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West Hartford Business Buzz: December 10, 2018

Updated interior of Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.

By Ronni Newton

On this Sunday a year ago, I wrote that I was feeling a sense of déjà vu as I was writing the column.

And I will say that once again it’s the Sunday afternoon two weeks before Christmas, and it’s been a crazy couple of weeks of work with a never-ending flow of news – but unlike the past two years, this year we do have our tree decorated! When we realized it wasn’t going to be possible to have both kids here to do the tree together for at least another week we decorated it with Sam (who came home to study for finals) and his girlfriend last night. We did save some of Katie’s personal ornaments for her to add later this week.

Just like on this Sunday last year, the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra had its Holiday Concert. There is nothing like beautiful music of the season to lift one’s mood – especially after the Patriots just blew that game.

Unlike the past two years, there isn’t any snow on the ground – which is perfectly fine with me. My Facebook newsfeed is full of snow photos posted by friends in North Carolina and Virginia, and in my opinion they can keep the snow. I’m sure we will get plenty of it before winter is over.

I usually end up staying up really, really late on Sunday night writing this column, but today I am committed to having the column, and the rest of my work, done before 10 p.m. I think I’m going to succeed.

As I have said the past few years, it’s time to keep taking those deep breaths, and time to enjoy the sights, sounds, light, music, and spirit of the holiday season. And maybe even welcome the possibility of snow.

If you have tips about businesses opening or closing, 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:

White pie salmon has been a longtime favorite of mine. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • As a steady stream of new restaurants open, particularly in West Hartford Center, the “original” restaurants have been faced with much more competition and many more choices. Luna Pizza’s owner Alex MacDonald is very aware of the need to remain relevant, and has recently completed some updates designed to do just that. MacDonald, who as of this week is the father of three children under the age of 5, has given Luna Pizza a facelift that has made it more family-friendly and at the same time increased the menu offerings and created a space where adults will enjoy sitting down for a beer from the new tap list, or a glass of wine. MacDonald said he took over Luna from his uncle in March 2008. “Back in 1997, when it opened, there were only five or six places to eat [in the Center] so you needed to pack the restaurant with seats,” he said. Now there are plenty of places to eat, but few of them are really appropriate for energetic toddlers and young children. “It’s okay for them not to sit still here,” MacDonald said. He added a large chalk wall in the front of the restaurant to give kids something to do while waiting for their food, or while their parents are finishing up or waiting to pay the check. And for those who are dining alone, MacDonald added the bar so that anyone could be comfortable coming in alone for a drink or something to eat. He’s brought back a full kitchen to augment the pizza oven, and added to the menu. There are now arrancini balls, fried calamari, bruschetta, and burrata included in the selection of appetizers, along with the traditional wings, meatballs and garlic knots. There are also a selection of entrees which are completely new – dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or sausage, lasagna, chicken or eggplant parm, and penne a la vodka. “Simple, traditional Italian dishes, that can be served ‘for me,’ or family style ‘for us,'” said MacDonald. A kids menu will also be added. “The pizzas are all the same,” said MacDonald [including my personal favorite, the white pie salmon]. “That’s my bread and butter.” In addition to the updated menu, MacDonald has added a bar, added pressed copper to match the ceiling, and added artwork depicting the ingredients he uses in his food, all of which is from local purveyors. And inspired by his children, for the holiday season, there’s a scene from “Charlie Brown Christmas” on the windows. The changes, MacDonald said, are “my dream.” See more photos below.

    Union KItchen ribbon cutting. Photo courtesy of Winter Caplanson, Connecticut Food and Farm

  • In other food news, on Wednesday night Union Kitchen had its ribbon cutting with its owners and officials from the town and the Chamber of Commerce, followed by the official grand opening! So far the feedback is very positive, and everyone likes how visible the restaurant is from the LaSalle Road sidewalk. Click here to read the feature story about Union Kitchen.
  • Congrats to Dorjan Puka and Scott Miller of DORO Restaurant Group, winners of “Restaurateurs of the Year” at the inaugural CRAzies Awards (Connecticut Restaurant Association) last Monday at Foxwoods. “The partners of DORO Restaurant Group have created a buzz in the industry with four successful restaurants since 2010 and they are looking to open their fifth venture in 2019,” stated a press release announcing the winners. MeKayla Roy from Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen, which is one of the DORO restaurants, was named Bartender of the Year.

