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West Hartford Business Buzz: December 7, 2020

Salsa Fresca is now open at 345 North Main St., West Hartford, in Bishops Corner. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

And just like that it’s December.

Saturday certainly turned very winter-like, even though (thankfully, in my opinion) the snow didn’t really stick around in West Hartford. I didn’t venture out the door until late in the evening to walk the dog, and although by then the snow had long since stopped the wind was whipping and it definitely felt quite wintery.

Part of the reason I didn’t leave the house Saturday was because of the weather – but it was also because it was a great day to finally do all the things I haven’t had time to do, like clean my house and decorate for Christmas. I’m not quite done with the decorating, but we did pick out our tree on Sunday (this is way early for us).

Steamed fish (bottom) and an egg roll and House Fried Rice with chicken and a spring roll from Pho 135. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ted and I also went to the Holiday Market at the Noah Webster House on Sunday, and got some great West Hartford-oriented gifts – although I won’t detail them here in case the eventual recipients are reading! There are often posts on Facebook from people looking for West Hartford gifts, and although I have probably been inside the Noah Webster House at least 50 times, I never realized what a cool museum shop they have where even outside of a special event like the Holiday Market you can find local items. See below for more information!

I’m feeling the pressure to continue to visit or get take-out from a different West Hartford restaurant every weekend (people have been asking me where we are going each week) – and it’s a good thing there are so many choices in town. This Saturday we did take-out from Pho 135 (135 South Main St.), and it was just perfect for a cold night. The pho that Ted ordered is not pictured because it was a bit complicated to assemble in a way that looked camera-friendly (it was delicious, but came in multiple containers to keep the ingredients from getting soggy), but my dinner (steamed fish with onions and mushrooms on glass noodles) and Sam’s chicken fried rice were quite photogenic – and yummy!

Before launching into the Business Buzz, I want to wish my future son-in-law, Matt Redman, a very Happy 27th Birthday today!

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Read last week’s tip and feature about The Medspa here.

Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.

Keeping it in the Community Tip: Shop Small and Shop Local

ICYMI, we are repeating this tip from a few weeks ago because it’s just as important as ever as the holiday shopping season really gets into full swing. As we’ve discussed throughout this column, small and local businesses really need your support this year. Did you know that for every $100 you spend at a local business, $68 will stay in our community. In addition, local businesses are more likely to support and utilize services of other local businesses. With so many options out there this holiday season, we encourage you to shop local to help keep dollars in our community and stimulate our local economy. #shopsmall #shoplocal

Our local businesses are working really hard to attract customers. They are building new websites, increasing their social media presence, offering amenities like curbside pick-up, and finding creative ways to differentiate themselves and at the same time operate safely in an environment for which there is no playbook.

There are links below to a few stories that we published on We-Ha.com this past week (welcome to new freelancer Kristina Vakhman, who is the author of one of them!) and it’s clearly evident that business owners are worried that if COVID-19 cases continue to escalate, there may need to be another shutdown. I remember what a ghost town West Hartford was like back in the early spring with shops and restaurants shuttered, and I hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing my best to support our local businesses and hope others do as well.

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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:

Beef quesadilla from Salsa Fresca. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There is a new option for fresh fast casual food in West Hartford! Salsa Fresca Mexican Grill, which offers “fresh, never frozen” southwestern cuisine, opened Dec. 1 at 345 North Main St. (next to Blue Plate Kitchen), as the regional chain’s first franchise location. Lester Valdes, one of the co-owners and general manager of the new franchise, said he has been with the company for 10 years, and is excited to be opening the new location. Although due to COVID-19 there was no grand opening celebration, Valdes said he put up the “now open” sign, and people have already been discovering the restaurant. “The great thing is we do everything from scratch,” Valdes said. Favorites are the burritos and the bowls, available with a choice of protein including chicken, shredded beef, ground beef, pork, or tofu, as well as with roasted veggies or rajas. “Build-your-own” dishes are also offered as tacos, salads, quesadillas, or nachos, and there are signature dishes as well – all served with chips and fresh salsa. Menu items range from $7.45 to $9.95, and sides like chips and guac, and kids meals, are also available. “We also have ‘old school’ sodas,” Valdes said, “like cream soda and birch beer that you don’t often find around here.” The sodas are all made from pure cane sugar rather than artificial sweeteners. The space (formerly Qdoba, which closed in November 2018) will be kept at 50% capacity due to COVID, but the food is easy to order to-go, and they also have curbside pick-up as well as delivery through third party services. Salsa Fresca employs 28 people, and Valdes said some of the challenges involved with opening during the COVID-19 pandemic involve training staff – which had to be done in small groups.  In a news release about the opening, Salsa Fresca’s corporate co-owner Marc Miles said, “Throughout this year’s pandemic emergency, we have continued to offer our customers a heightened level of safety and cleanliness, and continued providing our customers with the always-fresh food they have come to know and love. We are proud to ensure the safety of our staff and customers, and as the good news of a potential vaccine makes headlines, we are very pleased to continue our expansion plan to bring Salsa Fresca to new communities.” An open kitchen, commitment to cleanliness, and an online ordering system already in place have benefitted Salsa Fresca as they look to expand during the pandemic. Expansion was delayed somewhat due to the pandemic, but following West Hartford new locations in Fairfield and Westport are set to open soon.  Salsa Fresca is open daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, visit the website www.salsafrescagrill.com, or download the app. See more photos at the end of the column.

