Can Tiin No More

Can Tiin
Can Tiin closes on Fairfield Avenue.

Can Tiin, a French Vietnamese bistro on Fairfield Avenue, has closed, marking another recent casualty of the Bijou Square redevelopment Downtown. The Bijou Theatre and Two Boots Restaurant are also recent closures although a new restaurant is preparing to fill the Two Boots space shortly.

Pronounced Can-Teen, a sign alerts customers of its closure. Several restaurants have come and gone in the area the past several years. Developer Phil Kuchma has managed to attract new restaurant operators following closures. He’s had success with the housing component of the project luring young professionals Downtown attracted by the favorable rental prices than lower Fairfield County.

More on this from CT Post Assistant Business Editor Keila Torres Ocasio here.

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21 comments

  1. My initial reaction: Damn it. Just plain damn it.

    I never quite understood Can Tiin’s concept, but I admired it. Mostly, I admired the excellent and high-quality rehab of the space. But Can Tiin never felt comfortable to me, neither in menu nor in price. It felt like an invader that parachuted in, not like a Bridgeport place. Not even like a high-end inventive Bridgeport place. All the same, I will miss it.

    Lennie and Jeff’s recent commentaries about downtown come to mind. I advise going back to review them, as I shall do.

  2. With the closing of the Bijou Theatre, this is not a surprise. Downtown Bridgeport seemed to come alive in the last couple of years but the trend is negative again. The Ganim administration does not have a clue nor do they seem to care. The only thing they seem to care about is filling City Hall and the Annex building with as many patronage jobs as possible. Sad!

  3. It seems most of the businesses that target location in Bridgeport’s downtown do so without doing much market research/homework or even a well-developed business plan. And most of these businesses are grossly undercapitalized.

    Perhaps the area universities, especially UB, which has a very real interest in the success of Bridgeport and its downtown, can be enlisted to do some market research on behalf of the city toward properly identifying potential businesses that might do well in the short- and longer-term in our downtown.

    Also; in the above context, sources of affordable capital and business expertise that can be tapped to create and sustain downtown development might be researched and accessed through the universities and their contacts.

    To use Can Tiin as an example: With two highly successful (authentic) Vietnamese restaurants only blocks away off of Park Avenue, what would the allure of “knock-off” (French) Vietnamese food be for potential customers? And who might those customers be in the first place? Was any research done? Any marketing plan? Any backup plans to create additional income streams per the anticipation of contingencies? For any given business to do well in the downtown, it must be located in the context of other businesses that provide sustaining synergies. There isn’t a lot of that evident in the manner in which businesses appear downtown. Businesses don’t seem to be locating downtown in the context of any overall plan, in the context of some sort of rhyme and reason.

    Phil Kuchma has a vision for downtown, but it doesn’t seem the city, state, or BRBC is doing their part to resonate with his efforts. Phil Kuchma is the only developer who has taken any real $risk and put their heart and soul into revitalizing the downtown. The city, state and BRBC should be doing backflips to help him fit all the pieces of a downtown re-development puzzle together. The only help it seems Phil Kuchma has been getting is the city, state and BRBC taking credit for whatever momentum and structure he has created toward putting the downtown back together again.

    All of the aforementioned entities should be making a mighty effort to bring the Bijou back to life and its full potential. Such a situation could provide the essential energy and attention to bring the right mix of businesses back to downtown that could result in a real revitalization. Right now there is no real focus, per a “focal point” such as the Bijou, to stimulate things and pull things together in the right way, with the right energy, downtown. Priority #1 should be creating the source of the reaction-chain that will recreate a vibrant downtown. That was Phil Kuchma’s idea for the Bijou, but he didn’t have the city, state, and BRBC doing their part to resonate effectively with his efforts. (As Lennie would ask; where has then city/state/BRBC marketing support been in this regard? Why no city effort to make visiting the downtown a more inviting, convenient prospect for prospective patrons of existing businesses? How about a few more $ from the state and feds to enhance the offerings of the Bijou and Cabaret?)

    If the city redevelopment process were to be analyzed in terms of a cohesive, logically constructed, empirically supported “vision” for the city (including its downtown), it would, no doubt, be discovered there isn’t any comprehensive plan with a “rhyme and reason” in existence for the effective redevelopment of Bridgeport into any sort of socioeconomically viable entity. This is an absurd situation that presents as a tragic embarrassment for the city. The last real plan for the development of this city was created and implemented by P.T. Barnum almost 150 years ago. The city has been riding on that plan ever since. The “planning” that has occurred in interim administrations, including the present one, if it were to be viewed in terms of the thought processes of an individual, would be indicative of compromised brain function, significant frontal lobe pathology. Severely affected “executive” functions.

