Front of Harrison's demolished: Colony Grill owners say rebuild will be better

The front part of the old Harrison’s Hardware store was in bad shape and needed to come down, Colony Grill owners said, explaining that they plan to replace the downed part of the structure with one that is more sound and more attractive than what was there before.

Ken Martin, one of the owners of the Colony Grill, said he appreciates history and historic buildings. But the front part of the old Harrison’s building was in pretty bad shape, he said.

Last Wednesday heavy equipment rolled in and started lopping off the front of the building, which for years had been the front of the old hardware store, where a cashier rang up purchases and various household items lined the old wooden walls.

“There were a number of things going on,” Martin said. “The walls were pitching in, and the roof was in bad shape. It looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There wasn’t much we could do with it.”

The owners of the Colony Grill will rebuild the structure using basically the same footprint, and they say the building will look better than it has in a long time.

City Historian Richard Platt said he agrees with the restaurant owners that under the conditions removing the front of the building was the best thing they could have done.

“Of course, my first choice would have been to see the building renovated into a hardware store,” Platt  said. “But that didn’t happen in six years, so I have to be realistic.”

That was one of Martin’s points, that he and his partners are turning the building into a restaurant, not into a hardware store, and so there are additional codes and demands that have to be adhered to.

Harrison Hardware was founded in 1907, and Platt said the building as it had come to be known downtown probably dates back to the 1920s or 1930s. For many years it was the anchor store downtown, especially in the days before big businesses like Lowe’s and Home Depot moved to the area. It has been closed for six years, following a fire at the store and the former owner’s decision not to reopen.

The Colony Grill owners plan to incorporate some elements of the building’s history into the restaurant. They will reproduce a mural that had been on the outside of Harrison’s that could not be saved. Martin said other historic parts of the building will be displayed inside, too, including the old Harrison’s Hardware sign that had been mounted on the front of the building, and the scale used to weigh nails in the hardware department.

“We’re definitely doing the best we can, and we hope people will be pleased in the end,” Martin said.

Martin is pleased with an architectural rendering of the outside of the building that will stand at 36-38 Broad Street when the project is done. It will have a brick foundation, windowed front and green siding on top in a design consistent with the look of downtown.

“The restaurant will have the feel of what was there,” Martin said.

He didn’t say how much money the company is putting into renovating the building, but it’s “definitely seven figures,” he said.

The owners had hoped to open early in 2013, but they think that won’t happen until the spring because Hurricane Sandy slowed things down.

Ken Martin co-owns the restaurant with Paul Coniglio, Cody Lee and Chris Drury.

Atherton & Associates Commercial Properties purchased the 7,000-square-foot structure in 2009 and later announced it would become a Colony Grill.

This will be the fourth Colony Grill in Connecticut; other existing sites are located in Stamford, Avon and Fairfield.

The Colony Grill concept began in 1935 in an Irish neighborhood in post-Prohibition south Stamford. Since then, the “Colony” has become famous for what is now its only menu offering: a one-of-a-kind, one-size, thin-crust pizza — with or without its signature hot oil — served simply, amid classic American charm, restaurant owners said.

Colony Grill has been featured in such publications as Gourmet Magazine, Connecticut Magazine, and Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to America’s Best Local Eateries.

“We are extremely excited to be working toward opening a Colony Grill in Milford in the coming months,” said Chris Drury, a former longtime National Hockey League standout, as plans became known. “My partners and I love the history of the space and its proximity to a wide range of other great restaurants and retailers, public transportation, and the beautiful Milford harbor. We are hopeful Colony Grill can become a strong community partner not only in the vibrant downtown area but, by extension, throughout the entire city of Milford for many years to come.”