Christmas and Hanukah cupcakes and cake pops from Cake Gypsy, which plans to open in West Hartford in early 2021. Courtesy photo

  • It’s been rumored for quite some time, but Cake Gypsy is really coming to West Hartford! Cake Gypsy – which has quite the dedicated following and is known for having 60 different flavors of cupcakes available – currently has locations in Avon and Granby, and is also planning to open a shop in Canton in early 2021. “We’re going to be starting build-out as soon as possible,” Damen said regarding the West Hartford space, and while she isn’t able to provide the exact location quite yet, she confirmed that it is in Elmwood, on the 1100 block of New Britain Avenue, and has plenty of parking available. She hopes to open the shop in early February. Among the cupcake flavors are gluten free and vegan varieties, and Cake Gypsy also offers cake pops, cookies, cannolis, and party supplies like plates and candles for those special celebrations. “I’ve wanted to be in West Hartford for about 12 years,” Damen said. Much more to come as the plans are finalized and the opening nears!

A shop inside the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society sells a wide variety of West Hartford-related gifts. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Design by Julia Gash. Courtesy Jennifer DiCola Matos

  • While attending the Holiday Market at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society on Sunday, I wanted to buy one of the limited-edition 2020 ornaments (see photo below), which were for sale in the museum shop. As I noted in the intro above, I have been in the Noah Webster House at least 50 times over the years, but I have never really paid attention to the shop – which is really an undiscovered gem offering all sorts of West Hartford merchandise. In addition to the ornaments, there are beautiful ceramic mugs – these are substantial mugs with good heft to them – plus a ceramic vessel without a handle (that I guessed might be for grog!), West Hartford blankets, jewelry, books, and other items. Pretty much everything has something to do with West Hartford, or has historical significance. And, there will soon be much more available in the museum shop. Noah Webster House Executive Director Jennifer DiCola Matos shared a draft of a custom-made West Hartford design (this version is still a draft, but she said it’s almost final) that will soon appear on a wide assortment of merchandise, including prints, dish towels, tote bags, mugs, coaster sets, t-shirts, magnets, and water bottles that will soon be for sale  at the shop, which is open whenever the museum is open, daily from 1-4 p.m.

Courtesy image

  • The Aiken PTO is holding a fundraiser for West Hartford Police Sgt. Chris Tyler, who is battling a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. Tyler’s oldest son, Brayden, is a student at Aiken and the PTO is hoping to help the family with their significant medical bills. Ocho Cafe will be donating 10% of all proceeds for the purchase of dine-in or take-out food on Monday, Dec. 7 (that’s today), between 3-10 p.m. For more information about Tyler, click here.

Courtesy West Hartford Fire Department

  • The West Hartford Fire Department is hosting a “stuff the truck” toy drive to benefit Toys for Tots this Friday, at Toy Chest in West Hartford Center, between the hours of 2-4 p.m. The West Hartford Police Department has also been holding toy drives, to benefit the Town That Cares Fund, and will have one last stuff-a-cruiser, next Tuesday (Dec. 15) at Target in Bishops Corner, and I’ll include that flyer in next week’s column.

Courtesy Friends of Feeney

  • One more toy drive that has been brought to my attention is the “Be A Good Friend” Toy Drive being hosted by Friends of Feeney to support the Wolcott Caring School Committee. It will be held Saturday, Dec. 12, from 1-4 p.m at SockStarz (18 LaSalle Rd.). According to Feeney, there will also be a raffle with some great prizes from local businesses including Donut Crazy, The Fix IV, Relax The Back, Float 41, French Cleaners, Daswani Clothiers, Fresh Ink, Elmwood Makerspace, Lost Arts Barbershop, Resilence Fitness LLC, Savage Pallet Projects, We Care Computers, West Hartford Lock, and We ReBoot PC – iTech. Feeney has also partnered with some local business that are featuring some great gifts which also support his nonprofit, including a collection from SockStarz and a special coffee from WeHa Brewing and Roasting. Any interested in donating to the Wolcott Caring School Committee who is unable to attend the toy drive can do so through this link.

