A one of a kind restaurant owner brings Connecticut boaters their favorite treats dockside.
Clyde Ripka spent almost his entire life in two places: his restaurants and on the water. A year ago Ripka combined his passion in the form of a summer food boat. He's the owner of the restaurant chain Bull's Head Market in Norwalk, and operates a food boat that travels on the Long Island Sound. The vessel provides anything from milk and eggs to a lobster dinner that feeds forty. Ripka says he's happy to provide food to fellow sea dogs.
"I'm a boater; I just tend to think about what I would like if I was out there for an extended period of time," he said.
Sailors can place an order with a VHF marine radio, their phone, or on twitter @bullsheadmarket. The service runs on weekends, but will cater during the week if boaters call in advance. He says the food boat is a way to attract customers and has already brought him more business on land.
"It's like going fishing. You set yourself up, you chum, try to attract small fish, and then you get the big fish," he said.
Ryan and Dana, rising juniors in high school, captain the food boat. They travel around handing out menus and taking orders from sailors in the area.
"They're rock stars on the water," Ripka says of the two Norwalk natives.
During the weekend, the food boat carries munchies prepared from the kitchen at the Bull's Head Market on Main Avenue. Ripka says one of the biggest challenges so far has been generating awareness from local sea dogs.
"This is not like opening up a deli on a strip mall, where people are walking by and saying 'oh hey a deli' then walk in. People turn around and see food boat, scratch their head, and say 'what the hell is that?"
Ripka says there are challenges to operating the service at sea. The cost of the boat, unpredictability of the weather, and extra labor in preparing meals for the water can make running the business difficult. This can be stressful for Ripka, but he says he just wants the service to enhance the boating experience.
"You're out there on the water, hanging out with your friends, you've got your beer and wine, and then all of a sudden a boat pulls up with a big steaming cooler. [The food boat] drops it off, and there's clams and mussels and corn on the cob, potatoes, lobsters... [After eating] you got to jump in the water to clean yourself off. I mean, that is cool. That's what it's about," he said.
Bull's Head Market is available in cafeterias around the county, by City Hall, and at two main locations in Norwalk. More information on the restaurants or food boat can be found at: http://ripkasmarket.com/