BRIDGEPORT — The family behind Bridgeport restaurant Nana is bringing their trademark local and sustainable ingredients to a new, more casual eatery in the neighborhood.
Husband-and-wife duo Omar Solis and Audri Simonelli-Solis will soon open Ajo, a fast-casual takeout spot specializing in Caribbean cuisine. The restaurant, which is expected to open Feb. 6, will be located at 752 W. 33rd St., around the corner from Nana in the building the Solis family has owned for decades.
Whereas Nana helped pioneer sustainable, organic and more upscale eating in Bridgeport, Ajo is seeking to recreate its high standard of food prep in a different setting. Instead of Nana’s menu of Mexican-inspired dishes in a sit-down service, Ajo will serve Carribean food in customizable bowls in a bright, casual space.
“There’s a lot of passion and heart,” said Solis, who owns and manages Nana with his wife. “[With Nana] I wanted to set the bar high for the neighborhood. Now, we’re flipping the script.”
Similar to Chipotle and other fast-casual restaurants, customers at Ajo will be able to fill their bowl with their choice of rice, protein, sides and sauces. The name of the restaurant is an abbreviation of mojo de ajo, Spanish for garlic sauce. Ajo will serve up chicken and steak marinated in a garlic-citrus sauce that is their take on the restaurant’s namesake, Simonelli-Solis said.
“It speaks a little more to my background,” said Simonelli-Solis, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “It’s a twist on those cuisines, using good, quality ingredients.”
The restaurant will also offer Jamaican-style jerk chicken, ropa vieja, elotes, black bean hummus, roasted sweet plantains and plantain chips, among other items. And Maria Solis, who is Nana’s namesake, will bake her popular desserts for Ajo.
In a neighborhood known for its Italian, Mexican and Asian cuisine, Simonelli-Solis said she and her husband thought Bridgeport could use something a little different.
“There’s so many great restaurants in Bridgeport, but there’s not a lot of diversity,” she said. “People visit us from near and far at Nana. That has opened our eyes to the need for more clean, sustainable food.”
While the Solises believe there is a market for more sustainable eateries in the neighborhood, the couple also knows that the preferences of customers has changed to prefer more casual dining options. Ajo is a response to those trends, Simonelli-Solis said. (Recently, Nana nixed its dinner service, focusing instead on breakfast and lunch.)
“We see the restaurant industry as a whole kind of shifting,” she said. “People are favoring grab-and-go carry out. We’re trying to cater to that, keep those people in mind.”
The restaurant resides in a storefront that used to house various Solis family ventures, including a hardware store and an ice cream shop. When the family decided to replace the building’s door leading to the upstairs apartments, Solis repurposed the old door into Ajo’s lone countertop.
The Solis’ said they are proud to bring another venture into the longtime family owned storefront. They said that, if all goes well, Ajo will not just be a Bridgeport business.
“Omar is very loyal to Bridgeport,” Simonelli-Solis said.
The couple now lives in Lakeview with their daughter. “Once he has an idea, he wants to keep it here. But the concept is really scalable. I can see it going in many neighborhoods.”