Cafe Otis Making Norwich Native's Dream A Reality

By Toni Leland, For The Bulletin

Posted Mar 16, 2019 at 1:24 PM
Updated Mar 16, 2019 at 6:21 PM

In what was once the first library in Norwich, the new Cafe Otis bears no resemblance to shelves of books and a hushed atmosphere. The sleek modern look of white with black accents is complemented by antique tables, chairs, and settees. And the aromas drifting from the kitchen make one head for the nearest table.

Owner Nancy Isa is excited to be opening her new venture Monday.

“I was raised in Norwich through high school, then left to attend Cornell University School of Hotel Administration,” she said. “After 15 years working in various places, I wanted to realize my childhood dream of becoming an entrepreneur and owning my own place. So here I am.”

The building was constructed in 1850, a gift of Joseph Otis to be the first library.

“Being downtown, across from City Hall, sort of the hub of the town made its historical value very attractive to me,” Isa said.

Cafe Otis is an all-day restaurant, open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Isa noted the revitalization happening downtown, and wanted to have a place that could be a central hub where people could come and grab a meal any time of the day, or sit at one of the tables and work on their laptop, or even have a meeting.

The concept for breakfast and lunch is fast-casual, meaning there’s no formal table service. You go to the counter and order what you want, then find a table. And those aromas filling the air can make decisions difficult. Think spicy Moroccan beef meatballs or paprika mac ’n cheese. Love Mediterranean flavors? Falafel or dry rub Mediterranean chicken wings with Zhoug sauce. Not adventurous? Menu items include “regular” food, too.

For her ingredients, Isa partnered with some local farms and the products are delivered to the restaurant every day during the season.

“What a great way to support and highlight the bounty of our local farmers, and build community,” she said.

In addition to the café side of the restaurant, Cafe Otis also has a lounge area with a full bar.

“We’re focusing on craft cocktails,” Isa said. “The bar manager has put together a lot of nice combinations, some of which will be named after famous people, our streets, and building to pay homage to the fact that we’re in a historical building in downtown Norwich.”

Another charming touch to the eatery is the Nine Mile Market, which features local products from smaller artisan vendors in Connecticut and greater New England. Treasures to be found in the market include items such as natural and organic hand and body products, soaps, dog treats, pottery, tees, totes, and hats, sauces, honey, and preserves.

Isa named the market after the nine square mile property that was the beginning of Norwich in 1659 when 35 settlers purchased the land from the Mohegan tribe.

Isa talks about her family connection to the food she serves.

“I chose the Mediterranean influence because that’s how I grew up. My father is from Lebanon and his culture was a great influence,” she said. “A lot of the spices that are used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking are very familial to me, and I felt that if the restaurant was going to be a reflection of me, it should have a little bit of my own personal history.”

Nancy Isa