Small State Provisions bread. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

  • Kevin Masse, a West Hartford resident who launched the cottage baking business Small State Provisions in October 2019, was recently featured in a segment by Christine Stuart on NBC Connecticut. Click here to watch the segment.
  • There have been many instances of businesses throughout town stating that they are closing for a day, or a few days, or even a week or two for deep cleaning. Some have been open and transparent about the temporary closing being due to a COVID-19 outbreak, while others have just said they are closed temporarily. Closings have recently happened at Savoy (they’re supposed to reopen today), the Starbucks in Bishops Corner, and Cumberland Farms. We will let everyone know if any of the closings become more than a brief shutdown.
  • One closing that is more than brief is Trumbull Kitchen, a member of Max Restaurant Group, which announced last week that it would close after dinner service on Saturday, Dec. 5, and plans to remain closed until the spring. According to a news release, Max Restaurant Group founder Richard Rosenthal attributed the decision to close Trumbull Kitchen temporarily to the ongoing impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has dramatically reduced activity in Hartford’s central business district. “As downtown Hartford’s major employers have eliminated business travel and pivoted to remote work, business at Trumbull Kitchen has been significantly reduced,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “We want to make certain that Trumbull Kitchen is prepared to welcome our guests and friends back once the pandemic passes and the energy and vitality of downtown Hartford returns.” Max Downtown will feature a sampling of Trumbull Kitchen items on its tavern menu, and Rosenthal said that” all employees currently working at Trumbull Kitchen will be offered jobs, if available, at one of the seven other Max Restaurant Group locations in the Greater Hartford, CT/Springfield, MA area.”
  • The restaurant industry is a huge part of West Hartford’s economy, and statewide the hospitality industry accounts for 10% of the state’s workforce. We reported recently that according to the Connecticut Restaurant Association, more than 600 Connecticut restaurants have closed their doors since the pandemic began, and as the cold weather sets in and the pandemic continues to rage, the industry will continue to struggle. West Hartford-based marketing business Eat IN Connecticut is helping promote a statewide marketing campaign –  #saveCTrestaurants – which launched last week to help restaurants communicate the impact of the pandemic on their business. Eat IN Connecticut said in a news release that through this campaign, restaurants will share photos or video on their social media showcasing the “real story” of what the industry is facing. Individuals can help by creating an impact video or impact photo. An “Impact Video” should include: What do you miss most? Eat IN Connecticut provided the following instructions: “Record a short video about your favorite memory dining out. Share a memory about celebrating a special occasion at one of our favorite restaurants. We want to hear your stories and how much restaurants mean to you. To maximize engagement on social media platforms, we suggest you keep the video to 30 seconds or less.” An “Impact Photo” is a photo of yourself at one of your favorite restaurants, pre- or post-COVID, with a sign that makes a statement regarding #saveCTrestaurants … “I miss date nights,” “I celebrated my 20th Anniversary here,” “Please support our restaurant families.” The campaign is asking for the videos or photos to be shared on social media, with the restaurant tagged, along with the hashtags: #saveCTrestaurants #ctrestaurants #eatinconnecticut #eatinct #ctbites #ctfoodlovers as well as the tags @saveCTrestaurants @ctrestaurantassoc @eatinconnecticut @ctbites @ctfoodlovers @govnedlamont @CTDECD, and any of your local elected officials and media. Tag We-Ha.com’s Instagram (@westhartfordite) as well, or tag us on Twitter (@wehartford), and I’ll share, too.
  • There was quite a lot of business news this past week, both locally and statewide. ICYMI, the West Hartford Town Council recently adopted a nine-month moratorium on certain types of development within a quarter-mile of the CTFastrak stations while they work to establish new zoning regulations to encourage transit-oriented development in the area. Click here for the details.
  • Late Thursday night, after a more than 4.5-hour public hearing followed by a meeting to vote (I listened to all of it, live), the West Hartford Town Council approved a zoning change from single-family to multi-family and establishment of a Special Development District which will permit the construction of The Residences at Berkshire Road, at the corner of Berkshire Road and New Britain Avenue. Read the full story here.
  • Kristina Vakhman spoke to West Hartford restaurateurs throughout town last week about their concerns and plans for faint the winter months. Click here for the full story.
  • Ted Glanzer was the first to report on the lawsuit filed by a former World of Beer employee who lost his job over the summer in the aftermath of a social media storm that arose after he presented two patrons, one of whom was Black, with a bottle of Yellow Belly beer (which comes in a wrapper that resembles a KKK hood). Click here to read the full story on We-Ha.com.  
  • Dennis House will be moderating a free virtual series hosted by the University of Saint Joseph on a variety of critical issues. The first session is Tuesday, Dec. 8, and focuses on the healthcare workforce. Details can be found here.
  • There’s even more business news, including some statewide reports from our partners at CTNewsJunkie.com. Click on the “Business” tab for all of the business news.

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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Salsa Fresca, now open at 345 North Main St., West Hartford ( Bishops Corner), offers signature dishes and build-you-own options. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Salsa Fresca, now open at 345 North Main St., West Hartford ( Bishops Corner), offers signature dishes and build-you-own options. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Chicken bowl inside a taco shell from Salsa Fresca. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Salsa Fresca, now open at 345 North Main St., West Hartford ( Bishops Corner), offers signature dishes and build-you-own options. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Salsa Fresca is now open at 345 North Main St., West Hartford, in Bishops Corner. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Sodas at Salsa Fresca are made from natural cane sugar. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Noah Webster House ornament. Courtesy photo

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We-Ha

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