Town Joins Well-Known Restaurateur to Seek State Funding for Dock & Dine Revival

The location near the mouth of the Connecticut River was home to a restaurant for 70 years (CT Examiner)

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OLD SAYBROOK – A local restaurateur and town officials are hoping a state grant can bring new life to the iconic Dock & Dine location on the Connecticut River.

Jon Kodama and the Town of Old Saybrook are applying for $3.7 million from the Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant to re-establish a restaurant on the riverfront property, and to create a riverfront walkway that would extend through Gardiner’s Landing.

Kodama is known in the region for his Steak Loft and Go Fish restaurants in Mystic, and the waterfront restaurant Breakwater in Stonington.

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If the grant proposal is approved by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Old Saybrook would contribute $600,000 in matching funds for the project, while Kodama would contribute about $3.2 million. A decision on the grant is expected in December.

Dock & Dine was a fixture at the mouth of the Connecticut River, and the site was home to a restaurant for more than 70 years, until Dock & Dine was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and it hasn’t been open since.

Kodama, who has owned the property since 1987 and invested $1 million to renovate the restaurant after it was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, has been looking for opportunities to restore the Dock & Dine over the past decade, according to a press release from Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna.

Most recently, Kodama and chef Colt Taylor, of The Essex, sought approval to open a restaurant called Smoke on the Water at the site, but ran into opposition at the Zoning Commission. That application has now been withdrawn as Kodama and the town seek grant funding, according to Fortuna.

Fortuna told CT Examiner that he didn’t want to raise the public’s hopes too high given that the project still needs to be awarded the grant funds, but he said it was an opportunity to bring an “iconic” regional asset back to life with the “economic engine” of a year-round restaurant and improved public access to the riverfront.

“Over the last 11 years, whether I was in Hartford or Rocky Hill or New Haven or anywhere else, people would say, ‘What’s going on with the Dock & Dine?’” Fortuna said. “It’s beyond a regional asset, it’s an iconic asset because of where it’s located. To have public access at the Connecticut River delta – the view is just spectacular.”

Along with the restoration of the restaurant, the project would include building a large deck with picnic tables along the waterfront, and a new sidewalk connection that would allow someone to walk about a mile from Gardiner’s Landing to Fenwick on a sidewalk along the riverfront, Fortuna said.

Fortuna said the concept for the new restaurant is similar to one that received zoning approval several years ago, but is smaller than those earlier plans. Those plans were compliant with flood zone requirements, and the town and Kodama are optimistic zoning would approve a smaller version of a restaurant concept they approved in the past.

According to the release, the development would create 50-75 construction jobs and 60-80 year-round restaurant jobs, with up to 120 restaurant jobs in the summer months.

This is the second round of Communities Challenge Grant awards. The grant program is aimed at funding public-private partnerships with grants of $1 million to $10 million, with half of the funds intended for projects in distressed municipalities. 

Gov. Ned Lamont said DECD is expected to award up to $100 million in these grants over the next several years when he announced the first round of awards, which provided $45 million in funding to 12 projects.

“Unfortunately, if we don’t get it, we could be back to square one or have to wait until the next round – if there is another round of Community Challenge Grants,” Fortuna said.