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West Hartford Business Buzz: February 1, 2021

ULTA Beauty will be opening at 1553-1559 New Britain Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

It’s the first day of February, and you are likely waking up to a winter wonderland – if you are a fan of snow. I suppose as things go, a Monday in February isn’t a bad time to have a snowstorm so I am going to choose to drink coffee out of my “Let It Snow” mug this morning, rather than my “Bah Humbug” mug.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and while I hope that the snow will have stopped by then, I’m hoping that the cloudy skies remain at least long enough for all of the region’s prognosticators to predict an early spring.

I visited two new West Hartford restaurants in the past week – one that has just opened (Caribe Restaurant), and another that is set to open Tuesday (Toro Taberna) – both in the Park Road neighborhood.

The link to the Caribe story is included below, and a full feature is coming about Toro Taberna (14-16 Oakwood Ave.), which had a friends and family event Saturday night that I was invited to attend. Ted and I sampled some fantastic food and drink, and here are just a few photos as a preview for what’s to come.

Braised beef Rioja with crispy onion and corn quixcos at Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Chorizo Pintxos with aoili at Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

We are continuously updating our policies at We-Ha.com, and while we don’t get too many people commenting directly on articles, I have noticed recently that many of those who do comment are not using their full names (there are multiple people who like to go by the name “concerned taxpayer” or some variation thereof), or legitimate email addresses. On the back end of the site I am able to see the email addresses, and I have often emailed people whose comments are unacceptable (typically because they include personal attacks or profanity), only to have the message returned as undeliverable in which case the comment permanently goes into the trash.

In the interest of transparency, going forward we are going to ask that those who comment please use their full names. I am also going to test out the email addresses that go with the comments, and if they are not legitimate email addresses, a comment will not be posted.

Thanks in advance for complying!

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.

Read last week’s “Keeping it in the Community” spotlight on Luna Pizza here.


Keeping it in the Community Tip: National Brands Can Be Local Too

The spirit of “shopping local’ is often associated with small, locally owned businesses. The owner is someone with whom you may even have a personal relationship. They may be members of your place of worship, play on you child’s sports team, or even be someone with whom you grew up.

“Shopping Local’ can extend beyond this. Large national brands have a major role in fueling the local economy. These companies pay taxes, employ people from the community, and often attract other companies to consider setting up shop here.

In between these two business models are franchises. Often the local franchisee is also some who lives in our community. Similar to any other business, they pay taxes and provide jobs and advancement opportunities our neighbors. They also have several advantages which can move the needle in their ability to be successful and grow our local economy. They are often supported by well known brands. They also usually have proven and repeatable systems in place to allow for not only sustaining the business, but also growing it. Like all businesses, this growth will have a positive impact on the local economy.

Remember, anytime you support a business in town, locally owned, a national brand, or a franchise, you are putting money in the hands of members of your community.

Chick-fil-A has been open for about 4 years in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: Chick-fil-A

Owner-operator Daryl Jackson opened West Hartford’s Chick-fil-A franchise in February 2017, and while it’s a national brand, the model encourages the owner operators to ingratiate themselves in their communities, which is exactly what Jackson has done.

One might think that COVID-19 hasn’t had a major impact on fast food – where takeout has always been a big part of the business, but for Chick-fil-A, that’s not the case.

“Our dining rooms have been closed since March of last year,” Jackson said. “That represents, historically, over 40% of my business. As of now, only employees are allowed in the building.”

Chick-fil-A drive-thru window. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Operations have been adapted to focus more on the drive-thru, and with that to process cars in a more expedited fashion to avoid a 40% decline in sales, and to be able to keep team members employed.

“Our drive-thru model now enables us to be able to process four to five cars at a time vs. two,” Jackso said. “This has been significant to offsetting some of the sales pressure resulting from the closed dining room.”

West Hartford’s Chick-fil-A has implemented additional meal delivery distribution points. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Chick-fil-A is the only brick and mortar location Jackson owns, but he also operated remote serving locations at the XL Center, Pratt & Whitney Stadium (Rentschler Field), and a remote site at Amazon. “None of that is happening now due to COVID and we have seen a significant impact to catering sales. The catering we do now is primarily individual lunch boxes vs. the large catering trays we use to do.”

In-house delivery has become an important aspect of Chick-fil-A’s business since the pandemic. Courtesy photo

Another hit to sales is that Chick-fil-A is currently unable to hand out “Be Our Guest” cards at events, which was a successful marketing tactic.

