NEW LONDON — Frank Maratta, owner of the new City Dock Restaurant/Oyster Bar, donned his sunglasses and sat down at a two-top not far from the enormous dark blue shipping containers where customers were ordering food and drinks. It was Wednesday afternoon after the restaurant’s soft opening on Saturday.
“I feel like an olympic hurdle jumper — there were so many hurdles. It’s been three years of going through the process,” he said.
Back in 2018, Maratta began to talk the city about leasing space on Custom House Pier for a restaurant made up of portable shipping containers that could be hauled away in the event of a high level storm, a plan that complied with the requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By the end of 2018, the city council had unanimously approved Maratta’s lease for $2,300 a month for a 9,000-square-foot area on the pier.
He obtained a conditional license from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which initially rejected his plan in part because the restaurant was deemed a privatization of the pier for a non-water dependent use. To satisfy the department, Maratta agreed to maintain fenders, bumpers and ladders along the pier for use by recreational boaters.
Maratta then obtained a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, but ran into a snafu with the liquor license.
“We applied for a liquor license in July  and we were told we needed a restaurant liquor license, so we went on that information and in January we were told that the little word ‘permanent’ in the statute meant the restaurant has to be a permanent structure,” said Maratta, who is president of Restaurant Consultants, Inc., which owns The Pavilion in Old Lyme and Sunset Ribs in Waterford.
He applied for a liquor license as a “seasonal open air operator” and received the approval — effective date June 4, expiration date October 31.
“We’re the first license ever issued on the waterfront. We’re number 0000001,” he laughed.
Out on the pier behind him, the restaurant’s palm trees leaned away from the strong breeze from the Thames River while “Margaritaville” played over the sound system.
“Probably our biggest problem right now is trying to find help, just like any other restaurant,” he said. “We could probably use another 15 people.”
Maratta said he chose chef Paul Zenga, who worked in restaurants in East Greenwich, R.I., to develop the menu that includes soft tacos, a brisket grilled cheese with savory red pepper jam and a pulled pork sandwich with grilled pineapple slaw, along with a raw bar, fish and chips and fried seafood.
“It’s an exciting project. It’s a boater’s paradise out there because you can dock all around the pier. We have the ladders and the fenders so that boats can pull up,” Maratta said.
City Dock Restaurant/Oyster Bar, 1 City Pier, will be open seven days a week. Call (860) 574-9271 for more information or click on citydockrestaurant.com.