    From left: Barbara Foley, president of the Ron Foley Foundation; musician Matt Como; musician Andrew Como; Steve Dunham, general manager of New Country Mercedes-Benz and Jennifer Loughran, executive vice president of the Ron Foley Foundation. Submitted photo

  • During National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November, nearly $7,000 was raised at the second annual Rock Away Pancreatic Cancer event to benefit the West Hartford-based nonprofit Ron Foley Foundation. New Country Mercedes-Benz was transformed into a stylish purple night club for a fundraiser dedicated to helping Connecticut families affected by one of the deadliest forms of cancer. More than ­­­120 guests came out on Nov. 16 to support the charity and enjoy a private concert by the incredibly talented Como Brothers, a popular musical duo from Long Island whose songs have been featured on such popular TV shows as E! Entertainment’s Keeping up with the Kardashians, MTV’s Real World and Oxygen Channel’s Best Ink“We can’t thank Tim Parker, Steve Dunham, and everyone at New Country enough for making this a night to remember for the second year in a row,” Barbara Foley, president of the Ron Foley Foundation, said in a news release. “With their continued support, we were able to raise $6,800 for pancreatic cancer awareness, research and early detection to fight this terrible disease.” Foley also expressed gratitude for the local businesses that donated refreshments, as well as the volunteers for their time and generous financial contributions. Guests were treated to delicious fare from Treva Restaurant, Joey’s Pizza Pie, Joy of Food, Crown Market and Salute Restaurant. Decadent desserts were provided by Chocolate Moonshine Co.
  • Back to food (which definitely seems to be the theme this week), El Pollo Guapo opened its second location at 26 Front St. in Hartford on Wednesday. West Hartford residents Matt and Heather LeBlanc have partnered with Roy and Heather Riedl (of Mercado Food Truck) as owners of both the Wethersfield and Hartford restaurants, which specialize in rotisserie chicken as well as fresh side dishes, tacos, and salads. For more information, visit the website.

    The Alexander Hamilton cocktail. Submitted photo

  • Who else has Hamilton tickets? (Yes, I do!) The show opens at the Bushnell this week, and Bar Piña at the Goodwin (co-owned by Tyler Anderson, who is also an owner of Cook and the Bear in West Hartford, and a West Hartford resident), will begin offering patrons two signature cocktails in honor of the award-winning musical. The following is from a news release: “Taking a cue from the script, ‘How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and scholar?’ Cabral channeled the  ‘ten-dollar founding father without a father,’ Alexander Hamilton, in his latest additions to the menu: The Alexander Hamilton Cocktail: comprised of Scarlet Ibis Rum, Cardamaro, Cocchi Torrino Vermouth, Black Walnut Bitters and Scotch Mist ($12.00) and The Founders Fizz: Greenall’s Gin, Fresh Lime Juice, Sugar and Soda Water ($10.00).
  • In non-food news, according to a news release, West Hartford Realtor Jennifer M. Albanesi (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England) is the Outstanding Service Award recipient for 2018 from the Avon Volunteer Fire Department. The award stated that her service is indefatigable, her personal presence is ubiquitous, and she serves as an example of a true volunteer. “Jen is dedicated to all that she does. Whether she is volunteering, helping her family, or working with her clients as a Realtor, she exudes enthusiasm, commitment and unbelievable energy. We are thrilled that Jen received this honor and is a part of our team.” said Meryl Freedman, office leader.
  • There was so much business news last week, it’s hard to believe that there was anything left to put into this column! ICYMI, Target has officially signed a lease with Edens, and will be opening in the former Walmart Neighborhood Market space in Bishops Corner in 2019! Click here for the complete story.
  • Another story last week was a peek into the soon-to-open CycleBar West Hartford, which will now be opening on Dec. 20. Rides are free for the first week, and click here for details.
  • It’s Toys for Tots time, and the Park Road Association is banding together to support this campaign. Click here for locations that are accepting new, unwrapped toys.
  • West Hartford’s inaugural Restaurant Week netted more than $10,000 for Foodshare, and a check was presented last week. The event was so well-received by restaurants, patrons, and the beneficiary, that a winter Restaurant Week in January is in the final planning stages. Click here for details.
  • For more of  last week’s business news, click here.

Remember, if you have any business news to share, add it in the comments section below or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].

Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!

Holiday decoration on the window at Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The new bar at Luna Pizza includes a selection of local craft beers. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The beer list at Luna Pizza is displayed on the “can” on the bar. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Updated interior of Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Chalk wall at Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Arrancini balls are one of the new appetizers at Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Garlic knots at Union Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Buffalo chicken pizza at Luna Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newon

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