Nauti Dolphin signed a lease with Fairfield yesterday that permits them to operate a new eatery at The Levee.

The signing comes after an over two-month vetting process conducted by Fairfield that involved nearly a dozen local restaurants.

Angelo’s Pizza, a campus favorite since 2006, vacated the space at The Levee earlier this summer, even though their renewed lease agreement in 2011 would not expire for at least another year.

Angelo’s was a family business tied to Mike’s Pizza on 1560 Post Road. His restaurant and delivery business on campus specialized in pizza, bread bowl salads and special turnovers.

The owner, Angelo Mentis, sold Mike’s Pizza in 2006 shortly after he suffered a heart attack.

This November will mark the two-year anniversary of a stroke that also significantly affected Mentis’ health. Director of Conference and Event Management Matt Dinnan said school officials saw indicators that the business was struggling in early May.

Mentis could no longer put in the long hours his campus business needed and he began to rely on his son to run the operation.

“After it was evident that the quality of service, sustainability of the product and the business itself was in question, the university had to explore other options so we could continue to provide services to the community – not just to the students,” Dinnan said.

He also said that Angelo’s was financially slipping – missing payments to vendors, meaning not all menu items would be available – and that cleanliness may have been an issue, though there were no violations.

The Mentis family had discussions with Fairfield administrators before their lease was terminated but did not apply for another chance to operate at The Levee.

THE SEARCH

The search for a replacement began right around the Spring 2013 semester’s final exam period.

“This happened pretty quick, to be honest with you, because we weren’t looking for this to happen. It became evident that it had to happen,” Dinnan said.

No official student input was received in the vetting process.

Dinnan, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick and Business Manager for Administrative & Student Affairs Mike Tortora developed a request for proposal (RFP) document for local businesses to fill out and submit to Fairfield.

The RFP document outlines what Fairfield expects from a food vendor at The Levee: the type of community to be served, student needs, hours of operation, etc. Applicants for a lease also had to provide background information about their business including how many years it has been operating and tax returns from the last few years.

Dinnan stood by the scrutinizing process. “The last thing anybody wants is to bring in a vendor where they look really good and polished but it turns out there’s nothing behind them.”

Fairfield sent RFPs to nearly a dozen local businesses. Six to eight of them submitted the completed documents. Dinnan said he could not disclose a specific applicant list until the school’s lawyers sign the lease agreement within the coming week.

DOLPHIN DETAILS

Fairfield was looking for a vendor that could provide meals beyond pizza, cater events or even offer summer hours in the future. Nauti Dolphin will be open until midnight every day and, like Angelo’s, will deliver orders around campus during the school year.

“The staple items always go well,” Dinnan said, “The pizza is always going to go, the turnovers or something like that is going to go well – but can the vendor also do a little bit more than that?”

Fairfield also wanted to avoid a repeat of Mentis’ case. “You might ask a family business, ‘what happens if you get sick?’ and oftentimes it’s, ‘well, I don’t get sick.’ Well, you don’t know that.”

Nauti Dolphin’s co-owners, Greg Roberts and Scott Hartley, have been running their business together for 15 years. The pizza vendor’s named is derived from a boat named “Nauti Dolphin” that broke down at Captain’s Cove Marina in Bridgeport, Conn. In 1992, Nauti Dolphin opened in the nearby Black Rock neighborhood, then in 1998 at their Fairfield train station location.

Roberts said, “[We’re] both excited for a new challenge, a little unknown. It’s change. It’s growth. Being involved with new community.”

Unlike Angelo’s, Nauti Dolphin will accept credit cards in addition to StagBucks and cash. Purchase orders will also be available for clubs or organizations that want to open accounts and route their billing via the university budget.

“I think we’re going to be a big upgrade from what you had,” Roberts said, “We’re bringing our menu, but we’re also coming in with an open mind. … We’re brightening it up, we’re cleaning it up.”

THE NEW LEVEE

Nauti Dolphin’s selection is only part of a widespread upgrade slated for The Levee this year.

The Levee’s Program Coordinator, Bartholomew Kallgren, will be responsible for upgrading the Fairfield-run bar in concert with the venue improvements. Some goals include increasing the diversity of beer products and adopting a variety of wine more suited for faculty or staff patrons.

Construction crews have already begun dismantling The Levee’s interior façade. Painted drywall will replace the dark wood paneling from the window sills-up in order to brighten the place. The food counter will most likely be pushed further into the floor space by 2 ½ to 3 feet so that Roberts and Hartley can see more customers. Miscellaneous pieces of Fairfield history will continue to ornament the walls.

In reference to Roberts and Hartley, Dinnan said, “They’re like two college freshmen … they’re just excited about what’s going on at The Levee because we’re doing renovations as well. They’re excited about opening shop and really providing a better service.”

 

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