If Elvis Kandic was looking to get his feet wet, he’s soaked.
Kandic reopened Nello’s under his new ownership in July, four months after he saw an ad on Craigslist for a “family-owned restaurant.”
It was a quick turnaround, and one in which Kandic, 27, says he never really got the history behind the longtime Milford eatery.
But that’s not to say others have not since imparted a lesson or two.
“First couple of weeks people were coming in, saying, ‘Nello did it this way, Nello did it that way,’” says Kandic, referring to the revered former owner, Nello Piselli, who is expected to return to Milford later this month after a trip to Italy.
“But every chef has (his or her) own touch to things; no two chefs
are the same.”
More menu options
Kandic who comes from Mario the Baker in Bridgeport, says he’s cut three or four of Nello’s original dishes but added about 20 new items. He says the move so far has been met with “mixed feelings,” though many are saying the food is fresher.
Traditional offerings such as shrimp scampi, eggplant Parmesan and chicken francese now compliment new menu options such as fried calamari, hot and cold antipasto and veal balsamico.
Then there are the entrée specials – about three or four every other night that sometimes get their start as improvised dishes made for staff.
“You put things together for yourselves, you sit there and you’re eating it and you say it’s great why not offer it to customers,” Kandic says. One such entrée special last week was a dish that comprised of jumbo shrimp, dry sea scallops, with garlic broccoli rabe in a cherry wine sauce.
But if the menu and specials both fail to entice, Kandic says he’ll recreate an old Nello’s favorite, so long as a diner can recount the ingredients.
A family affair
Kandic says he was 13 when he started making pizza boxes behind the counter at Mario the Baker, an Italian restaurant his great-great uncle Mario opened in Bridgeport more than 50 years ago.
As a boy, Kandic looked on as cousins and uncles took and prepared orders. One of those uncles, Dino, who was most recently the head chef at an Italian joint in Kensington, Conn., is now the top cook at Nello’s.
In total, “within the family” there are about 25-30 restaurants, including Vincent’s and Amici’s, both in Shelton, Kandic says.
In addition to what he’s learned on the job, Kandic has a degree in marketing and advertising from Southern Connecticut State University. He was a server and floor manager at Mario the Baker before taking the helm at Nello’s.
“It’s tough,” Kandic says of working with relatives. “You have your good days, you have your bad days, but in the end you’re still family.”