If you’ve been to Le Penguin in Greenwich or Le Fat Poodle in Old Greenwich, then you’re likely familiar with Anshu Vidyarthi, one of the owners of both restaurants, which have been mainstays in the area for the last decade or so.
Now, Vidyarthi is set to launch three new restaurants between this year and next—two in Old Greenwich and one in Port Chester, NY. Here, he shares more details on what to expect, plus his history with food—and the restaurant industry—and the experience he hopes people have when eating at one of his establishments.
Read on for more:
Was food/the restaurant industry a big part of your life growing up?
Anshu Vidyarthi: Growing up in India, food was a big part of our lives. My family wasn’t in the restaurant industry, but everything we ate, everything we smelled, everything we tasted was based on the pursuit of pleasure—the kind of pleasure that comes from the explosion of taste, sight and smell. Eating wasn’t just about shoving something down, it was about the preparation, the freshness, the connection between everything that was on the plate. Walking down the road to get fresh milk in the morning, to see the milk being boiled and the layer of cream then being churned into fresh butter for breakfast. Food wasn’t only sensory, it was a daily feast, a reason to sit at the table with the family, to relive the day, to have conversations, to be mannered and thankful.
My mother is [the] number one food influence in my life—the care and the detail and the time. She has recipes that are mind blowing, just an absolute feast for the senses. Every dish that goes onto the restaurant menus is influenced by my history with food. I try and put at least one of my mother’s recipes on the menu at Le Fat Poodle per season.
We’d love to hear how you got started in the restaurant industry.
AV: Necessity, really. My first job at 16 was as a counter person at a deli in Irvine, CA. Worked there with my best friend and we had such an amazing time. Made friends, great camaraderie, and getting to eat for free, which was huge for the budget of a 16-year-old. My first job in the fine dining industry was at a restaurant in Santa Monica where the owner really took a shine to me, even though I had barely any experience in that space, and I made the most of it. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work and learn in some really successful and cutting-edge establishments that honed my skills. I’m someone who picks things up very quickly, given the opportunity, and I also have a very keen eye for detail. Some might call it ADHD or whatever but it’s my recipe for success. Everything is in the details, no matter how small.
What led you to Fairfield County?
AV: I was out of the restaurant industry, living in upstate New York, working for my mother’s company. A dear friend whom I’d worked with in NYC was opening a restaurant in Greenwich and he asked if I’d come and help him set up the bar and beverage program. A couple of days a week lead to more and sure enough, within a matter of weeks I was back in it full time. Within a few months, I took over as the director of operations and soon was the managing partner. Left there in 2009, opened a kickass, order-at-the-counter Mexican joint in Stamford and then opened Le Penguin in 2013 and Le Fat Poodle in 2014.
What new projects do you have in the works—and how do these differ from what you’ve done so far?
AV: I’m in the process of opening two new restaurants, with a third to follow next year. The first, Siren Restobar, is a Mediterranean-themed tapas joint, in the space where the Beach House used to be in Old Greenwich. My restaurants emphasize casual dining with a wink towards upscale service—bistros, if you will. We serve food and drink for a living: It’s meant to be fun, it’s meant to be whimsical and it’s meant to be an experience. At Siren Restobar, I also want to focus on a fun bar atmosphere, no TV’s or any soulless distractions. I want conversation, ambiance, flirtation, fun, music. Leave the cellphones in your pocket, converse with the person next to you, buy someone a drink, celebrate life.
I have a deal signed to open the second location of Siren Restobar towards the end of 2024 in Port Chester in the same corner where Tarry Lodge used to be. Later this year, I am opening JuJu. A Cantina, serving authentic Mexican food, also in Old Greenwich. And working with Lynn Morgan of Lynn Morgan Design, I can emphasize all elements required for a successful dining experience. Food, lighting, sound, color, design, music. Every element has to work together, all components of the restaurant have to fit, have to be seamless.
What do you hope people take away from their experience at your restaurants?
AV: When people open a menu at one of my restaurants, I want them to feel like ‘I want that and I want that and I want that too’. I want them to feel like no matter where they look, there’s something they can have. I want people to feel welcomed, to feel like they’re in a space that not only serves damn good food, but does it in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As I always say to my staff, we serve food and drink for a living. We’re tour guides for a good time. But I want there to be a memory, something you remember about the place, something that left a mark, something that makes you want to recount it to your friends and then bring them back with you.
How has restaurant and dining culture changed throughout your career—and what do you think is next?
AV: The old adage still remains: People will always eat and drink. But the culture is certainly different than when I first began my career and was establishing myself. I’m not a big fan of social media and it’s ‘drag you down’ mentality. But I do see its value and the fact that it’s the new normal. I respond to all the reviews we get, be it positive or negative. I like to know what someone might like as opposed to the next person. But at the end of it all, I also know that we cannot make 100 percent of people happy all the time. We put our best foot forward, commit to it wholeheartedly and the chips generally fall right side up. Operationally, there’s more chaos on a daily basis, but it’s organized chaos, perhaps even intentional, as it brings the best out of my staff. There certainly has been a shift in work ethic. People have to be handled with kid gloves—reprimands thought about carefully before being delivered. But I’ve been lucky with my staff, they’ve been with me for a long time and there’s a respect there, a sense of familiarity and family.
Anything else we should know?
AV: I think Anthony Bourdain once said that the restaurant business pounds humility into you. I wholeheartedly agree, but one also has to have an ego, a belief in oneself, confidence. The restaurant industry and the food industry as a whole has a zillion choices for everyone. There’s likely someone somewhere doing what we are and doing it very well. For me, it’s a matter of pride, of seeing the look of satisfaction on a person’s face when they take a bite of something delicious, a sip of something that just tantalizes their senses…it’s hugely rewarding.
You have to commit to what you’re offering, truly believe in it. Sometimes you have to block out the noise, the reverb and the feedback; know that you’re completely satisfied with what you’ve created and know that it might not work for everyone. It’s not just about the food but, as I’ve said before, it’s the entire experience. When someone makes a reservation at one of my establishments, they have committed to giving us that money. We now have to earn it. And that’s hospitality!