Westport Pancake House flips owners
Published 5:43 pm, Tuesday, January 18, 2011
They may have acquired the Westport Pancake House & Restaurant only last month, but don't call owners Susan and Ray Zera novices.
Susan worked at the restaurant for about 17 years before taking over in December, and she's the beneficiary of a strong sense of family dedication from all who work at the restaurant.
The Zeras employ two of their children, and a third pitches in on occasion. And Chelsea Fuller, the restaurant's 19-year-old hostess and server, grew up with the family. George Bradley, who began working at the pancake house in 1994, is also considered a member of the clan. And although Ray manages a bank full time, he helps out on weekends, usually at the register.
Customers can tell there is a special bond among the staff. While the pancake house is known for its good food and reasonable prices, patrons say it's the customer service that separates the restaurant from the stack.
Anna Marie Guillory, enjoying lunch with her son on Friday, said she drives in from Stratford because she loves the atmosphere.
"The people that work here are exceptional. These are friendly people," she said.
Guillory said she'd rather spend the gas to come to the Westport Pancake House & Restaurant, which was an International House of Pancakes until December 2005, than frequent the IHOP in Milford.
"Other places serve you and don't ask how you are," she said. "I think [coming here] is worth the trip."
It was always Susan's dream to own her own restaurant. Her mother, Regina, came to the United States at age 30 and "her first job was at an IHOP," Zeras said. Seeing that what was good for her mother would likely also be good for her, Susan began her association with IHOP a month after her second child, Nikki, now 17, was born.
"I started working here because they were very flexible with the hours and it enabled me to be home with my kids when I needed to be," Susan said.
If all goes well, Susan's eldest daughter, Noelle, might take over one day. She's a freshman at Housatonic Community College and is thinking about majoring in business management.
"My mom's slowly teaching me all the books," said Noelle, who added that her mother is preparing her to open the restaurant on any given day on her own. She doesn't mind.
Noelle said it means a lot to her mother to have her own restaurant, "and I want to help her as much as I can so I feel like going to school for business or culinary would be my best bet."
"Me and my brother and sister have been running around this place since we were so little. It's been sort of like a second home," she said.
The Westport Pancake House & Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, but Susan plans to include dinner by this spring. Anything on the menu is available at any time. Breakfast specials start at 6:30 a.m. and lunch specials start at 11:30 a.m., wrapping up at 3 p.m. Susan said her customers love that the Westport Pancake House & Restaurant serves eggs Benedict all the time, because many other establishments only serve the dish on weekends.
Susan said she loves what she's doing because she wanted to own a restaurant all her life and "I want to be able to provide the [work] flexibility to people working for me that I have had."
Before she and her husband acquired the business -- the previous owner's lease was up and she didn't want to renew it -- the couple called a family meeting. Everyone was all for it.
"I think if my kids were not on board, I would have definitely thought twice about it," Susan said.
The Zeras became the new owners on Dec. 1. They've lowered the price of a handful of offerings, and added some items to the menu, such as a corned beef Reuben, a western BBQ burger, a turkey avocado burger and a soup made on premises.
While Susan plans to further add to the menu, and the decor may change, she said the name will remain the same. She said the international flags above customers' heads will be removed. Also, in addition to free wi-fi, already in place, the owner plans to add flat screen TVs.
There was no loss of personnel when ownership changed.
"I like working with the current owner because it is like a family business. Everyone's so close," Bradley said.
He said Susan "brings new ideas and new energy" to the restaurant.
While everyone speaks highly of Susan, she is equally complimentary of her waitstaff. "We have an incredible, incredible waitstaff," she said. "Smiling and friendly and they will do whatever it takes to make the customers happy."
But with so many family members living and working together, does anyone ever get sick of each other?
"I'd rather work with my family than work with other people," Noelle said.
The Westport Pancake House & Restaurant, at 520 Post Road E., can be reached at 203-454-9709.