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Danbury Couple Brings Unique Latin Cuisine To Bethel Restaurant Scene

Sandra Parra-Flores, left, with Executive Chef Luke Charof, owns Copas Restaurant in Bethel with her husband, Carlos. The restaurant celebrates its one-year anniversary in January.
Sandra Parra-Flores, left, with Executive Chef Luke Charof, owns Copas Restaurant in Bethel with her husband, Carlos. The restaurant celebrates its one-year anniversary in January. Photo Credit: Tom Renner

BETHEL, Conn. -- Carlos Flores brings more than the skill to prepare Latin continental cuisine to Copas Restaurant in Bethel, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month.

Flores, a Danbury resident who owns the restaurant his wife, Sandra, brings experience, vision, creativity, passion and a work ethic rooted in impoverished Central America. Each character trait played an important role in the restaurant’s arrival in Bethel on Grassy Plain Street.

“He started working when in Sardi’s in New York when he was 18 years old,’’ Sandra said. “He came from nothing. He never went to school, but he ran two New York restaurants for 15 years. He knows a lot of different cuisines, and he loves food.”

Carlos opened his first restaurant, La Piccolina in New Milford, eight years ago. Sandra, who had a career in marketing for pharmaceutical companies, quit her job and joined her husband in establishing the restaurant. “I’m from a totally different world,’’ Sandra said. “I knew how to go to a restaurant to eat and drink, and that was about it. I didn’t know anything about this business.”

She learned quickly, handling the marketing, promotion, accounting and personnel.

Two years ago, Carlos frequently drove past the location, a pizzeria that would become Copas. He sensed the business was faltering and admired the location. “He would see the nice big windows and envisioned a beautiful bar area,’’ Sandra said. “He foresaw it before any of us did.”

Sandra and Carlos purchased the restaurant, and Carlo set about singlehandedly renovating the space. He split his time, working on renovations in the morning at the Bethel restaurant before heading to New Milford. He returned to Bethel late in the evening to resume the renovations. For six months, Carlos worked 18- and 20-hour days between both businesses. Among the improvements are the gorgeous bar area Carlos envisioned where guests can enjoy drinks while looking through the large windows.

“He constructed the business from the bottom up,’’ Sandra said. “He did all the plumbing, the painting and the electricity. He’s a workaholic.”

Carlos chose Latin cuisine because the area already had numerous Italian pizzerias and eateries. “We didn’t want the same old thing,’’ Sandra said. “We wanted to bring something different to Bethel.”

Copas’ menu offers a little bit of everything, including soups, salads, entrees, sandwiches and tapas. Carlos offers a series of unique fish dishes with red snapper, tilapia, salmon, shrimp, calamari and more. One of the favorites at Copas is a Cuban sandwich with grilled roast pork, ham, swiss cheese and pickles.

“We make everything with fresh ingredients and everything is made by hand,’’ Sandra said. “Carlos knows every price for every fish in every store. He knows quality, and if it’s not right, he won’t purchase it. Everyone who comes here will know the food is prepared with love and it’s fresh.”

Copas sits in a plaza near the Danbury border. It’s also within walking distance or a short drive from several burgeoning areas in Bethel, where there has been a bevy of recent construction. It has been well-received by diners looking for an elegant and intimate setting.

“There are a lot of good places,’’ Sandra said. “What we wanted is an elegant, upscale restaurant that people can feel good in. We’re from New York City, and we wanted to give people an option of something they might find there. It is just a different choice for this area. We figured we could really attract people with that concept.”

Restaurant work has been a seismic shift career-wise for Sandra, who spent nearly two decades in a corporate environment before leaving to join her husband. “Talk about a learning curve,’’ she laughed. “All my suits are collecting dust. I think if you’re organized, that makes things easier for you. I never thought I’d be in the restaurant business, but we make it work. He respects me, and I respect him. We work together as a team.”

Now, nearly three decades after he started in the industry, Carlos has two restaurants with different cuisines and clientele. He has come a long way since his days as a boy in Central America where he grew up eating rice and beans nearly every day before coming with his family to the United States. “He’s a workaholic,’’ Sandra said. “He really enjoys working.”

Copas Restaurant is open Tuesdays through Sundays. Click here for the restaurant’s website and here for its Facebook page.

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