A soon-to-be married couple, both natives, are celebrating their first venture into both the business world and restaurant industry with their less than a year old Bar 140, located downtown at 140 Center Street in Shelton.
"I inquired about the place, I had always noticed it for a while, and the idea to do what we've done with it seemed like a good first try at a business," said Joe Ballaro, who co-owns Bar 140 with his fiance Tiffany Negreiro.
The inspiration for the bar came from their friends' growing bordeom with driving to New Haven and desire for a more local spot similar to that city's artistic hangouts.
"There are more art and culture bars in New Haven," Ballaro said. "Many of our patrons are musicians and artists, and there wasn't a venue for them in Shelton, even though we have a lot of bars downtown."
Still, Negreiro said Bar 140 draws a pretty diverse crowd.
"Earlier on we get a dinner crowd with families and older couples. By 10 p.m. it usually starts to fill up with people 35 and under," she said.
The walls of the cozy bar are decked with artwork from Shelton artists, including one its employees, Melissa Giaquinto. A touch screen jukebox plays by the bar, while in the corner of another room sits an antique piano for impromptu performances.
"The last thing I wanna do is paint the walls black and play constant punk rock music and hope there are enough kids around here that are into that scene," Ballaro said. "The casual atmosphere we've tried our best to create keeps regulars of all ages coming back every week."
In keeping with their New Haven-style vision, all the furniture in Bar 140 (except for the bar stools) is from Richter's, one of New Haven's oldest bars that closed in June 2011 then re-opened under new management months later.
"People come in all the time and say, 'This place makes me feel like I'm back at Richter's again!' So to know that they're comfortable is one of the best things we've accomplished for our customers," Negreiro said.
As for the food, Ballaro said the menu is "small but good. We use only fresh quality food and everything is made in-house." Negreiro added that although the kitchen is "tiny," their menu is "focused," and they stand behind everything they serve.
"Most of the menu is based on my ideas and then she tweaks them. And a lot of it is accidental, like our sauces and marinades were made by trial and...really no errors so far," Ballaro said.
Adding to their responsibilities, both owners do most, if not all of the cooking. Ballaro, who says he's always enjoyed cooking as a hobby, attended Johnson & Wales culinary school but admits he learned more from actually working in restaurants. Negreiro said she handles more of the business work, but has picked up a lot of cooking influence from her Korean mother and Portuguese father, which she injects into Bar 140's recipes.
Ballaro said one of the menu's bestsellers is the Belgian Frites -- double-dipped potato frites, hand-cut fresh daily, with eight unique dipping sauce options that he describes as the perfect bar snack.
Negreiro said one of her favorite menu items is the tacos: beef, chicken or mushroom on a flour tortilla with cheese, pico de gallo, avocado and cajun aioli.
As for plans going forward, Ballaro said they "kinda take it day by day. We evaluate what's going on as it happens and improve what we can. It's so much stuff that this is like building an antique car -- you'll never be done."
They are, however, currently sprucing up the downstairs rooms which have been used for storage and are hoping to add more craft beer draft lines in addition to the six they already have. They also stock 27 different craft bottle beers and 10 standard bottle beers.
Bar 140 is open Tuesday - Thursday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., with an extended closing hour of 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Not open Mondays or Sundays. Check out their Facebook page for announcements about specials and events!