A handicap-accessible ramp was all that stood between Orange and the grilled cheese and pizza offered by the Milford-based restaurant Million Snacks.
But without that ramp on the sidewalk outside the Firelite Shopping Center on Old Tavern Road, there's no getting in the door -- at least not for franchisee Mohammad Khan. Khan spent less than five minutes at Tuesday's Planning and Zoning commission meeting before being told by officials they couldn't allow the business to move ahead without a signature on his application indicating the presence of a ramp.
Khan had planned to address the commission for what he says he hoped was the final time. Instead, he walked out on the meeting before it started. With him gone, the meeting was short. No other business was on the table, and after deliberation, the commission voted to deny Million Snacks' request, citing an incomplete application.
It wasn't the first time Million Snacks has run into roadblocks with the town of Orange. Both sides concede the process has taken months.
"We're running out of time to meet our legal obligation to make this consideration," said chair Walter "Beau" Clark IV just before the vote. "Had he remained, we could have granted an extension. As I see it now, we have no choice but to deny his application. We have an incomplete site plan. He leaves us no choice."
The move potentially sends Million Snacks back to the drawing board, though Zoning Enforcement Officer Paul Dinice added fees could be waived if Khan chooses to re-apply.
"To get this accomplished, it would literally take a matter of minutes," said Dinice. "He just has to get it down on a plan and get the signature of the building inspector."
Khan says he can't understand why the lack of a handicap ramp is denying him access to the building.
"Go there and check if anybody else has that ramp," he told Patch. "Why would they deny this? Why would they ask us for a handicap ramp when they didn't ask any other business?"
The ramp has held him back for months, he says, just another delay in a process that has cost him eight months and more than $40,000.
"Every time we go with the hope that it will be done, we have another hurdle in the way," says Khan. "Every time we go, we have another complication … Every time they've let us do something, and the next thing, and the next thing, at the eleventh hour something different comes up."
Khan says he hasn't made up his mind whether he will continue the process with Planning and Zoning.
"I'm not a millionaire. Do you see John Gotti in my name? Donald Trump? No. I'm an average Joe."
Founded in 2009, Million Snacks is a trademark of Pretzel-Hut, Inc., according to their web site. While Million Snacks is based in Milford, a listing from the business directory ISCHH.org shows Pretzel-Hut is based in Branford and run by Million Snacks founders Allen Ciociola and Mudassar Durrani. The company's web site lists locations in Milford, Bridgeport, Trumbull and Meriden, as well as one location each in Arizona and Texas. An information packet on the site claims the company offers a lower start-up cost than franchises like McDonalds and Taco Bell, as low as $133,450. (A report from entrepreneur.com, meanwhile, lists costs as low as $109,050.)
As of late Tuesday night, this story is developing. Patch is continuing to follow this story and will provide further details soon.