To save popular food truck, Ridgefield seeks to sublease state-owned property on Route 7

Photo of Alyssa Seidman
Greg Zawacki operated his food truck, the Zawack Shack, on Route 7 since 2010. But last fall, state officials ordered Zawacki to close in the middle of the lunch rush.

Greg Zawacki operated his food truck, the Zawack Shack, on Route 7 since 2010. But last fall, state officials ordered Zawacki to close in the middle of the lunch rush.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

RIDGEFIELD — The town is seeking to structure a lease agreement with the state Department of Transportation that would allow a popular food truck to reopen in its former location on Route 7.

The Zawack Shack used to operate in a highway pull-off area 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.

But last fall, 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 premises.

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 in an earlier interview.

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. Both conditions were maintained, she added.

To save the Zawack Shack, the town is looking to structure a formal lease agreement with the DOT that would enable it to reopen for business on Route 7, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Under Sec. 13a-80 of the department’s regulations, the commissioner “may sell, lease and convey … or enter into agreements concerning any land … owned by the state and obtained for or in connection with highway purposes.” The department shall also “offer parcels that are not legal lots of record to abutting landowners.”

“Ridgefield is the owner of the abutting property,” Marconi said of the pull-off area, “so I have asked if the town … can structure a lease.”

If the state agreed to the terms, the town would hire a surveyor — which the Zawackis have agreed to pay for — to specify the parcel in question. The town would then lease that parcel from the state and sublet it to the Zawack Shack.

Marconi said the town has a similar agreement with the Department of Environmental Energy and Protection relative to a piece of state-owned land at the Woodcock Nature Center.

Joan Zawacki had filed a Freedom of Information request with the DOT 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 department’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 Zawackis hope to reach an agreement with the state before spring. The business experienced “financial impact” after it was shut down in October, Joan Zawacki said, noting the truck is usually its busiest before it closes for the winter.

“The support we need is for people to (contact) the commissioner and say, ‘can we have this before April?,’” she said. “The state could take years to do something, and by that point we’d probably be out of business. Time is of the essence.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com