and the business was placed under state seizure. Paguni decided to move forward with renovations despite talk of proposed urban redevelopment plans in the city.
“After three months of redecorating to meet fire regulations, as well as our own taste in style, our restaurant was open to the public once more,” said Sebastian Paguni.
In May 1965, urban redevelopment forced the family to close the State Street location. The restaurant moved to 103 Colony St. and the family said it was optimistic about the new location, considering that the business had “survived two floods, one fire and one urban redevelopment.”
After six months of renovations, The Cabin Restaurant opened on Colony Street and was hailed the “Copacabana of Meriden.” The lounge featured brick, teakwood and Japanese grass cloth walls and a 24-foot long curved bar with Danish chairs and coach lanterns. The banquet hall had a dance floor outfitted with old English-style doors that were meant to provide a “comfortable, family aura.”
In the 1980s, the restaurant received praise from prominent public figures, critics and area residents for its quality of food and service. This was in part due to Dave Cardona, who in 1975 at age 23 was named head chef. A native of Puerto Rico, he worked for three generations of the Paguni family during his time at the restaurant.
The restaurant experienced a series of floods and fires in the 1990s and early 2000s, which cost owners a significant amount in damages. The restaurant closed in 2004, but memories of the popular eatery still remain today.