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Local restaurateur has big plans for former Knuckleheads in Wallingford

By Rachel Wachman

Record-Journal staff 

WALLINGFORD — Driving down Center Street in downtown Wallingford one day, Favio Pillacela caught sight of an empty storefront for sale and knew instantly it would be a great place to open his next restaurant. He called his realtor and made an offer.

Now, with work underway refurbishing the inside of what will become Favio’s Trattoria at 80 Center St., owner and chef Pillacela looks forward to opening his fourth restaurant. He already runs Serafino’s Restaurant & Bar in Wallingford, Vespucci’s Restaurant in Cheshire, and Lido’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Meriden.

“The trattoria is going to be more of a neighborhood restaurant with seasonal, contemporary dishes,” Pillacela said. “There will be some high end wines. The food, like with all my restaurants, will be high quality with fresh ingredients, seasonal when possible.”

Pillacela, who has lived in Wallingford since moving from Ecuador in 1994, studied culinary arts at Gateway Community College in New Haven and then at the French Culinary Institute in New York. His restaurants feature Italian cuisine and aim to provide an upscale dining experience.

“I was born with food,” Pillacela said. “I started working in a restaurant when I was 14 in my home country of Ecuador. Then I came here when I was 16. I knew what I liked doing….Food brings me joy. If you want to do something, it’s all on you. You just have to work for it and desire it.”

The goal, according to Pillacela, is to own and operate a total of 10 restaurants. To get there, he hopes to acquire a new one every year. First, though, he has to finish work on the trattoria, where everything inside must be remodeled.

“We started work around a month and a half or two months ago, but I didn’t expect there would be so much to do,” Pillacela said. “We have to do everything from the floors, the walls, the plumbing, and the lighting. We’re doing everything, 100%.”

The trattoria will likely open towards the end of August, according to Pillacela, who said he does not want to rush the process and prefers to make sure the space fits his vision.

The location used to house Knuckleheads, a restaurant which moved to 9 N. Main St. in 2022. Now, with Favio’s opening on Center Street, Town Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni anticipates the trattoria will bring new life to the area.

“We seem to do better at North Main Street than we do at the bottom of Center Street, so this is terrific and it will encourage more foot traffic and bring vitality to that part of Center Street,” Cervoni said. “[This area] has been struggling for a few years, whether due to COVID-19 or otherwise. It’s terrific for downtown Wallingford.”

Lifelong Wallingford resident and Town Council Vice Chairman Thomas Laffin added that he hopes the new trattoria will foster positive downtown nighttime energy.

“I’m excited because that location has been a restaurant for as long as I can remember,” Laffin said. “I’m excited it will stay a restaurant, and it looks like it will be great.

Wallingford Center Inc. Executive Director Liz Davis said the trattoria will offer new variety to the downtown eating options.

“We’re excited because then we’ll have another place for Italian food, and it brings in a good, different eatery in this area,” Davis said.

While work continues on the restaurant space, Pillacela has a busy summer ahead of him.

Operating three restaurants and opening a fourth leaves him little time for himself.

However, he credits his staff and his family, with whom he works, in making this endeavor possible.

“I’m trying to train and get staff to know the work and help keep the business running ‒ they’re very important,” Pillacela said. “And I like working with my family. They’re on the same page as me. We have the same mindset about where we want to go and what we want to do.”

Looking to the future of the trattoria and his other establishments, Pillacela hopes to one day bring Serafino’s to downtown Wallingford or even a larger place like New Haven or Hartford, in addition to opening new locations.

“My goal is to have a big restaurant downtown,” Pillacela said. “But just to be here in Wallingford, which I consider my hometown, is a great thing. The trattoria is going to be small but it’s going to be good.”



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