By: Susan Laughlin
Fans of CR Sparks, the beloved Bedford restaurant that closed in 2010, can rejoice. It has been reborn, in spirit, by restaurateur Chuck Rolecek.
Rolecek’s newest endeavor, CR’s The Restaurant, is located at the site of the former Bontá Bar and Restaurant in Hampton. Step inside and it becomes clear that it’s no coincidence that this incarnation shares quite a bit of DNA with the former CR Sparks.
The road to CR’s The Restaurant began in 2008, when Rolecek sold the successful Bedford restaurant with every intention of rebuilding a year later near Macy’s in Bedford. The new location would be better — offering improved parking and greater visibility. But the recession interrupted those plans, putting a fork in the road. Despite the ambitious plans, Rolecek saw the wisdom in not starting a new project while folks were tightening their belts. The doors finally closed in June of 2010 and the beautiful Sparks building was eventually torn down for a new Lexus dealership. Promises that were made to brides at the restaurant’s Event Center were consciously kept. Rolecek even helped each prospective bride find another location, sometimes throwing in cash for the new venue if necessary.
“I felt it was important to protect my reputation as well as the reputation of the brand,” he says.
After closing Sparks, Rolecek focused on his flagship restaurant, the Hanover Street Chophouse. But the dynamic restaurateur also had other aspirations. He divested himself of the Chophouse two years ago (selling it to general manager Steven Clutter,) and began to dabble in the political arena and talk radio. He hosted a radio show on WFEA called “The Good Life with Chuck Rolecek,” where he discussed lifestyle adventures for Baby Boomers, including dining out, travel, health and fitness, and entertainment.
As time marched on, Rolecek realized he missed working in the restaurant industry, interacting with wine reps, making daily decisions and creating a nice environment for dining. As if it were fated, Rolecek was told by his contacts at the Neimetz Design Group of Boston – who had created the interiors for CR Sparks and Bontá – that the Bontá building might be available. At the same time, Executive Chef Chris Veatch, a 24-year veteran of the industry who worked with Rolecek previously when they opened Sparks in 1994, was returning to New England after stints in Texas and North Carolina. Veatch was responsible for many of CR Sparks’ original signature dishes, including the cedar-planked salmon, the gargantuan lamb shank and the famous Sparks meatloaf.
Rolecek acted quickly and the restaurant, now dubbed CR’s The Restaurant, was again designed by the Neimetz Design Group in a mere 13 weeks. The bar was enlarged – adding THE RESTAURATEUR Bacon Wrapped Statler Breast, all natural chicken with a Roquefort stuffing, wrapped in smoked bacon and pan roasted. Please drink responsibly LiquorandWineOutlets.com • MARCH 2015 | 13 will continue to be tweaked for greater kitchen efficiencies, and customer preference.
“People just didn’t seem to get the concept of grits with shrimp, so it is going to be removed from the menu soon,” Veatch says.
In addition to bringing back customer favorites from CR Sparks, Rolecek deliberately built the wine list to include mostly flavorful California wines, but a few Italian selections add global flavors to the mix of more than 100 labels. A reserve list includes top names like Russian River Chardonnay from Paul Hobbs. One of his favorites is Lemelson Vineyards’ Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon (offering a spicy nose and a touch of fennel), and Annabella by Michael Pozzan Wines in Carneros, California (cherry notes backed with a touch of clove and star anise). Customers can choose from 25 wines by the glass, including a notable Sauvignon Blanc for as little as $8.
The bar drink menu offers a nice selection of creative martinis and cocktails, including Rolecek’s signature Old Fashioned. A separate menu is available at the bar for small-plate selections, including a lobster mac and cheese, a juicy burger, duck confit, and pulled pork sliders.
Under Rolecek’s guidance, CR’s is destined to shine. He is onsite most every day, ensuring the staff is putting to work the 50-plus hours of training they received on menu selections, wine pairings and proper service prior to opening. Attention to detail is his forté. You can see it everywhere from the decor where he replaced the glass panes in the light fixtures because they reflected the old decor, to how the food is presented, to acknowledging customers concerns. Both Veatch and Rolecek are new to the Seacoast and will have time this spring to explore local suppliers. Meanwhile, Rolecek is using purveyors and hospitality alliances established in the past for his beef and seafood sources.
“I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, so I opened the Chophouse,” he says. “However, I learned quickly that two restaurants don’t just mean two times the headaches, it’s more like two times plus.” Satisfied now to have just one restaurant, he says “As much as it’s an ego boost to own several restaurants, it’s difficult to be in all of them at one time. This is ideal for me now.”
The restaurant will host wine dinners as time goes on and offer special additions to the menus for holidays, including Easter and Mother’s Day.
“After the original excitement about the restaurant opening died down we realized it isn’t just ‘build it and they will come.’” Rolecek says. “We need to continually market ourselves with ads, radio, even billboards on I-95, not to mention produce a product with which the public is happy.”
CR’s is just off exit 13 on Route 101 (if you happen to miss that billboard,) but once you find this restaurant you won’t forget those two right turns.