A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
Happy Monday! Even though Sunday’s weather wasn’t very nice, Saturday was wonderful as was most of last week and I’m feeling very springy and happy to see the grass turning green, flowers in bloom, and the leaves beginning to come out on the trees.
People are out and about in the Center, and I took this photo below on Friday afternoon. Note the cool awnings over the tables at Arethusa.
I’m also very happy that my son got his COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday – and my husband gets his second Pfizer dose this Monday afternoon, and my sister and my future son-in-law are also scheduled for second doses this week, and then our whole family will be vaccinated. I am really looking forward to all of being able to see – and hug – the rest of the extended family very soon!
Sam was originally scheduled for his first dose on April 19, but on Sunday morning I happened to see a tweet from New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart about a pop-up J&J clinic at the New Britain Bees stadium. I texted a screenshot to Sam, who wasn’t even really awake yet, but he got up and high-tailed it over there and is now one-and-done – and will be fully vaccinated a month sooner than expected. He even made the 6 p.m. news on Channel 8!
Sometimes I am enthusiastic, but I otherwise try to be rather innocuous when I post stories on the We-Ha.com Facebook page and then share to various groups. Last week, after I covered a West Hartford Town Council budget hearing that no one attended, I kind of broke my own unwritten rule with a “crickets” comment when I posted it on Facebook, and some felt was uncalled for.
My reason for the comment was not just in response to that hearing. At the first budget hearing there was one speaker, who called in to say that she had submitted written testimony. She was not only the only speaker during the entire process, but also the only one to email the Town Council – and she indicated her support for the budget. No one spoke at the Board of Education budget hearing last month either.
Many years ago I wrote my college essay about enfranchisement of young people, and I still maintain a strong belief that it’s important to be involved in the political process. I also strongly believe that it’s important to suggest solutions and not just complain about something. Nobody really wants to pay more in taxes without seeing the value of their hard-earned dollars, so speaking up when the opportunity exists to identify possible ways for the town to trim its budget is, to me, an important and valuable part of the process. I was not intending to offend anyone, and not providing any personal commentary on the budget, but instead indicating a bit of sadness and frustration that although people will freely voice their opinions on social media, no one had bothered to do so in a forum intended for the exchange of ideas.
Also, I write very thorough stories about the town’s budget process because I think it’s important for people to know what’s going on. It’s very time-consuming, and I ask a lot of questions, and I don’t just take spit back the numbers presented but also do all the math myself to double check. Stories that take 15 minutes to write, about things like a bear crossing the road, tend to get many more page views, but I still feel it’s my duty to inform the community about what’s going on in local government, from as much of a non-biased perspective as possible.
Turning to a completely different subject, after spending some time hanging out on the patio for the first time this season, Ted and I went out for a great dinner Saturday night. We went back to Toro Taberna because the only time we had been there was during the soft opening (which was wonderful) and we had another delicious dinner, accompanied by sangria, that you can see below. We tried some new dishes, but ordered the same fideos we had at the opening because it was so good! (Full story about the restaurant can be found here.)
We hope you’ve been following our Keeping it in the Community feature, which is a collaboration with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department.
Including the tip and spotlight was making this column very long and we have decided that going forward it will be a standalone feature appearing in the middle of the week, and we will still include the link to the spotlight in Business Buzz each week. Click here to read last week’s spotlight on Yoga from the Heart.
Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.
If you have information about businesses changing their operations due to COVID-19, or doing something worth sharing, please provide that information in the comments or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].
Here’s this week’s Buzz:
- A few weeks ago I led this column with the news that JAR (Just Another Restaurant) and Bar planned to open in the former Uncle Chow Asian Fusion restaurant at 179 Park Road, but all I knew at the time was that the lease had been signed. Last week I learned that the owner of the new restaurant – which doesn’t sound like it will be “just another restaurant” at all – is Ermal Caushi, one of the owners of Division West on LaSalle Road. Along with a few partners who are longtime friends with extensive restaurant experience, Caushi has been doing some cosmetic work and is aiming for JAR and Bar to have an opening date of April 20! The interior and exterior was completely redone with major investment in upgrades made by the owners of Uncle Chow (which was at first called Mr. Chow) less than two years ago when they took over the former Chengdu space, so Caushi said all they have really done is change the colors and install new lighting. A chandelier handmade by Caushi, with lightbulbs house in jars, is being completed and will hang in the entryway. As for the concept, Caushi said the menu is still being finalized but “it’s something West Hartford doesn’t have,” and will feature “international tapas” from all seven continents. “Things I guarantee you haven’t seen around here, what mom makes at home in [those] countries,” Caushi said. The menu will include a limited number of full entrees, but “everything else is going to be tapas,” he said. There will also be a focus on craft cocktails, and Caushi said the menu will include 15-18 options, along with 12 different craft beers on tap. The space has space for 125 (non-COVID), plus 38 at the bar. He plans on some upgrades to the patio, which is 1,000 square feet and can seat between 25 and 40 more people. When JAR opens it will be open Tuesday through Sunday, for dinner only, but Caushi said he intends to add lunch service within a few months. I’ll report back when it opens!
