Hartford, the delivery-only multi-restaurant, closing temporarily so it can move and expand

Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

The multi-restaurant delivery-only “food hall” HartFood is leaving its original kitchen at Fiddleheads Cafe on Farmington Avenue Feb. 28 so it can move and expand its operations.

“We were taking up a lot of space, which can become a problem when it’s someone else’s kitchen,” says Ben Dubow, one of the partners in the Hospitality Collective group which created HartFood.

“Basically, we outgrew it. It became too much of a challenge for our host. So we said “Let’s take a break.”

To mark its move, and related hiatus, HartFood is offering a 28% discount on all orders through its final day in its current kitchen, Feb. 28.

“We are in talks with different folks, looking at different models” for the move, Dubow explains. “There will be some downtime” between leaving the Fiddleheads location and setting up at a new one, he says. “We have to make sure it’s the right fit.”

Self-described as “five restaurant concepts in one easy order,” HartFood offers multiple menus from a single website, which can be ordered and delivered through a choice of services including GrubHub, Dine-In Connecticut, UberEats, Doordash and Toast.

Hartfood opened just four months ago, and has already undergone major changes. Three of its original four restaurants — Birriadilla (serving variations on a ”a hybrid cross between a burrito, quesadilla and a birria taco”), the Southern-styled Mamma’s Hot Kitchen and Big West E (”Fair-inspired food all year long”) — lasted the whole time, joined by Packabowl and the kid-friend Squirt & Sprout menus.

“We’ve kept tweaking and adding,” Dubow says. “The birriadillas are “one of our most popular items.”

The collective sees HartFood as an ideal fit for craft breweries who are hard-pressed to follow state guidelines that require them to offer a “sit-down dining experience” if they want to serve alcohol during the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up in more than one location,” Dubow says.

One of the key concepts is efficiency. HartFood aspires to run a full kitchen in a small amount of space. But when multiple menus are involved, just storing the ingredients can take up room.

“Our model is to have a small footprint. From a kitchen perspective, we just like having a big menu.”

It’s also important to have a sustainable model that works once the pandemic has passed, Dubow says. The current transition, and the versatility of the concept, he says, “demonstrates the power of this model. We can change on a dime. We’re sold on this concept.”

Though success can be a relative concept during a pandemic, Dubow says HartFood has been increasingly popular every week, and is particularly busy on holidays.

The hiatus between closing and reopening means the next big food holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, will be missed, but the hiatus is just more proof of the viability of the HartFood concept, Dubow says. “If this were a brick-and-mortar restaurant, this would be much more difficult.”

HartFood is just one element of the Hospitality Collective, which holds special events, does consulting and assists with “restaurant concept development.” The seven members of the collective are all professionals in the food industry and all have other jobs. “This is a side project for all of us. It’s not as if we desperately need this income to keep going.” Dubow, for example, is a sales consultant for the restaurant services company Sysco, and used to be the executive chef at Bistro on Main and Blue Plate.

“We’re excited about where this is going. We designed a system that’s really efficient. We’re helping people. We all need to work together. We’re a collective. We want to support the whole industry.”

Christopher Arnott can be reached at carnott@courant.com.