New London ― Since arriving in the city in 1990, they’ve survived the Great Recession and the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, despite some reservations about New London’s current direction, entrepreneurs Bladimir and Rosaura Pedroza and their CJ Peruvian Bar & Restaurant at the corner of Broad Street and Connecticut Avenue aren’t going anywhere.
“I can’t move. I own the building,” Bladimir said in a recent interview at the restaurant, where he was prepping for another day.
He might otherwise consider relocating the restaurant amid New London’s burgeoning downtown scene, which he believes is putting businesses on the city’s outskirts at a disadvantage. He’s concerned, too, about the soaring price of property and what he believes is an increase in violent crime.
Things are different because of the pandemic, he said, though he’s optimistic they’ll return to the way they were.
“We’re doing OK; not great, but OK,” he said. “Before the pandemic, it was great.”
COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the state disrupted the restaurant business for some 15 months, starting in March 2020. Before then, the Pedrozas kept CJ’s open to 10 p.m. every night to accommodate traffic at the bar they added to the restaurant during a 2018 expansion. Their workforce grew to more than a dozen employees, including bartenders.
“Now, no one comes to drink after 8 or 9 o’clock, that’s why the earlier hours,” Bladimir said.
CJ’s, which serves lunch and dinner, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and has six employees, none of them bartenders.
Native Peruvians, the Pedrozas ― Bladimir is 58, Rosaura 60 ― met in New York City in 1986 and married the next year at City Hall in Manhattan. They first spoke when Bladimir picked up a phone call intended for someone else. Rosaura was on the other end of the line.
“We talked for two hours,” Bladimir recalled. “I didn’t get to meet her for two or three months.”
Inseparable since, the Pedrozas resettled in New London, where Bladimir had friends. He soon started working at the Benchmark Belt Co. factory in Madison, which is no longer there, and they both got part-time jobs at Foxwoods Resort Casino before getting into real estate. They bought their first multifamily residence in the city in 1991 and eventually rented 23 apartments.
Luckily, Bladimir said, they sold all their rental properties shortly before the U.S. economy went south in 2007. Now, they own only the building that houses their restaurant and the home they bought in Waterford in 2003.
Running a restaurant had always been Bladimir’s dream, though neither he nor Rosaura knew much about what it would entail.
“My mother had operated a small restaurant in Peru,” he said. “I always wanted to bring Peruvian to the area. When we came here, you had to go to Hartford for Peruvian food.”
When the building at 255 Broad St. became available, the Pedrozas bought it and began a major renovation, replacing the walls, the plumbing, the electrical wiring. Rosaura and Bladimir’s mother, both of whom knew how to cook, trained at a family-owned establishment in Providence to learn how to cook for a restaurant.
The 2018 expansion quadrupled the size of their restaurant, which now seats 105. Before the expansion, its name was Pollos a la Brasa, which is Spanish for “grilled chickens.”
Known for such dishes as its long-marinated rotisserie chicken and chicha morada, a “purple corn refreshment,” CJ’s caters to a mix of customers that’s 40% American and 30% Peruvian, with the rest “a variety of cultures,” according to Bladimir.
“We bring a little color to the city,” he said.
While Bladimir wishes the Pedrozas’ grown children, Christopher and Jessica, were interested in eventually taking over CJ’s, they’ve moved on to Colorado and Tampa, Fla., respectively, to follow other pursuits.
The first person to arrive and the last one to leave the restaurant every day, Bladimir sees no retirement in his immediate future, however intriguing the thought may be.
“I cannot stay still, though,” he said.