Jackson has been able to do other things to keep sales up, however, including the launch of a new delivery model, where customers can have their meals delivered to their doorstop by an in-house delivery team.

West Hartford’s Chick-fil-A now has a fleet of its own delivery vehicles. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“We purchased new delivery vehicles and are growing our own in-house delivery business. We continue to be able to deliver via Door Dash and we recently added Uber Eats for those customers outside of our delivery radius. We also have adjusted our app where DoorDash orders can be placed via our app. The good thing is when you order from the app, you generate points that can later be redeemed for free items. We also can now fullfil mobile orders in the drive-thru. So the order gets placed via the app and they can pick up the mobile order in the drive thru. This eliminates the customer having to get out of their vehicle!! I think these have all been creative successes!!” Jackson said.

A few things Chick-fil-A has done in order to keep employees and customers as safe as possible:

  • We established a hand washing station outside of the building where all employees have to wash thier hands before coming in the building.
  • All who come in the building have to have their temperature taken.
  • Enviromaster comes in once a week and sprays the entire facility with a certified cleaning solution that is rated to kill COVID-19.
  • We sterilize all drive thru equipment when it is bought back into the building.
  • We have a inventory of gear like coats and snow pants that we rotate the inventory and send to the cleaners a few times a week. This is a added safety precaution to keep team members safe.
  • We use plastic containers in the drive-thru in an attempt to remain touchless with customer interactions.

Chick-fil-A has increased the capabilities of its app. Courtesy photo


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:

ULTA Beauty will be opening at 1553-1559 New Britain Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • It’s been more than a year since the Town Council approved changes to the Special Development District for 1553-1559 New Britain Ave., paving the way for Ulta Beauty to open a nearly 11,000 square foot store in the shopping center just past Westfarms on the West Hartford/Farmington/New Britain/Newington line. (Ulta is technically in West Hartford, but all four towns come together in that area and you’re never quite sure what town you’re in.) Some landscaping changes were approved in September 2020 – which permitted incorporation of more of the existing trees – but the project was put on hold for the rest of 2020. According to West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, there are a number of active permits and work is full steam ahead – which I verified by peeking in the window over the weekend! A sign on the store indicates that they are hiring as well, so an opening should be expected soon.

Toro Taberna opens Tuesday at 14-16 Oakwood Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The Spanish restaurant Toro Taberna is scheduled to open on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at 14-16 Oakwood Ave. (former Park & Oak space). As noted in the introduction above, I had a chance to check it out on Saturday night, and can’t wait to go back and try some more items on the menu. The vibe is different from anything we have in West Hartford now – which co-owner Tony Camilleri said was the goal. You can see some of the menu items in my intro above, but I’ll have a feature story coming out later this week with much more information and many more photos, too.

The Claypen has modified its operations but remains open at 997 Farmington Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • A few people have emailed me recently wondering what was happening at The Claypen (997 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford Center), and while the operations are modified due to COVID-19, the pottery and art studio is very much still in business. They are open from 11a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. “Customers can currently come in and pick out a piece of pottery and their paint colors and we assemble it in a nice to go box to be completed at home,” shift leader Laury Currier and manager Orianna Cruz advised. “Once returned to our store, we glaze and fire it and guarantee it ready a week from the day of drop off. We have a lot of Valentine’s items that make for a fun date night. We have been here in West Hartford Center for over 20 years and hope to be able to stay for at least 20 more.” Online shopping is also available at theclaypen.com, with build-your-own pottery kits available. The Claypen now also has a sister studio, The Firestone Art Studio and Cafe, in Manchester. The Firestone has a larger space, and in-studio painting is available. More information is available at thefirestonect.com.

