August 12, 2014 10:40AM
By ELLYN SANTIAGO
Sun Staff Writer
NOANK — Lobster lovers have waited up to two hours for a seat at Ford’s Lobsters, owner Kristian Nyman said, though the wait could hardly be called tedious. Diners can enjoy a seat in one of the many colorful Adirondack chairs on a slope overlooking Fishers Island Sound as they wait for a table.
“Yeah, not such a bad place to have to wait,” Nyman said late Wednesday morning, his restaurant parking lot already filling up.
But, according to Nyman, at least two Noank neighbors don’t want to see restaurant-goers on his lawn, which includes a view of Ram Island: “There are two neighbors that don’t like it,” he said, declining to identify them.
Nyman said he received a cease-and-desist order last Saturday from Noank Fire District Zoning Enforcement Officer William Mulholland. The order, which he received via registered mail, demands the 65-seat restaurant business stop operating within 10 days — by Tuesday, Aug. 12.
“We were warned that this was coming all summer,” he said. “We’ve been waiting. And Saturday, it came.”
“He’s a very nice guy, but he was being pushed,” Nyman said of Mulholland. “Now it’s in my lawyer’s hands.”
For more than a week, a reporter attempted on numerous occasions to find any information from the fire district’s zoning office and commission on the status of its action against Ford’s. While the district’s business office operates on a very limited, part-time basis, meeting minutes and agendas could not be acquired as of press time. With Mulholland’s office hours limited to two hours a week and with no contact information beyond the district’s telephone number, The Sun was unable to reach him at all.
Zoning Commission Chairman Peter DeBiasi responded to requests for information on zoning public records but said that Mulholland was on vacation until next week and he was unable to locate the order in the absence of the zoning officer. “When he does return I will locate it,” DiBiasi said in an email Wednesday.
For decades, the tiny lobster shack, situated on a .79-acre site on Riverview Avenue, was a just a shop where one could purchase lobsters.
Nyman, 42, who began working at Ford’s when he was a teenager gassing up boats and tying off lines, bought the business in 2005. And while he had no immediate great expectations, he wanted to give an eatery a go. He started off with a hot dog stand, then a hot dog cart, then a cart with a grill.
Meanwhile, he began work on converting the old lobster barn and ultimately turned it into a zoning-approved 34-seat seafood restaurant outside under beach umbrellas.
Nyman, who spent some time as a cook, worked out a menu with his other cooks and now, after a determined but rough start, a few tropical storms, a hurricane, and a crummy economy, the business has taken off and has earned quite a following, including coveted high marks from travel websites including TripAdvisor, where it earned a near-perfect grade.
“I think it’s pretty good as it is. We don’t advertise. It started off just local and now, we’ve been found,” Nyman said as he sat outside his restaurant multitasking: speaking with a reporter while conducting restaurant business. “It’s been good. Really good. And now this problem.”
Smooth sailing at first
Nyman said when he first applied for all the requisite permits, he had no problems, even though the location is what’s described as a “nonconforming use.”
“It’s not commercial,” Nyman said about the site’s zoning designation. “But we got the OK for the cart and for 34 seats. But the business has grown over the past few years. We have more seats. And we’re not alone. Plenty of other businesses (in Noank) are over their allotment of chairs. They are calling even my lawn chairs ‘seating,’” he said, pointing to the Adirondack chairs perched on his property abutting the restaurant site. The strip of land where the Adirondack chairs are placed is used for boat storage in the off-season.
Patrons who sit in the lawn chairs are not served any food or beverages while they wait for seats at the restaurant, he said.
“This is what it is: two neighbors don’t like it. They just don’t like it and they pushed this,” Nyman said.
It was not immediately clear what Nyman planned to do about the cease-and-desist order: “My lawyer will handle it.”