This Ridgefield establishment was shut down by the state. Local officials are trying to save it.

Photo of Alyssa Seidman
Greg Zawacki has operated Zawack Shack on Route 7 for more than a decade. But the state closed the business for operating in a right of way.

Greg Zawacki has operated Zawack Shack on Route 7 for more than a decade. But the state closed the business for operating in a right of way.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — A popular food truck that operated on Route 7 for more than a decade is looking for a new place to park after a site inspection found it was in violation of a state regulation.

The Zawack Shack normally parked in a highway turnout across the street from the Days Inn by Wyndham, just a mile north of Branchville. It sold lunch items to townfolk, truckers and travelers for 11 years, and became a go-to eatery during the pandemic since it’s flanked by picnic tables.

But on Oct. 7, state officials ordered Greg Zawacki to close in the middle of the lunch rush. Zawacki’s mother, Joan, said they were given an hour to vacate the site. The state Department of Transportation didn’t respond to requests for comment.

According to a Department of Motor Vehicles regulation, “no person, firm or corporation shall distribute, sell or offer for sale any goods within the highway right of way except at facilities provided and as set forth in contracts with the commissioner.”

“The property, from what we understand, has always been a pull-off area,” said Joan Zawacki, who helps with the business.

The Zawackis attempted to obtain a lease for the area when they opened the business, but the request was denied, Joan Zawacki said. The state, however, allowed the owners to operate provided they get approval from the town and carry insurance on the truck, she said. Both conditions were maintained, she added.

“That’s how we proceeded for 10 years,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “We never did get anything in writing and unfortunately had we done that ... maybe we’d be on terra firma, but we’re not.”

Joan Zawacki filed a Freedom of Information request with the state Department of Transportation to determine if a complaint had been lodged against the business. But in a Nov. 5 email, Melanie Fadoir, a supervising property agent with the state Department of Transportation’s Division of Rights of Way, informed her that the violation was noted during a site inspection, and she subsequently referred the matter to the district for enforcement.

“The department has ... multiple leases up and down the Route 7 corridor for signs and encroachments of abutting property owners, so staff is out there monitoring those leases,” Fadoir wrote.

She added, “The district sends letters to abutting property owners when they are encroaching into the right of way; ie; have an illegal sign, parking, fixed objects, and gives 30 days to remedy.”

The Zawackis never received a 30-day notice, Joan Zawacki said.

“Greg ... literally built that business from nothing,” she added. “The DMV regulation (has been) on the books for 50 years. ... Why all of a sudden?”

Although Zawack Shack is officially closed for the year, the family is looking for a solution to ensure they can open this spring.

“The commissioner could write us a special permit to be there,” Joan Zawacki said. “We still want to be good neighbors and maintain the property … Nobody maintains the property but us.”

State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said while the Department of Transportation is the only entity that has the authority to issue a permit to operate in the right of way, it is not in the position to do so because the area is designated as a right of way.

“I’m as frustrated as anybody is,” he added. “It’s a beloved local institution that doesn’t at all pose a risk to Route 7 and the drivers along that route, but the rules don’t bend in this manner.”

Marconi said he would call DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti to discuss the situation. The town also intends to assess other areas along Route 7 to see if the truck can park on private or municipally owned, rather than state property.

“None of them are built like this area that can accommodate trucks, that can pull off the road safely, and that’s another consideration,” he noted. “Where is there a safe location for a truck (driver) to pull off to the side to grab a quick bite to eat?”