Criscuolo seeks to make amends for his actions
Matt Criscuolo is contrite. After being caught by Wilton police funneling raw sewage into the Norwalk River from his property at 991 Danbury Road — where his restaurant Toozy Patza Pizza and Bistro 7, which he co-owns, are located — he is trying to make amends by raising money for five environmental organizations.
“I’m not offering an excuse for my actions,” he said as part of an interview with The Bulletin. “There aren’t any. My actions were borne out of an extremely stressful situation which challenged me financially and emotionally and in other ways as well. I did make a mistake and exercised poor judgment. I was under duress and was overwhelmed.”
What Mr. Criscuolo is now trying to do is have an “environmental awareness day” in each of his three restaurants: Wilton Pizza in Wilton Center, Toozy Patza Pizza in Georgetown and Piccolo Pizza in Ridgefield.
Beginning in September, the first Monday of every month will be Environmental Awarenss Day, with half of the profits donated to Earth Justice, Friends of the Earth, Connecticut Audubon Society, Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Environmental Advocates of New York. Mr. Criscuolo said he picked organizations that were local or not too far from home. Two — Earth Justice and Friends of the Earth — are broader based. He will continue the effort as long as he can afford to do it, he said.
Sitting at a table at Wilton Pizza Tuesday morning, Mr. Criscuolo said he is trying to increase environmental awareness “to people like me who are very busy working, very busy trying to make ends meet. ... I think that (environmental) awareness could lead to better choices and more proactive choices like this.
Despite his actions regarding the Norwalk River, Mr. Criscuolo said he was “on this trajectory anyway.”
“When I opened Bistro 7, which is as locally sourced as possible, that wasn’t an accident,” he said, adding he has made other nutritional innovations such as adding gluten-free and non-dairy cheese items to his menus.
With his fiancée Renée Kaminsky, he has been involved in animal rights events and they operate a rescue organization for cats called West Meadow Rescue. Other positive influences have been his father, Matthew Criscuolo Sr., and his son, Julian.
“The problem is, I didn’t listen to them all the time.”
Mr. Criscuolo’s troubles began earlier this year when the septic system at Toozy Patza Pizza failed and sewage began bubbling up from manhole covers in the parking lot.
“The problem was the septic system was no longer functional to effectively serve the building,” he said.
Wilton Health Director Steven Schole sent a letter to Mr. Criscuolo on April 5 indicating “pumping of the septic system is required until a permanent repair is in place.”
Facing possible closure of the businesses at 991 Danbury Road, Mr. Criscuolo hired a professional engineer who reviewed the site on April 26. Mr. Schole indicated the situation had to be remedied by the end of July.
Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, June 4, Wilton police discovered Mr. Criscuolo using a sump pump to discharge sewage into catch basins on Sugar Hollow Road, which ultimately drain into the river, an act for which he said he is “regretful” and which “I will remember for the rest of my life.”
On June 21, police charged him with “discharging sewage into a water supply without a permit,” a misdemeanor with a possibly hefty penalty: up to a year in prison, a $25,000 fine or both.
Mr. Criscuolo is due back in court Tuesday, Aug. 27. He has yet to enter a plea and refused to comment specifically on the court case.
The septic problem was finally rectified last week. “Extra tanks have been added along with extra piping. It’s been redesigned and modified,” Mr. Criscuolo said. An oxygenator has been added to help the system operate at peak efficiency, he added.
Mr. Criscuolo has owned the property since 2007 or 2008, he said.
“There was no warning” there were problems with the system, he said, adding he had the parking lot repaved two years ago. He declined to say how much he spent on repairs but added they were not covered by insurance.
Mr. Criscuolo lives in Wilton and has been involved with many community events and fund-raisers since opening Wilton Pizza 20 years ago.
“People who know me realize my actions are not consistent with how I’ve carried myself the last 17 or 18 years,” he said. “My effort is not to bring in more business. It’s to help me with my spirit and my soul and turn an otherwise bad situation into something positive.
Citing a myriad of issues from “animals dying by the thousands in kill shelters” to “food producers making foods that Americans eat daily that have chemicals and ingredients that should not be in foods,” he said he wanted to use the interview to “remind people that no matter how busy we are trying to make a living and support our families, no matter how stressed we can become financially when situations arise, that we must constantly remind ourselves and educate ourselves about the importance of making better choices and increasing our awareness so that we live healthier and happier.
“I love this community and am trying the best I can to bring something of value to the community.”