A longtime Windsor Locks favorite reopened with new ownership, a new name and a new look Thursday.
But the Gathering Ground isn’t completely different from its predecessor. The restaurant shares the same location and atmosphere of the departed Donut Kettle. Owner Angelo D’Aleo invested more than $100,000 in remodeling the restaurant on Spring Street. The changes to the inside of the building and the exterior of the plaza where the restaurant is located took about 10 weeks.
“The demolition started on New Year’s Day,” he said.
D’Aleo has partnered with the owner and operator of the Dancin’ Dogs food truck on Route 75, Tom Kupec, on the new venture. Kupec will cook at the Gathering Ground and manage day-to-day operations.
The only things remaining from the Donut Kettle are the grill and the friendly atmosphere. Everything else, from the chairs, booths and counters to the wiring, walls and layout, has changed.
The new interior gives the restaurant a fresh appearance; the high-definition TVs mounted on the walls are another mark of modernization. D’Aleo said the menu is similar but not completely the same and portions will be somewhat larger.
The restaurant was busy around noon Thursday. D’Aleo said more than 200 customers had already come through the doors, including many Donut Kettle regulars and former Donut Kettle owner Cheryl Wadsworth.
Wadsworth owned the Donut Kettle for more than 20 years until it closed in late 2011. She stopped by Thursday morning to see the new look of her old business, eat breakfast and wish the new crew, 12 employees in all, good luck.
“It was a real comfort for me,” D’Aleo said.
Many of the Donut Kettle’s former patrons hadn’t found a new place to meet, eat and commiserate, D’Aleo said. He hopes to bring back the convivial atmosphere of the old restaurant.
Many of the Gathering Ground’s visitors on Thursday were regulars at the Donut Kettle, including a table of three holding Larry and Judy Welch, of Windsor Locks, and Dick Alin, of Cheshire.
“We’re old timers,” Judy Welch said. “We couldn’t wait to see it open.”
Larry Welch said he was happy with the new look and happy to be back at the familiar meeting place. Alin shared in the couple’s positive opinions as the three waited for their meals.
“[D’Aleo] did a nice job,” Judy Welch said. “If the food’s good, it’s perfect.”
D’Aleo’s wife Charlotte thought up the restaurant’s new name. It reflects the attitude he wants to foster at the restaurant. More than just a place to eat, the Gathering Ground is a place where people get to know each other and are on a first-name basis. The regulars become “like family,” he said.
D’Aleo originally became fond of the Donut Kettle as he met with his friend Fred Paneccasio at the restaurant for many years. Paneccasio passed away in January 2011. Part of D’Aleo’s inspiration for reopening the restaurant came from the good times he had there with his friend.
D’Aleo owns the entire plaza on Spring Street where the Gathering Ground is located. He moved to Windsor Locks from New York in 1972.
The Gathering Ground, located at 482 Spring Street, is open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week. It offers catering and is available for private events after 2 p.m. Its official grand opening happens on Saturday, March 17.