By Richard Lee

STAFF WRITER

Restaurateurs Aldo and Joe Criscuolo have a tasty new business.

The brothers, who have built a reputation for their three pizza restaurants in Stamford, Darien and Norwalk, are opening the first Tasti D-Lite frozen dessert store in Connecticut today in Darien. Located in a 700-square-foot space at 380 Heights Road, the store conveniently located near Heights Pizza, operated by the family.

Located in a space formerly occupied by TaDa clothing store, the store will employ four full- and part-time employees.

Aldo Criscuolo became a fan of Tasti D-Lite when he was a college student in New York City.

“I thought it would be a great fit for Fairfield County. About seven years ago, I gave them my name and said if they ever want to expand, give me a call,” he said. “Last year, they gave me a call.”

Carol Tamme, president and chief executive officer of the Darien Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the arrival of the shop, noting that the New York-based chain has made an appearance on commercial television.

“I’ve heard it mentioned on ’Sex and the City’ and tasted it in Manhattan, but I have not seen one anywhere in Connecticut. It’s supposed to be lower in calories than regular ice cream, so that could be a big selling point,” said Tamme, a registered dietitian.

Tasti D-Lite soft-serve, dairy-based frozen dessert is not ice cream because it does not have the high butterfat or total solids. A 4-ounce serving has 80 calories or less, 5 grams of sugar and 1.5 grams of fat. The recipe, which has not changed since the founding of the company in 1987, is protected.

The store also will offer smoothies, fruit parfaits and cakes.

“It really is the perfect, guilt-free treat,” said Aldo Criscuolo.

The Criscuolos are not stopping with the Darien store. They plan to open another Tasti-D-Lite in mid-June in a 1,100-square-foot space at 211 Main St. in Stamford.

“We own the property, and we think it’s a good fit for downtown Stamford,” said Aldo Criscuolo, expecting the shop to be busy when the city hosts its annual Alive at 5 concerts at nearby Columbus Park.

Founded in 1987, Tasti D-Lite was bought by SPG Partners LLC, a New York-based private equity firm, in 2007, and it has grown to 50 locations, benefiting from exposure on popular television series including “30 Rock” and “The Apprentice.”

Franchisees opened stores in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas in 2009. Additional stores are planned in California, Illinois and Missouri in 2010. Tasti D-Lite recently opened a store in Mexico and already has a presence in South Korea.

“We are extremely excited to be expanding into Connecticut because the consumer demographics and emphasis on healthful eating and living represent a perfect fit with what Tasti D-Lite offers,” said Jim Amos, Tasti D-Lite’s chairman and chief executive officer, in prepared comments.

The Criscuolos’ experience as restaurateurs is an important aspect in operating the franchise, according to the company.

“They understand what it takes to be a good restaurateur, and they have a passion for the product. They understand what it takes to build customer relationships, and they understand the Stamford and Darien communities,” said Bill Zinke, chief marketing officer for Tasti D-Lite.

In June, the brothers plan to open Tappo restaurant at 51 Bank St., in Stamford, offering cuisine from Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

The 1,320-square-foot space, which formerly housed a pottery store called Hand Painted, will have about a half-dozen employees.

The brothers, who operate GNA Associates, a real estate and property management company, in late 2009 bought a 34,440-square-foot building at Washington and North Main streets that formerly housed Avrick Furniture. They plan to convert the building into a first-floor restaurant and offices and living units on the upper floors.