State wants money back from burned down deli in West Hartford - WFSB 3 Connecticut

State wants money back from burned down deli in West Hartford

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WEST HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

A popular West Hartford restaurant had to close after a fire about one year ago, and when it reopened, the state gave the owners thousands of dollars in grant money to expand the establishment.

However, despite the reopening, the former Ruben's Deli has closed and now state officials are looking to get their money back from the owners of the now shutdown Thirty5.

During the early morning hours of July 10, 2012, a fire broke out in the back of Ruben's Deli on LaSalle Road. The cause of the fire is believed to be rags left on the job site that spontaneously combusted.

An entire area of the building had gutted after the fire.

The delicatessen had been closed in June 2012 for six weeks, to renovate the restaurant, according to its owner, Brian Hersh.

Hersh had planned to open the restaurant as the new Thirty5 Bar and Grille in August; however, the fire set the opening back two months.

Thirty5 Bar and Grille reopened in October, but as of July 2013, it is pretty much the only empty store front in West Hartford Center.

Town manager, Ron Van Winkle, told Eyewitness News there is a waiting list of businesses, who would love to be in that location. 

Many people were upset after the restaurant received $47,000 in grant money to expand.

"This kind of business that's giving a little hand up over another restaurant is not a good decision, and not a good competitive decision," Van Winkle said. "I think state has learned a little lesson here."

Van Winkle told Eyewitness News restaurants have a lot of turnover, but the Connecticut Department of Economic Development is standing by its program to help promote growth in small businesses.

According to Jim Watson of the Connecticut Department of Economic Development, 797 companies have been funded by the program, and more than $1 million in grant money has been given out. Watson added only four companies have failed. 

The grant was given to change the restaurant from Ruben's Deli, which was a breakfast and lunch spot, to an evening place called Thirty5 Bar and Grille. The new restaurant created five full-time jobs, and retained six.

But some, who talked to Eyewitness News, questioned whether the state has a chance at getting the money back.

"I think you would be hard pressed unless their legal contract indicated they would have to give it back without that in the contract," said Buzz Friedland of West Hartford. "You are whistling Dixie."

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