Success Stories: Hartford Restaurant Group
The Hartford Restaurant Group parnters [l-r]: Mike Hamlin, Wil Quijano, Ken McAVoy and Phil Barnett.
Over the last 10 years, Connecticut gourmands who hanker for a quality family-style nosh have fallen hard for the Wood-n-Tap Bar & Grill, now thriving in seven locations: Hartford, Rocky Hill, Farmington, Vernon, Southington, Orange and Wallingford. Whether you’re out for a quick bite or multicourse meal, you’re bound to find something that entices—and satisfies—on a menu that incorporates everything from California Cobb salad, spinach & artichoke pizza and Wagyu (American Kobe) burgers to bourbon sirloin steak and Santa Fe chicken.
There’s a “Little Tapster” menu for kids, weekday “Tappy Hours” offering six apps for $6 each, and even a menu of “Glut’n Friendly” (if not entirely gluten-free) selections. And oh! those Bar Bites: four to eight perfectly composed miniburgers with your choice among bison, free-range chicken and turkey, and Black Angus beef. They may not be, as claimed, “world-famous,” but they are world-class. “They’ve been our claim to fame from day one,” says Phil Barnett, one of the gang of four behind the Wood-n-Tap franchise, collectively known as the Hartford Restaurant Group (HRG). “At the time, we didn’t know of anyone else around here who served them.” Now that’s changed, although all the copycat restaurants call them “sliders.”
HRG originally organized in the mid-’90s, spearheaded by Barnett and Wil Quijano, who attended Central Connecticut State University together in New Britain. Partner No. 3, Mike Hamlin, was Barnett’s landlord, who lured No. 4, Kenny McAvoy, away from On the Border restaurant in Orange. They all brought different skills to the table: Hamlin’s areas of expertise were real estate, construction and design; Barnett’s background had been in marketing; while McAvoy and Quijano were drawn to daily management.
“Between the four of us we figured we had the landscape covered,” Barnett says. “Our goal was to create a pub-restaurant with an ‘American’ feel, great food and great drinks in a comfortable atmosphere. That’s where our slogan ‘Come as you are’ came from.” They opened Wood-n-Tap’s flagship in Hartford in 2002, expanding steadily into new locations up to the latest opening in Wallingford last year.
Along the way, HRG has partnered with other local entrepreneurs to open two additional Hartford-area restaurants, the city’s eclectic Mexican Agave Grill (in 2004) and Southington’s high-energy, family-friendly sports bar, TD Homer’s Grill (in 2009). The group has also developed a number of fundraising initiatives based at the various Wood-n-Tap locations, including the annual “Munch Madness”—a Bar Bite eating contest that raises money for Andover’s Channel 3 Kids Camp—and “FanTapsy Football,” which benefits the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Farmington. Taken together with funds the group has given to countless other community organizations, including Guilford’s Roses for Autism, Avon’s Talcott Mountain Science Center and Hartford’s Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, these campaigns have resulted, to date, in roughly $300,000 (and counting) donated to Connecticut nonprofits. To Barnett, raised in a tight-knit, religious family, “This is where our efforts should be.”