Paella franchise hits southwestern Connecticut

Thursday, May 04, 2017

There's a new option in the area for anyone looking to spice up their next party or event. Fire & Rice, a catering franchise started in Florida, has made its way north.

"There's nothing like it in Connecticut," said Glenn Michael Tatangelo, a Bridgeport resident who recently became a Fire & Rice franchisee. Paella is a rice dish of Spanish origin that comes mixed with either meat or seafood, although there are vegetarian and vegan offerings.

Fire & Rice prepares its paella out in the open in a large pan that feeds up to 50 people, making the creation of the dish an experience for patrons.

It was after watching founder Paul Schmidgall cook the dish while interacting with onlookers that Tatangelo became convinced he had found a career he could love. "The showmanship is what got me," said Tatangelo, who is the son of Glenn Tatangelo, a real estate developer and homebuilder who splits his time between Connecticut and Florida. "I like to put myself out there and talk to people. I like it when people ask questions. You have people who've never seen it and they want to know more about it."

Then there are those who have been to Spain and want to share their own experiences about seeing the dish made in that country, he said.

Tatangelo said he offers a few appetizers, including a roasted date with pineapple and bacon, chicken or beef empanadas, and flan as a dessert. There is also a breakfast paella, which features a poached egg on top. "Don't let anyone tell you paella isn't a breakfast dish," Tatangelo said.

Although he has worked as a busboy, waiter, bartender and a cook at area restaurants, Tatangelo learned his way around the kitchen by watching and practicing with his mother and stepmother.

While his mother taught him mainly simple dishes and Polish recipes, his stepmother showed him how to experiment with new tastes and combinations. "She definitely made me more adventurous," he said.

Tatangelo's sous-chef, Taylor Cote, of Newtown, also taught him dishes she learned in culinary school when the two were roommates. "Everything she learned that day she[d be teaching me that night," he said. Despite his love of cooking, Tatangelo, 27, said he was getting disillusioned by his inability to find a fulfilling job.

"I was feeling like I was falling behind," he said. "I didn't have a real career." Then, his father saw Schmidgall in action and mentioned it to Tatangelo, who was interested in learning more. His father flew him to Florida and offered to help get the business off the ground if Tatangelo was interested. "He said, "You can invest in it and I can invest in you" Tatangelo said.

Tatangelo said he enjoys that with a franchise, he has Schmidgall and other franchisees available to offer guidance if needed.

Last weekend, Tatangelo and Cote participated in their first local event, at the Peace, Love and Music by Maren festival in Milford.

Tatangelo said he is equipped to serve close to 3,000 at any event, but is available for small parties, with a 10-person minimum for weekday events and 20-person minimum for weekend events.

At events, the cost of the paella dish varies by the size, with a pint of paella costing $9. A full pan costs $100 and feeds roughly two dozen people.

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