    This situation has to change. Our city needs a functional “municipal brain.” The schizophrenic/compromised type of municipal development planning/execution that has been operant in Bridgeport since the end of the Barnum era has to change. (But to his credit, the skeleton of Barnum’s plan could probably still serve as a template for the rebuilding of the city and its economy.)

    Tonight, another ridiculous discussion about nonsensical possibilities for our waterfront. But at least it provides a forum for commentary. We need some sort of similar process to try to create an overall, interrelated plan of redevelopment for the whole city, with a special focus on the downtown.

    (Lennie: Maybe OIB could be used in a planned, directed, manner to do some idea-trolling/polling in regard to Bridgeport redevelopment. Maybe start with what Bridgeport/Bridgeport-area residents would like to see and what they would patronize downtown, as well what it would take to induce people to actually make the effort to get downtown to patronize such venues.)

    Recreating/revitalizing Bridgeport is just a logical process that has to start with a comprehensive plan, with specifics, undertaken in cooperation with the necessary willing partners. It’s really just a big, exciting business idea in need of partners and prospective customers willing to generate, flesh out, and implement the plan. It’s the type of project that has been undertaken hundreds of times in the modern era in rebuilding hundreds of cities destroyed by modern warfare all over the world. (Can we see the irony in the inability/unwillingness of our great country to undertake at home what it has undertaken in dozens of places around the world during the past 70 years?)

    1. There is much wisdom in Jeff’s comments. I have thought along the same lines. I believe there are ways to leverage NON-CITY and NON-TAX funds to draw retail and office businesses into downtown, which has wonderful buildings, fine infrastructure, and opportunities. I remain positive and optimistic about downtown. The slow rehab I am now experiencing, I learned this week it will be end of September or mid-October before I can return home, teaches me to celebrate even small accomplishments and push through the setbacks. Can Tiin is a setback. I nonetheless focus on good things ahead. The Security. Building is opening with eight stories of apartments from studios to three bedrooms. It marks the first open redevelopment in North Main downtown. The number of downtown residents continues to grow. Forstone has begun work on the mixed housing-retail-entertainment McLevy Square South development on State between Main and Markle. Some 250 units are underway next to downtown at Steelpointe. One of the questions downtown redevelopers ask is: Which comes first, retail or housing? In the long run, our experience may be housing stabilized first, and then retail became steady. One other thought: Downtown redevelopment benefits from downtown planning and promotion. Yet downtown is also a block-by-block experience. Fairfield Avenue between Lafayette and Broad is a strong block thanks largely to Phil Kuchma and dozens of his residential, retail and office tenants. That block is among our strongest, but its experience doesn’t really predict something two or three blocks away. The blocks further away have their own dynamic. (The new Harral-Security-Wheeler Apartments website, designed by The Bananaland, also a downtown business, is found at
      http://www.HSWbridgeport.com.)

  4. I have been to Can Tiin a number of times. I only know of four other OIB bloggers who have been there including those working in City Hall and the Annex. The most important component of Vietnamese Restaurants is the PHO. That’s the soup. Wood Avenue off Park has three amazing Vietnamese restaurants. As authentic as you can get with very inexpensive prices. Can Tiin was a classy addition to downtown with a very hip decor. The prices were not reasonable and the portions were not large and the fusion of French with Vietnamese didn’t quite register. The food was good. Nothing spectacular. There is another restaurant where the food is exceptional next door to the Barnum Pub. Never have I seen any City Hall employees there and the food is amazing and the menu has it all. Sciaperellis, I can not even remember the name but the food exceptional. If people do not explore and patronize the restaurants, they close. I do not think at this point anyone doesn’t understand that market rate housing is the key. If city employees aren’t enjoying then they are just getting a city paycheck and going home to Shelton and Westport. So very sad. I do not blame the Ganim administration yet. If they cannot market the city taxes are just going to continue to rise and restaurants will continue to close and Downtown will have section 8 housing and the environment will no longer be conducive to economic development. Very sad. this is just another disappointing bit of news.

  5. No offense, all these comments are nice but they mean nothing. It’s all about the taxes. While we’re all here making excuses or giving reasons for Bridgeport’s failure to lure and keep small businesses, surrounding towns are adding the same types of businesses we’re losing.
    Until Bridgeport gets serious about cutting spending, tightening its fiscal belt and lowering taxes to competitive rates, all this talk is just feel-good BS.

  6. It’s a lot of things, it’s taxes, people don’t have disposable income, perception of downtown, all the panhandlers, and marketing. Can Tin was mediocre at best. There are many cities with high taxes that still have businesses that survive but it is because they have the other things in order. I knew Can Tiin would close soon the minute I walked in there. Next on the chopping block will be the Italian place across the street, then Barnum PH since they opened a new brewpub. Bridgeport needs to do a better job of selling its neighborhoods and branding the neighborhoods. A city of parks and neighborhoods. There is good Vietnamese cuisine in some of the outskirt neighborhoods, but the city is so focused on downtown it loses out on the rest. Need to focus on strengths first. Oh and Bass Pro will not last long either, by the way. And how does the steak house stay open?

