NEW LONDON — They have survived the Great Depression and the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic since arriving in the city in 1990.
And, despite reservations about New London’s current direction, entrepreneurs Bladimir and Rosaura Pedroza and their CJ Peruvian Bar & Restaurant on the corner of Broad Street and Connecticut Avenue aren’t going anywhere.
“I can’t move. I own the building,” Brady Mill said in a recent interview at the restaurant, where he was preparing to spend another day.
Otherwise, he might consider relocating the restaurant to New London’s burgeoning inner-city scene, which he believes puts businesses on the city’s outskirts at a disadvantage. He is also concerned about soaring property prices and what he sees as an increase in violent crime.
He said things were different because of the pandemic, although he was optimistic that they would return to the way they were.
“We’re doing well; not great, but okay,” he said. “Before the pandemic, it was great.”
State-imposed COVID-19 restrictions disrupted restaurant operations for about 15 months starting in March 2020. Before that, Pedrozas had CJ open until 10pm every night to accommodate the traffic at the bar they added to the restaurant during the 2018 expansion. Their workforce grew to over a dozen employees, including bartenders.
“Right now, no one comes after 8 or 9 for a drink, which is why it’s early,” Bladimir said.
Open for lunch and dinner, CJ’s is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 8pm and has six employees, none of whom are bartenders.
The Pedrosa family (Bladimir, 58, Rosola, 60), a native of Peru, met in New York City in 1986 and married at Manhattan City Hall the following year. They speak for the first time when Bladimir receives a call he intends to call someone. Rosara is at the other end of the line.
“We talked for two hours,” recalls Brakimir. “I haven’t seen her for two or three months.”
Inseparable ever since, the Pedrosa family moved to New London, where Brakimir made friends. He soon started working at Benchmark Belt Co. The Madison factory no longer exists, and they both found part-time jobs at Foxwoods Resort Casino before entering real estate. In 1991, they purchased the first multifamily home in the city, eventually renting 23 apartments.
Fortunately, Bladimir said, they sold all their rental properties shortly before the 2007 U.S. economic downturn. Now they only own the building where the restaurant is located and the house they bought in Watford in 2003.
Running a restaurant has always been Bladimir’s dream, though neither he nor Rosaura knew what it would bring.
“My mother ran a small restaurant in Peru,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to bring Peruvians to this area. When we came here, you had to go to Hartford for Peruvian food.”
When 255 Broad St. hit the market, Pedrozas bought it and began a major renovation, replacing walls, plumbing and electrical wiring. Both Rosaura and Bladimir’s mother knew how to cook, and they were trained at a family business in Providence to learn how to cook for a restaurant.
The 2018 expansion quadrupled the size of their restaurant and now has 105 seats. Before the expansion, it was named Pollos a la Brasa, which means “roast chicken” in Spanish.
CJ’s is known for dishes like its long-marinated rotisserie chicken and chicha morada, a “purple corn snack” that caters to 40 percent Americans and 30 percent Peruvians and the rest of “various cultures.” Vladimir.
“We brought a little color to the city,” he said.
While Bladimir hopes Pedrozas’ adult children Christopher and Jessica are interested in eventually taking over CJ, they have moved to Colorado and Tampa, Florida, respectively, to pursue other pursuits.
The first person to arrive and the last to leave the restaurant each day, Bladimir doesn’t think he’s going to retire in the near future, although the idea might be interesting.
“I can’t stay still, though,” he said.