Photo: Leah Brennan / Hearst Connecticut Media
TORRINGTON — With street food bites, an open bookcase and colorful artwork dotted around the premises, one of the city’s newest restaurants aims to bring a “chill, New York City vibe” to Connecticut, one of its owners said.
Toothpick opened Aug. 30 and is aimed to be a street cafe with a multicultural blend of food options, in addition to a workspace and reading lounge, said Billiejane Phengsy, one of the owners.
When you eat in New York, there’s a variety of “really cool foods” to choose from, sometimes with vegan or gluten-free options — and the restaurant aims to bring that part of the Big Apple to Torrington, Phengsy explained.
“Torrington has nothing like it,” said Phengsy, who lived in Brooklyn for seven years. “Everything’s pizza, Chinese food or Thai food … we wanted something that wasn’t what they had in here in the first place.”
So, she and her mother — Toothpick’s other owner, Khampheng Phengsy, who previously owned a restaurant in North Carolina — decided to put their heads together and invest in something they knew they could do, she said.
The store offers an array of options, from tacos and chicken and waffles to Thai crunch salad and avocado toast. Some of Toothpick’s popular dishes include the kimchi fried rice, pork belly bao buns and papaya salad, Phengsy said.
“We wanted to make like a big street food truck, pretty much,” she said.
Kim Bauer, a Unionville resident, came by the store with her friend Megan Leonard to check it out last week. She said she was looking for “a healthy option” and ordered the Thai Crunch Salad.
“We were looking for something different to eat here at Toothpick,” Bauer said. “It has a lot of better options than most of the places around here in Torrington, where we tend to see a lot of Italian.”
It took a little bit longer than expected for the new medley of foods to come to Main Street — the pandemic initially made things “very difficult” for Toothpick, which was originally supposed to open in March, Phengsy said. But when the pandemic hit, construction stalled.
Now that the business is open, it’s been a mix of pickup and to-go orders with larger rushes at lunchtime and on weekends, she said.
“One hour, it’ll be slow, and it’ll pick back up, then it goes down, and picks back up — like a roller coaster,” Phengsy said.
Torrington resident Barbara McLaughlin also came by the restaurant Thursday to try it out after her daughter recommended it.
“My daughter has had it before, and she says the food is excellent. So she’s like, ‘Mom, you’re going to love it, let’s try it,’” said McLaughlin, who ordered steak tacos. “We’ve been trying to stay local, support local businesses in this pandemic. That’s all you can do at this point in time.”