Outdoor dining helps Stamford restaurants, but location matters

STAMFORD – In just a few weeks, thanks to an ordinance passed last week, some downtown Stamford restaurants will once again enliven the cityscape with outdoor dining on sidewalks and streets.

One strip likely to see more foot traffic is Main Street near Columbus Park, said restaurateur Peter Valis. Valis owns Kouzina, a Greek tavern and bar, which he opened at 223 Main St. about nine months before the pandemic began. The summer scene is a “different attraction” because of outdoor dining, Valis said, with a sprawling patio between several restaurants offering hundreds of seats.

It has become vital to generating income while running a restaurant in Stamford, he said.

“Most people still want to eat out and dine out, with or without COVID,” Valis said. “It used to be a necessity because of COVID because we were just afraid of getting sick. But now, it’s just become part of the business. If you don’t have outdoor seating, it’s really hard to survive.”
Dining in parking lots and roadsides, a byproduct of the pandemic’s toll on local restaurants, is now permanent law in Stamford. Previously, the city only allowed dining on private patios and sidewalks, but the Board of Representatives approved new rules on March 6 that allow restaurants to continue expanding seating during warmer months, as they have done since June 2020 .
The “Pond Season,” as the ordinance calls it, will run from April 1 to November 1 each year.
Restaurants will pay annually for the permit. Connecticut restaurants have not paid outdoor dining fees since 2019, due to state-mandated expansions signed by Gov. Ned Lamont.
The annual fee is prorated based on the number of seats companies place in the “public right-of-way.” For companies with less than 20 seats, $250 is due this year; 21 to 45 seats carry a $500 fee; and businesses with more than 45 customers must pay $1,500. Annual fees increase by 20 percent in 2025 and 16.67 percent in 2027, adjusted for inflation.
Before COVID, restaurants paid based on the amount of square footage they occupied on the sidewalk. The new rules prevent businesses from having to hire an architect or engineer to come up with a plan, said Luke Buttenwieser of the Stamford Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.
“The flip side is that seating is really what’s tied to a restaurant’s revenue … you get more people in your restaurant, you’re going to get money in the public right,” Buttenwieser said. “But really the main reason with seating versus square footage is to eliminate the need to have an architectural survey plan.”
Perhaps the city’s most popular strip for outdoor dining has been Bedford Street. John Gazzola, owner of both Bedford Hall and Parlor Pizza & Pints, would say so in no uncertain terms.
“I would put Bedford Street as the main street in Stamford, especially when it comes to food,” Gazzola said. “I think it’s grown a lot since COVID and a lot of that has to do with the added outdoor dining.”
For other restaurants, however, the opportunities are more abundant.
Kotobuki, a Japanese restaurant at 457 Summer St., was one of the only restaurants that never closed in early 2020, said Bin Li, who has run the business with her husband, Masanori Sato, at the same location since 1985. .Remember a surge in delivery orders from apps like DoorDash and Grubhub.
Business flourished much more the following summer, however, when Kotobuki was able to expand outdoor dining to eight additional tables at neighboring non-participating stores.
“The summer months really help for sales. With restaurants, takeout profits are very low,” Li said. “In the summer, people drink sake and it really helps. Especially sitting outside, (you can) have a couple of bottles of sake in good weather.”
But neighboring storefronts have largely filled in in recent years, limiting Kotobuki to a small strip of sidewalk for outdoor dining. That leaves them with little more than one parking space to use, which Li said is too dangerous to be practical.

“People really speed here. For me, I don’t feel safe,” Li said of the restaurant’s summer street island.
Ultimately, the restaurant could comfortably fit two tables on the sidewalk, which Li said isn’t worth it. Instead, they’ll likely rely on takeaways; the loss of profits could make it impossible for the family to hire a second full-time waiter.
For now, the space is also limited to one block down on Lower Summer Street, where Brandon Cartagena runs Barcelona Wine Bar. The city is widening sidewalks, improving lighting and trees, and adding a bike lane and elevated crosswalk, all part of an effort to make the popular street more pedestrian-friendly.
Barcelona Wine Bar has a private patio for outdoor seating, plus 11 street tables over the past few years. But the yard is limited and the street is off-limits during construction, Cartagena said. Still, he said city officials have been communicative throughout the process.
“It definitely could have been better, but I haven’t run into the same problems that some of my peers seem to have,” Cartagena said.
City engineers discovered large utilities, including a gas line that Eversource had to work on, in the road late in the design process, said Frank Petise, chief of the city’s transportation, traffic and parking department. Stamford.
“Our hope is to finish this as soon as possible. We recognize the impacts this has on the restaurants, but I think at the end of the day, it will be a very big improvement for both the city and Lower Summer Street .” Buttenwieser said.