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Nutmegz Restaurant; Not an Easy Start-Up

By Sally Haase

(October 23, 2023) — Throughout the spring of this year, there appeared to be construction or renovations in the storefront previously occupied by The Cooking Company.  The interior was redesigned and a new restaurant kitchen was installed. Curious as our Haddam townies can be, we waited and watched to see what new business would be coming to Tylerville.  In early summer a narrow sign above the entrance appeared that read “Nutmegz,” along with a Grand Opening sign hung from the porch. Since driving through Tylerville can be challenging these days, no other information was readily apparent to passersby.

Nutmegz Restaurant’s first grand opening was not what owner Ken Exem expected. Ken was a recent transplant from Long Island, New York.  An ambitious young man, Ken worked as an auto mechanic and as an interior designer; he sold life and health insurance and raised English bulldogs, sometimes all at once.  He came to realized that his love of working on European cars and breeding English bull dogs was difficult in a dense residential setting. His weekends were spent searching for a suburban area in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Suffolk County, New York.  Passing through the Connecticut River Valley, his search ended when he purchased a home in East Haddam, a place he says he would like to grow old in.

He saw an opportunity in this area for a restaurant based on his Jamaican and Cuban heritage. So began Nutmegz…a little Jamaican, a little Cuban and a little flavor of the south (like grits). His mother, Leotine, a counselor in New York City for Hasidic Jews, attended culinary school in preparation for her son’s new venture.  Ken is a person who does his research, easily spouting demographic statistics. Yet, admitting he was naïve about his new endeavor, Ken calls himself a risk taker.

The grand opening didn’t go well. A series of chefs didn’t work out.  Yelp, an online restaurant review site, listed a few complaints about service. The narrow Nutmegz sign didn’t attract customers nor did the lack of vehicles in the parking lot.  Ken has addressed these issues and looks forward to Grand Opening 2.0.  Like other businesses in the area, he can’t control the effects of the East Haddam Swing Bridge project.

He has not had complaints about the quality of his food, however.  Opening for breakfast and lunch, the restaurant serves breakfast all day. Along with the classics, some of the favorites on the menu include the Hash Brown Bowls, homemade Empanadas, the Caribbean Burger, the Jamaican Me Crazy Burger and the Butterz Chicken Sandwich. This reporter doesn’t know the difference between meat empanadas and Jamaican meat pies, but will soon find out.

When asked to compare Haddam to his hometown in New York, he replied that everyone wants to know all about him; where he is from, how he got to Haddam, what his political views are, and so forth.  In New York, he says, no one cares about your background. Welcome to small-town Connecticut, Ken.

Nutmegz is located at 1610 Saybrook Road in the Tylerville section of Haddam.

Photo by Sally Haase

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