JAR + Bar recommits to its global roots in eatery-heavy West Hartford

Ermal Caushi was stuck, trying to come up with a name for his new restaurant on West Hartford’s Park Road. He had a list of 32 candidates, but nothing stood out.

One late night after dinner service at his first restaurant, Division West in the town’s center, a friend stopped by. When Caushi told him he was trying to decide on a name for his new eatery, the friend said “Great. That’s what this town needs, just another restaurant.” The quip was delivered sarcastically, but it all clicked for Caushi. He leaned into the JAR abbreviation, using mason jars as water glasses and constructing a chandelier with rope-suspended jars surrounding light bulbs.

Caushi opened the restaurant in May, presenting a menu of international tapas-style small plates. The dishes spanned the globe: birria taco pizza, yakitori skewers, Texas ribs, carne asada, and even Balkan lamb cevapi (grilled sausage) and patate shqiptare (crispy pan-fried potatoes with mustard butter) from Caushi’s native Albania.

But before long, Caushi was facing the same staffing issues as restaurateurs all over the country. His first chef left, and the replacement chef didn’t work out, either. “It was a domino effect,” he says. Caushi changed the menu four times in as many months, streamlining it and offering dishes that were easier to prepare with fewer kitchen employees: tacos, nachos, sliders, wings, fish and chips. He began closing the restaurant for lunch hours, focusing instead on dinner and bar business. “With the restaurant business, once you start getting bad reviews, there’s no coming back from that,” he says.

Caushi is looking to the future again, with plans to revamp the menu under a new chef. He wants to keep successful dishes going: spicy fried chicken bites in a miso garlic sauce, pork gyoza, edamame, calamari. A charcuterie board will stay, along with a zesty baked buffalo chicken dip served with tortilla chips. But he’s also looking to bring back some of the international flavors his early customers enjoyed. “I want to contribute a little bit from everybody,” he says, explaining that he wants to evoke people’s memories of “home” — wherever in the world that may be. “When you taste and smell, it brings up memories.”

JAR + Bar

179 Park Road, West Hartford

860-263-7030, jarbarct.com, @jarbarct

Hours: Tue.-Sat. 4-10 p.m., Sun. 4-9 p.m. Bar is open later. Closed Mon.

Wheelchair accessible

“Home” for Caushi has been Connecticut for nearly two decades, when he came to the U.S. from Albania in 2003 as a teenager. He started working as a dishwasher at Peppercorn’s Grill shortly after he came to the country, and a few years later went to college to study construction management and civil engineering. 

He continued working at Peppercorn’s, where he was eventually elevated to a general manager position. Once he finished his degree, he worked as a building inspector, but quickly realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do. He would take his restaurant experience to the next level. “I learned everything from Dino,” he says of Dino Cialfi, Peppercorn’s longtime owner. “He’s an amazing chef; an amazing business owner. I owe everything to him.”

In 2017, Caushi and his brother-in-law, Jimi Brahimi, opened Division West on LaSalle Road in West Hartford center, an upscale bistro and bar with fresh pastas, seafood entrées, steaks and chops. When the Park Road space became available a few years later (formerly home to Chengdu Restaurant and later Uncle Chow Asian Bistro) Caushi realized it needed little work, beyond some construction and cosmetic touches.

JAR quickly became a town favorite for its spacious patio, with string lights, handmade wooden tables and flower boxes. Caushi has also filled the evenings with social activities: a Tuesday game night for service industry workers, live music on Thursdays and late-night ladies’ night specials, and DJs on Fridays and Saturdays.

At the bar, JAR’s team gets creative with both the names and recipes, dubbing a Tito’s vodka and ginger beer drink the “Ermule” after Caushi, with rotating fruit flavors. A scorpion-bowl style drink serves two, with seasonal ingredients, and an espresso martini with Madagascar vanilla liqueur is one of the bar’s best-sellers.

Caushi is also working on another project, this time across the river in Manchester. He’s leased the former Catsup and Mustard burger spot on Main Street, with plans to open a restaurant with customized pizzas in the spring.

This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.