Restaurant entrepreneur

Hartford Restaurant Entrepreneur Gina Luari Opens Fourth Place 2 Be in Springfield

Aspiring restaurant mogul Gina Luari — with three popular Place 2 Be restaurants in Hartford and West Hartford — quietly opened a new location at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield on Friday.

The “soft” opening, with reduced hours, was only announced on Instagram and was intended to ease the routines of new staff. The new all-day brunch officially opened on Wednesday, with hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Luari said the trial was fast, with around 30,000 customers showing up in the first three days.

“A lot of people actually came, so it was really exciting,” Luari said. “Even in a soft opening, we did pretty decent.”

This is Lauri’s first restaurant venture outside of Connecticut, and one of five new restaurants the 30-year-old entrepreneur plans to open this year.

An immigrant from Albania, Lauri helped her parents run a Rocky Hill restaurant as a teenager. At 24, she opened the first restaurant “Place 2 Be” on Franklin Avenue in Hartford. It has a fun, dynamic and diverse atmosphere that appeals to a younger clientele while welcoming all ages. Locations in downtown Hartford and Blue Back Square in West Hartford followed.

Luari plans to open another Place 2 Be in New Haven this year, as well as a raw seafood restaurant, a Southwestern cuisine restaurant and a pizzeria in Hartford.

At 6,000 square feet, the Springfield location is Lauri’s largest to date. It has private event space for up to 100 people, an outdoor patio, and four bars.

Luari said it cost around $600,000 to $700,000 to launch the new space, between decor, supplies, equipment and rental fees. It has hired 25 employees so far and aims to hire 50 in total.

Supply chain delays pushed the opening back, as even the set was hard to come by. The Springfield location has The Place 2 Be’s signature clawfoot ball pool for visitors to frolic in, but the ceiling-mounted swing chairs are out of stock. It was a struggle to find bar chairs. Luckily, the Luari designer had another client with surplus chairs for sale. Lauri said she was budget-conscious about the launch costs, given the weird economic times.

“At a time like this, I tried not to go crazy because it was impossible to get anything,” Lauri said.