August 3, 2006

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Death of Toro
Restaurant abandoned leaving a mess and questions
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

They used a five-gallon bucket to hoist water from the neighboring Souhegan River through a window in the lounge to flush the toilets in their swank restaurant.

The lack of water — turned off because the bill was not paid — meant that the stainless steel kitchen was left full of piles of dirty dishes, according to the health inspector. The electricity was cut — also for lack of payment — and food was left to rot in the heat.

“I don’t know what happened. We have never had a problem with these two before,” said Bill McKinney, Health Inspector for Milford, referring to Arthur Martel and his wife Erin Tripp, the owners of Toro.

The couple previously owned Verve, a jazz club in West Milford, and according to officials there was never a problem with code violations.

Now, Toro, their latest venture, opened last December, is being cleaned by the landlord amid “several investigations into underage drinking” by the state’s Liquor Commission and Milford Police Department, said McKinney.

The owners did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails asking for comment.

Martel and Tripp opened Toro with a menu full of exotic pairings — smoked quail eggs with bleu cheese foam, sweet tea brined fried chicken and dry aged NY sirloin strip with popcorn dust — and prices foreign to Milford and surrounding towns.

While business may have been suffering — the reason behind delinquent bills — trouble wasn’t noticed until the water was shut off on June 26 and town officials tried to contact Martel and Tripp as that is a violation of several health department codes.

They received no response, yet signs went up at the eatery on the Oval, first saying they were on vacation, then that Toro was closed due to a family emergency.

Officials learned that the couple had moved out of their apartment in Milford a month before and now believed that the couple had been squatting in their restaurant, another code violation.

After many attempts to reach the couple, on July 19 town officials entered the restaurant and surveyed the scene.

“There had been rumors around town that they were struggling, but we had no indication that they were going to take off,” said McKinney.

In April, Tripp announced that business was doing great and that Toro was opening a VIP lounge in the room where the old lunch counter was and a roof deck overlooking the river.

Before Toro, the space was home to the Milford Diner. In fact, there has been a diner in that location since 1913, said McKinney.

While the concept was novel, Toro’s reputation began taking hits on restaurant web boards with customer scomplaining that the food was too expensive and of poor quality, the service poor and management hostile.

On one board, pubcrawler.com, a disgruntled employee posted damning information about Toro right before the eatery shut its doors.

“I don’t know how people suddenly go off the tracks,” said McKinney. Individuals who have possessions inside Toro have contacted his office. He said that the landlord has taken possession of the building, because the rent is in arrears, and that there is a legal process that must be followed before items can be returned to owners.

“This is not a simple restaurant closing. These two fled. There is no sign of them anywhere,” said McKinney.

McKinney said that after a good cleaning, and after all of the legal issues are put to rest, another restaurant could open in the space.

“Hopefully it will be a diner again,” he said.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  


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