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Gated Community: New Canaan's Gates Restaurant Celebrates 35 Years

Auer with longtime employee Lowden.
Auer with longtime employee Lowden.
Gates Restaurant, an "eclectically fresh California-style restaurant," with its brightly painted walls, eye-grabbing artwork, smiling staff and delicious food, knows a thing or two about serving up a good meal in a friendly atmosphere that makes people want to keep coming back. They should, they've been doing it for 35 years this year.

Billy Auer and Jeb Swift met "ages ago," when both were working at a restaurant called Boodles in Greenwich, Auer said Monday in the office of Gates.

"We were managing and working as waiters when we decided to come to New Canaan," Auer said. "Everyone thought we were crazy to open a restaurant in the basement of this building. We got here and there were only maybe two other restaurants in town. Things sure have changed over the last 35 years."

Being in the basement is a bit of a misnomer. It does have a street-facing entrance at 10 Forest Street. It's just next to Tequila Mockingbird, another venture in which Auer and Swift are partners, though with a third member.

Auer's no stranger to the challenges of operating multiple businesses. He has a number of them throughout the county, with a variety of different partners, including both Centro locations in Greenwich and Fairfield, the Firehouse Deli in Fairfield, and even Capri, a women's boutique also located in Fairfield, which he operates with his sister.

On Monday, Auer had just finished placing a sizable order by phone that took about 10 minutes to list all the fresh meats and produce he'd need. Auer said variety has been key in keeping Gates a favorite amongst town residents and a destination for out-of-town travelers.

"We're always improving our physical plan and we're always changing up our menu," he said. "We're always adding new things to it, keeping up with what's going on in the 'Food World.' It's good quality food using fresh ingredients at great prices. The people here have been really, really nice," he said. "And I think it's because we approach them nicely. We try to make this a happy place and people respond to that."

The customers are a testament to that. Gates has some wonderful people working there, like Annie Lowden—who works at both Centro locations—and Patrick Clyne, both from Fairfield, to whom customers often attributed their repeated visits. Auer said, of the 25 kitchen, bar and wait staff members, the average employee has been with the restaurant for 10 years or more.

"I've been here 33 years," said Dave Bentley. "I've been coming here that long."

Bentley was eating in the bar area of Gates with Frank Farrell, Darcy Ahl and Jim Berrien, a crew that visits regularly on Mondays, Auer said.

"And it's because of Patrick," Farrell said. "We come here because it's very friendly."

"It feels like Cheers," Ahl added. "It helps make Mondays bearable."

Auer said as long as the restaurant keeps getting feedback like that from regular, repeated customers who enjoy their visits, he's going to be there to continue serving them.

"There's been some talk that, because we sold our French bistro, we'll be selling this place. We're not going anywhere," Auer said. "We've thrived over 35 years. There's a great sense of accomplishment in that. I've got kids in college, so I figure I've got maybe five good years of this left in me anyway."

If you're going to head down to Gates, be sure to check out their Sunday brunch sometime. It is a huge spread that is a highlight of the location.

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