MERIDEN — Richard Pennyman wants to see his hometown thrive. His new restaurant, Americansoul Kitchen & Bar is just one step in his goal to be part of Meriden’s revitalization.
The 49-year-old hotel manager has built a career in the hotel industry and decided years ago to merge his hospitality skills with his passion for food. This is his first restaurant.
Americansoul Kitchen & Bar is tucked into the corner of a small strip mall at 164 Scott St., off Yale Avenue and in front of Merritt Station Apartments. It was previously home to Fresh Basil.
As a Meriden native born and raised, Pennyman knew he could only start a restaurant in his hometown.
In the fall of 2017 he was looking at opening in vacant commercial space on the first floor of 24 Colony St., a mixed-use building with upscale apartments across from the train station.
But life events changed Pennyman’s plans.
“I really liked that location ... and then my father died pretty suddenly and it just made me really aware that time is short,” he said.
He had planned to open an American-cuisine restaurant at 24 Colony, with the idea of a soul food restaurant inspired by his mother as a possible future endeavor.
But when his father died, the draw of family became stronger. Working with his mother on the vision for a soul food restaurant became more urgent and more important.
When he switched gears, Pennyman found the Merritt Station location and decided it would be a better fit for soul food, with slightly less seating, but still enough room for large parties and a bar area.
Americansoul Kitchen and Bar, Tues., Nov. 12, 2019. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
After a few months of redesigning his business model and waiting on a sale of the apartment complex to new owners, he moved in around May this year.
Soul food and more
Pennyman still cooks with his mother, Flaretta, who is in her 80s and still lives in Meriden. Growing up he would watch her cook for their family of seven and absorb the spices and techniques of soul food. As an adult, she teaches him more and more.
“Some of these recipes have my mother's touch and influence and I really wanted to do that with her,” Pennyman said.
Smothered pork chops at Americansoul Kitchen and Bar. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
Not all the recipes are from her, but a few — like the smothered pork chops and collard greens — are very much influenced by her.
Other soul food menu items include baked mac and cheese, fried chicken, chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, stuffing and shrimp and grits. Executive chef D’mitri Farthing added his own touches to the dishes.
Chef Dimitri Farthing, left, and Richard Pennyman, owner of Americansoul Kitchen and Bar. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
The restaurant was named “Americansoul” purposefully, because Pennyman believes it's important to provide customers options, especially for a group outing. Thus, he made a point to add American classics like a NY strip steak, salmon, and fettuccine alfredo to the menu too.
As an adult, Pennyman hasn’t always lived in Meriden and it's through his travels for work that he’s realized just what a soul food restaurant could be.
What he’s trying to do with Americansoul Kitchen Bar hasn’t really been done in the city, or even the state, he says.
Americansoul Kitchen and Bar, 164 Scott St., Meriden. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
It’s not just that he wants to offer good food, but he’s also trying to break a stereotype that soul food has to be just take-out or can’t be creative in plating and details.
It’s for this reason he built a full bar and made room for large groups. He expanded the dining room area — which seats close to 60 — and added two new walls to hide a bathroom door from diners and to create an easy take-out counter for people on the go.
“We want it to be very casual, comfortable for regulars, but also be upscale enough for your special occasion,” Pennyman said. “I really want it to be universal and encompass everything.”
Pennyman isn’t stopping here, and his next goal is to do something downtown too.
“I'd love to do something to really make that Green area one that people travel for and one that makes people want to relocate here,” he said.
See the Americansoul Kitchen Bar website, americansoulkitchenbar.com, for updated hours.