A century-old former restaurant has been transformed into a religious community center, with the help of pro bono work by Norwalk-based Goldman, Gruder & Woods.
Real estate attorney practitioner Kenneth M. Gruder, one of the firm's founding partners, said it has taken 18 months to facilitate the sale of the once-Three Bears Restaurant, which was owned by the Vazzano family, to Chabad of Westport, Wilton, Weston and Norwalk, which is part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement within Orthodox Judaism. The purchase price was $1.6 million.
Parts of the 9,180-square-foot, white, Colonial-style building dates to the early 1800s, when it served as a stagecoach stop. The Three Bears Restaurant opened in the early 20th century, and generations of Fairfield County residents enjoyed the cozy atmosphere, fireplaces and unpretentious cuisine.
"It's a very important landmark in the town of Westport and lower Fairfield County," said Gruder. "It was a restaurant for so long in the area and is so well known for its location and its prominence."
Gruder, who has been involved with Chabad for approximately eight years, said the building will be used for religious services, classes for adults and children and community meetings. Chabad occupied the building as a tenant for a number of months as the sale agreement was being negotiated.
Gruder said hammering out the purchase contract was a process not devoid of complication. "When you represent a nonprofit in a project, you have to be very careful to take into account the needs and desires for all the board members, who really stand a wide spectrum of different personalities," he said.
The law firm doesn't keep formal records of pro bono work, but Gruder estimated that more than 100 hours was spent on the Chabad project. Gruder and one of the firm's other co-founders, Michael Goldman, worked alongside other attorneys at no charge for all 18 months.
Pro bono work for Jewish congregational organizations is something Gruder and Goldman strongly believe in. "From our firm's get-go, we've done tons and tons of work for the synagogue we both attend, which is Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Bridgeport," said Goldman, who has been on the synagogue's board for at least 18 years. "Generally, we've been doing such nonprofit legal work without charge: real estate transactions and corporate formations, bylaws and general advice."
In his regular practice, Goldman handles a significant amount of "business entity work," including forming entities, and a large quantity of corporate and LLC governance issues. He said that many of the businesses, corporations or LLC's he represents entail helping and advising partners who can't agree.
"Whether it's pro bono or for profit corporations, the same legal issues come into play," said Goldman. "I use the same brain cells to handle both kinds of things because they are kind of related."