- Warning that this is going to be a very food-oriented column … with the next piece of exciting news being that Rizzuto’s in Blue Back Square is reopening! I was driving by on Saturday when I saw the tables and awnings set up and I pulled over as quickly as I could to grab a photo. I was able to touch base with Sam Parkinson (who runs the West Hartford restaurant and is th enephew of Bill Rizzuto), and he said he’s hoping to be back open about a week from now and will provide details, including about the menu, later this week. Look for an update very soon. I know a lot of people (myself included) have been waiting a long time to welcome Rizzuto’s back, and we are looking forward to dining there as soon as possible.
- I said this was a food-oriented column, and I didn’t lie. … Next on this list is the news that Fuego Picante, which has operated a very successful food truck featuring Mexican food, is planning to open a brick and mortar restaurant in West Hartford. I spoke to owner Omar Bello, who said the restaurant will be on Park Road, the lease has been signed, and he will provide the address when they actually take over the space on May 1. He’s hoping to be open by the first or second week of June. Bello said he will provide details about the menu soon, and said that while they are waiting for their liquor license, beverages will be provided by Iron and Grain.
- How about one more food item? LobsterCraft, which plans to open at 981 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford Center, has many of their permits approved and owners Tommy Gordon and Captain William Michael Harden (Captain Mike) are working with with West Hartford Chief Building Official Tim Mikloiche to complete the rest of the permitting process, according to Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski. Hopefully it won’t be more than a few months until the opening! The full story about LobsterCraft, which announced their plans to expand from Fairfield County into West Hartford last fall, can be found here.
- Thanks to a just-delivered donation from NBT Bank, this year’s virtual Johnny’s Jog 5K has surpassed the $100,000 mark in fundraising. In the photo below, NBT Bank Connecticut Regional President Andreas Kapetanopoulos (center) presents $3,000 to Johnny’s Jog co-founders Kelly Clark (left) and Laura Moran (right). This year’s event raised more than $100,000 with some donations yet to be counted. Clark and Moran have begun planning a festive and fun return to Blue Back Square for the 11th annual event in 2022. “Just as Johnny’s life inspired optimism and joy, we are hopeful that next year’s event can return to being a celebration of that spirit,” they said. More information about this year’s Johnny’s Jog for Charity can be found here.
- I mentioned a few weeks ago that Western Massachusetts-based PeoplesBank has signed a lease for the space that was formerly a United Bank branch at 102 LaSalle Rd. (same building as the post office), which has been empty since December 2019. According to Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, the branch is targeting mid-July for opening.
- One clarification to last week’s mention that Dick’s Sporting Goods has signed a lease for the former Bed, Bath and Beyond space. The 54,782 square foot space they will occupy at 1603 South East Road will be accommodated in part by Pure Hockey moving one space over into the space right next to the newly-opened Ulta Beauty. Pure Hockey’s space may be in West Hartford (or Newington, or Farmington, or New Britain), but I’m not absolutely sure.
- One final food item: the new resident food truck at New Park Brewing is Paul & Vinnie’s, which will be serving up their signature “sangwiches” and other Italian fare for the month of April. More info on their Facebook page.
- ICYMI, there was quite a bit of business news during the week, including that Ideanomics has a contract in place to sell the former UConn West Hartford campus for $2.75 million. All the details that are available as of now can be found here.
- The Town of West Hartford and the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District has transformed the former ShopRite store on Kane Street into a vaccination clinic. Click here for the complete story.
- Kristina Vakhman spoke to several local businesses about the event industry and how things are looking for the summer. Read the full story here.
- Among the announcements at last week’s Town Council meeting is that West Hartford Town Hall will be reopening to the public next week. Read more here. (And look for more outdoor dining updates coming soon!)
Remember, if you have any business news to share, add it in the comments section below or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].
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