A native son who earned his restaurant management stripes as a college student in Florida, Fairfielder Mike Constand has put a tough incident behind him to lead operations at one of the hottest new nightlife spots in town.
Keeping watch on the crowd, shaking a hand or two and monitoring bartender activities, Constand, 42, leaned on the long bar at Nuvo, 238 Post Road, on a recent busy Tuesday night and spoke about the fledgling club he oversees and the path that brought him to its door.
Constand’s roots were simple, Fairfield-based and not oriented at all to his career choice. His dad, Bill, was a building manager for Scinto Development, while mom Cheryl ran Trinity Nursery in Southport. He was educated at North Stratfield Elementary and Fairfield Woods Middle School, and graduated from Andrew Warde High School in 1987.
It was his choice of colleges – leastways the location – that was the earliest influencer. “I went to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance, in 1992,” he said. “FAU was in an area very heavily dominated by restaurants and bars.”
To put change in his pocket, he began working at Boston’s on the Beach, a restaurant in nearby Del Ray. “I was a clam shucker freshman year,” he said. “Then I started working all over southern Florida, serving as everything from bartender and doorman to waiter.”
With a developing interest in one day running his own place, he decided, “You have to get this type of experience, from all angles, to be in this business.”
After graduating, he returned to Fairfield, but pursued insurance, as a partner/broker, for Corporate Benefit Enterprises in Bridgeport. At the same time, though, he bartended, over a 10-year period. He worked at Fairfield restaurants Europa (now Bangalore Indian restaurant) and La Cucina (now Sweet Basil), and several places in South Norwalk, like Liquid and Rain.
Around 2003, Constand approached the owners of Rooster’s restaurant, on the Post Road in downtown Fairfield, and proposed that he help them solidify their business by serving as a majority owner and manager. “It was a three-year buyout deal wherein I basically paid off their debts,” he said. “In 2005, I assumed full ownership and sold my insurance business to complete the three-year deal.”
About that period, Constand said, “It was a big gamble to move from a cushy insurance job to a risky restaurant/bar business, but I thought the spot, which was a legend in town as Tommy’s for about 20 years, was ideal. I used to sit in there dreaming of one day owning the space. It was a lifelong dream fulfilled when I eventually did.”
The former owners had already changed the name from Rooster’s to Bravo, a name honoring Peter Bravo, a cop that helped them run out a former owner. “They were so grateful for his help,” said Constand.
New captain Constand put $100,000 into renovations, with a goal of bringing a fun singles environment to Fairfield. “I always felt the town didn’t have any action,” he said. “I wanted to inject a SoNo – New Haven atmosphere, which I did. For three years, on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we were full to the gills with singles, while also serving a family crowd on weekdays and Sundays.”
He said Bravo became very popular quickly, with one of his strongest segments being the college crowd. “I had a college night on Tuesdays,” he said. “We had huge traffic and I was doing my diligence in terms of keeping things safe and fun. But then, on October 22, 2009, on one of these college nights, the Fairfield police and State of Connecticut Liquor Board conducted a raid and, of 200-plus people in the bar, half were caught with fake I.D.’s.”
Constand defends to this day that his door staff had done everything possible to check for underage patrons. “We scanned every I.D. with a video system that allows for comparing the I.D. to the person’s face,” he said.
“I was faced with some tough choices,” Constand reflected. “Do I continue to make a go of it or put it up for sale and check out. I did the latter, completing the sale February 15, 2010, to management that has since reopened the place as Old Post Tavern.”
Part of Constand’s sale agreement stipulated that he turn in his liquor permit, and he was not allowed to own another place for at least one year.
During the post-Bravo period, Constand was approached by Ron Gavern, who asked him to help design and manage his new nightclub Nuvo, formerly Lupita’s Mexican restaurant.
“Drawing on all my club experience, I developed a vision for a place that would appeal to a 21-35 crowd, with dancing and cocktails – an alternative to the basic dive bar.”
Nuvo opened in June 2010, starting with a loyal following from the Bravo days and steadily building on it.
Now, Nuvo showcases different local deejays Tuesday through Saturday, who spin top-40 tunes that fill the loungy space, which features chic pinspots, lighting effects and a New York feel.
“I want to provide a fun, safe place and alternative entertainment for people to enjoy themselves,” Constand said. “I’m committed to Fairfield and hopefully the town is committed to me.”