The secret recipe for Colony Grill pizza has not changed since pizza was added to the menu in 1941 and now the owners have brought their pies to Avon.
Nestled in the former 99 Restaurant building in Nod Brook Mall, the new Avon restaurant – Colony’s third location in the state – has had many customers since it opened March 23 despite little advertising about coming to town, Ed Tessier, one of the Avon location owners.
The first Colony Grill opened as a tavern in an Irish neighborhood — known as a colony — in Stamford in 1935. It used to have a typical lunch menu and pizza was added six years later. The “grill” portion of the business name still stuck when pizza became the focus. There is another in Fairfield, which opened in 2010.
“We picked the location of Avon because it is very similar demographically to the Fairfield location,” Tessier, of Fairfield, said. The family’s realtor is from Avon
The food menu is simple – 12-inch pizzas, salad and ice cream. The thin crust is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, topped lightly with even proportions of sauce and cheese. Pizza toppings offered include sausage, meatball, pepperoni, mushrooms, sweet peppers, onions, bacon, cherry peppers, stinger peppers, hot oil and anchovies and cost $1.50 per add-on. The hot oil pizza is the restaurant’s signature.
Longtime Stamford resident Gary James – whose parents, Carol and Gene Bohannan purchased the Stamford restaurant in 1962 – served pizza at his first bar, Dry Dock Restaurant in Norwalk, which he opened when he was 21, as well as Gary’s Café in Bethel, which he opened at age 32. Both had a full menu, and so did Colony Grill, which used to serve lunch, followed by pizza at 4 p.m. While lunch business was slow, pizza sales soared, so the family transitioned to just pizza when James came on board in the 1980s.
The pizzas come in one size – you can’t order by the slice – and take 30 to 35 minutes to make. Fresh dough is made daily. The restaurant has had the same food distributors since it opened, so a pizza in Avon tastes the same as in Stamford or Fairfield. A plain pizza is $10 and a gluten-free one is $13.50.
James himself has celiac disease and said he searched long and wide for the right crust. The restaurant also carries Red Bridge, a gluten-free beer in its state-of-the-art bar, complete with frosted rails at the counter to cool customers’ beverages – a first for the franchise.
Beer is only served on draft. The Avon location is one of three establishments in the country to have a German computerized draft system that streams beer from kegs in a refrigerated room to the tap at the push of a button, James said. The others are East Side Restaurant – a German place in New Britain – and two bars in Las Vegas, he said.
“Since I’m doing all draft, I wanted to find the best system I could possibly buy.” James said.
Liquor is served chilled at 4 degrees, according to James.
The restaurant remains connected to its Irish roots and its logo is a nameless leprechaun. Colony Grill may have missed Saint Patrick’s Day in Avon, but the restaurant has scheduled its own for April 21 from noon to 1 a.m. There will be giveaways.
“104.1 is doing a live broadcast from 4 to 6 and we’re going to have corned beef and cabbage pizzas,” James said.
Chris Drury, who co-owns the Fairfied restaurant and is the former captain of the New York Rangers hockey team, will visit the Avon site within the next couple of weeks to sign autographs.
The space is more open than the 99 layout was, making the main room appear larger. There is also a party room, with a bar inside, that can be reserved at no charge.
While almost half the restaurant is bar, James and Tessier said that the business is meant to have a family environment. There is a kid’s corner on the opposite side with chalkboard walls for kids to draw on. James said that he plans to bring in magicians, balloon artists and face painters on Saturdays for a family day.
There is also a lounge area with couches and a big screen television for watching sports. In addition to the occasional shamrock, the restaurant décor is local, with pictures of Farmington Valley people like area police officers and war veterans. Toward the front of the restaurant, there is a memorial tribute to his parents and Bob Oneglia, who was originally meant to be one of the owners of the Avon restaurant. His kids, Kara and Chris carry on his legacy as co-owners.
Community is as important as family to James. All Colony Grill T-shirts and glasses sold will benefit charities year-round.
“Our first charity’s going to be breast cancer because that’s what my mom died from,” James said.
Colony Grill is also helping with the Avon Road Race in May. The restaurant plans to donate 150 T-shirts and free pizzas to the runners. James hopes to do a fundraiser for the Avon Volunteer Fire Department, possibly Tip-a-Fireman.
“This business has been very good to me and I’m trying to give back,” James said.
Regular restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday to Sunday. Colony Grill is located at 315 West Main St. where 99 Restaurant used to be. For more information contact the Avon restaurant at 860-678-0114 or visit the franchise’s website at colonygrill.com.