Jeff Vitti, owner of Tipping Chair Tavern, Milldale, Conn.
For many people, the notion of musically inspired performers abruptly declaring "Hey, let's put on a show!" is strictly the stuff of old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies. But for Jeff Vitti, that rhythmic idea took him out of the stability of the nine-to-five world and into the more challenging realms of entertainment and food service.
“I had been a corporate worker for about 18 years in the IT field,” Vitti said. “I also ran an entertainment company for about 15 years that worked corporate events and weddings. I’ve also been a musician my whole life.”
For Vitti, the career-changing moment occurred after a prolonged frustration over the scarcity of central Connecticut dining venues featuring live entertainment.
“No one in this area approached music in this way,” he continued. “I don’t know why. So I decided to get involved in the restaurant/bar business, with the goal of creating a venue that offered live music seven nights a week.”
Vitti admitted that his experience in the food service trade was somewhat tenuous. “When I was young, I worked as a waiter at a country club,” he said. “And my father owned a restaurant/bar before I was born – I heard a lot of stories about his experiences. I am also a closet bartender – when I host parties at my house, I serve different drinks and work on different recipes.”
Still, Vitti acknowledged that it takes more to running this type of a business than parental anecdotes and playing mixologist among friends. “I had quite a bit to learn,” he said, with a rueful laugh. “A friend of mine who is a chef gave me tools to get up and running. And I did a lot of research, especially into meat. I go to local butcher that grinds out the meat that we use – there has something special for us.”
Vitti gives significant credit to his wife Audra and the staff of his venue, dubbed the Tipping Chair Tavern, for helping him along this aspect of the learning curve. “They’ve been an intricate part of working to make this a success,” he stated.
But while central Connecticut is not lacking in bars or eateries, Vitti’s primary objective in standing out from the competition is the mix of dining and entertaining. On this point, Vitti concentrated on ensuring the Tipping Chair Tavern get the best of the local music scene.
“I started by calling on people that had been a very big inspiration on me in the past,” he said. “Performers like [jazz guitarist] Rohn Lawrence, [electric blues performer] Popa Chubby – people I’ve going to see over the years. Almost all of the acts that I’ve book were either someone I knew or someone that I saw on stage in the past.”
In a highly ambitious move, Vitti arranges for live shows seven nights a week. Some nights are reserved for specific artists – jazz performer Timmy Maia is the Monday regular while the rock-oriented Kenny Mehler Band and guitarist Dan Watson occupy the Tuesday and Wednesday slots, respectively, and the aforementioned Rohn Lawrence reigns on Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sundays offer a mix of different artists and styles, and even Vitti grabs his guitar on occasion to join the on-stage fun.
Tipping Chair Tavern celebrated its second anniversary this July, and Vitti continues to strive to keep his business concept fresh and vibrant.
“The biggest challenge has been finding the right balance to keep people happy and the staff happy, too” he said. “I want to make this a place that has everything for everybody. And I’ve tried to set up rules for myself to allow this grow into something.”
And while Vitti is living the let’s-put-on-a-show dream, he is also keeping alive the old show business maxim that insists the show must go on.
“The only time we’ve had not music was when we closed during a snowstorm or for a holiday,” Vitti proclaimed.
Tipping Chair Tavern is online at http://www.tippingchairtavern.com