  7. The steak house stays open because it offers something people want. The Bijou closed because it did not offer what people wanted. I mean really, how many people want to watch a movie that involves abortion? Offer things people want and they will show up.

  8. Andy, half true. Both Joseph’s Steak House and the Bijou were offering something many people wanted and were willing to patronize. Joseph’s business model and pricing were a for-profit model from day one. The Bijou was a “not for profit” business model that depended on ticket-paying patronage as well as philanthropic support, which takes time to develop. I said it before but need to repeat it. There were four entertainment venues operating in downtown Bridgeport in the past. When the reincarnation of the Polka Dot closed down after much State support for the renovation, there were only three. The Bijou did not receive City support in any manner I have discovered, however The Klein operating unit does not pay rent to the City for their use and utilities are also paid by the City on that site. Finally, Cabaret Theater lease, formerly with the City and now owned by Kuchma, receives free rent and utility payments for a few more years (as well as having a strong and well developed base of support after three decades). Follow the money I have said more than once, if you wish to understand openings and closings. How many enterprises are well capitalized at the start anywhere? How many extend their trial period looking for more angels? What should the City of Bridgeport’s role in any of this be, when it is clear arts and entertainment activities are important to downtown vitality and growth? Time will tell.

  9. ‘Mici Asian Bistro opens new location in Trumbull’

    This is the heading of a story in the Connecticut Post. An ‘Asian Bistro’ opens a Trumbull location. They already have a Shelton location. Do Trumbull and Shelton have more people with disposable income? Apparently. Is this establishment the McDonald’s version of Asian cuisine? Maybe.

    The restaurant business has turnover, but the rapid turnover at Bijou Square suggests there is no demand for restaurants such as Can Tiin. We all admire Phil Kuchma for his vision and commitment. Let’s hope a critical mass of support will make the Bijou Square development viable.

    By the way, the article in the CT Post includes statements from the new (apparently) Trumbull Economic Development Director who was a member of Ganim’s transition team.

  10. Sorry to see it go, but a little history for those scratching their heads at the concept of French-Vietnamese “fusion.” Vietnam was a French colony outright from the late 19th until the mid-20th century, and the French military had a strong presence there going back to the 17th century, ostensibly to protect French Jesuit missionaries. The cultures’ cuisines fused in many ways long before Can Tiin came and went. I agree with Dave; it won’t be the last given Team Ganim’s obscene tax hikes.

  11. Wouldn’t it be great if Joe Ganim, Mary-Jane Foster and Tom Gill convinced UB to relocate some of its activities to downtown, new dorms, classes, shuttle service etc.?
    That would stimulate new businesses to come into the heart of the city, and maybe save the ones that are still here from moving.

  12. Bob: Good information, but for those who might not be familiar with the origins of French-Vietnamese fusion food, it is not something that would be likely to be easily found in Vietnam. (Maybe Paris.) The Vietnamese never felt any real cultural attachment to the French and wanted them out of their country pretty much from Day 1 of the French occupation of Vietnam about 250 years ago. French-Vietnamese fusion food is really just ersatz, knock-off Vietnamese food without the real Asian nuclear-powered spices. It would probably be hard to find any French-Vietnamese fusion food even in NYC. After Dien Bien Phu, any French-Vietnamese cultural connection started fading fast. Did Can Tiin (translated, “canteen”) expect to revive the French-Vietnamese cultural connection in Bridgeport, with our not insignificant traditional/authentic Vietnamese presence?

    On a side note, I’m sure the recent tax hike was unsettling to Can Tiin’s management, but I think the closing of the Bijou was the thing that really made them pull the plug. Tax hikes have to be part of the contingency planning of any busines, but the collapse of the only significant draw to that area of downtown was the deciding factor in the timing of the closing of the worthy effort of Can Tiin’s originators/management. (But didn’t they do any market research before pouring their money into that venture?! It doesn’t seem likely that their excitement about their unique venture in a unique place with great potential was tempered by market-research facts and figures. Sad; but that’s life in Bridgeport in 2016.)

  13. Good points Jeff, but you can get a Banh Mi sandwich, served on a French baguette, just about anywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. The French also introduced asparagus and potatoes to Vietnam, among other things, and Pho was inspired by French soups. Also lots of great French and French-Vietnamese restaurants all over the country.

  14. You’ve enlightened me, Bob. I did some research and found my use of logic led to some very inaccurate conclusions about the modern, French-Vietnamese connection, especially in regard to the evolution of the connection in the post-1975 Vietnamese Diaspora. (You can’t always trust basic logic in drawing firm conclusions. This is truly a fairly unpredictable world that often operates on its own arcane logic. Lesson learned.)

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