Companions for Living has moved into its new building at 312 North Main St. in West Hartford. Submitted photo

  • Companions for Living, which moved into its new home – that looks like a home – in Bishops Corner in 2018, has been sold to Home Care Assistance, a national home care company, said Julianne Roth, who was president of CFL and will remain involved at least for a while to lead the West Hartford office of the specialized memory and home care company for older adults, which has been based in West Hartford since 2005. I am proud and excited to have merged Companions for Living with Home Care Assistance. “This national company will bring more resources to our clients, and better benefits to our staff,” Roth said. “Our staff has remained intact, as has our location, and we are excited to bring the extensive service offerings of HCA to West Hartford and the surrounding communities.”
  • February is Black History Month and ShopBlackCT.com, a free, entirely volunteer-run not-for-profit website, is encouraging consumers to “shop Black” during Black History Month. The site now lists nearly 1,300 Black-owned businesses throughout Connecticut, including dozens in West Hartford in a variety of industries ranging from restaurants, to fitness/wellness, to real estate, personal care, consulting and more. (Link to West Hartford businesses directly here.) ShopBlackCT.com started in July with a listing of 175 businesses, and has quickly become the “go-to” online community for finding, supporting and connecting to Connecticut Black businesses, site founders said in a news release. “It’s incredible to see how quickly this platform has grown,” site founder and co-contributor Sarah Thompson said. “It’s all thanks to volunteers and partners who have stepped up to help spread the word, like the generous billboards from Outfront Media and The Connecticut Sun sharing about the site with their fan base. It’s been such an amazing ripple effect of people wanting to create change and make a difference.” Business owners featured on the site also share the positive impact, including increases in sales. Playa Bowls, located in Blue Back Square, has been featured in a blog post on the site. ShopBlackCT.com volunteers provide free photography and marketing support for these businesses as well. “ShopBlackCT.com has been a real vessel for bringing visibility to our Black-owned businesses, giving us the services of taking pictures and doing articles that we can use as marketing material and share with our networks and theirs,” shared Khamani Harrison of The Key Bookstore in Hartford. By choosing to support Black-owned businesses, consumers can contribute to shrinking the racial wealth gap, fostering local job creation, and tackling systemic racism. “It takes all of us to create this shift. We all need to make intentional choices about how we’re choosing to allocate our dollars, not only during Black History Month but for all of the other months of the year,” Thompson urged. Visit www.SHOPBLACKCT.com as well as their Facebook page or Instagram, to learn more, browse, submit a business, or contact a team member.

Jenna McClure. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident Jenna McClure, AIA, LEED AP, who has been recently promoted to associate principal at Amenta Emma Architects. As a senior project manager, McClure has overseen some of the firm’s most complex and notable projects such as the renovation of the Connecticut State Office Building in Hartford, and the Visual and Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University. “I’m thrilled to welcome Jenna as the firm’s newest Associate Principal,” Principal Robert Swain said in a news release. “Her willingness to take on new challenges across a wide spectrum of project and operational tasks with a commitment to excellence is always present. The ongoing success of the firm is truly strengthened by her new leadership role.”

Jason Correia. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to Jason Correia, who has been promoted to principal of CLA (formerly blumshapiro) in the West Hartford office. Joseph Kask, CLA’s Managing Principal for New England, said Correia’s dedication to and success in creating growth opportunities for clients make him ideally suited to his new role as principal. Correia, who has a BS in business administration and master’s in Accounting from UConn, has been part of the Transactional Advisory Services Group team since 2010. “Jason has long been a valued member of our team, providing leadership across a number of CLA’s service areas. He is a results-driven professional who has consistently helped create success for our clients, and his experience is vital to us as we look to grow our Transactional Advisory Services Group throughout New England,” Kask said. Correia is a resident of Woodstock, Connecticut, he is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners, the Connecticut Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, and serves as a board member for the Hartford Chapter of the Exit Planning Exchange.

Hilary Pohley. Courtesy photo

  • West Hartford Center based YHB Investment Advisors, Inc. has welcomed Hilary Pohley as a senior portfolio analyst, responsible for portfolio analysis as well as supporting portfolio management and client service. Pohley graduated with honors from Tufts University with a BS in international relations and German studies, and also earned an MBA from Northeastern University. She began her investment career at Wellington Management in Boston, and most recently worked at a small advisory firm in the area. She lives with her husband and their two sons in West Hartford.

    Dr. Richard Nabel. Courtesy photo

  • West Hartford resident Dr. Richard Nabel will be honored at the New England Jewish Academy’s 2021 Annual Gala & Awards Event on Feb. 10. Nabel was hired as the head of General Studies at Hebrew High School of New England in 2012, and served as interim head of school following the merger with the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford in 2019. He is now principal of the Upper Division. Nabel earned his BA (with distinction) in English from Franklin and Marshall College, a judicial degree from the UConn School of Law, an MA in education, a Sixth Year degree in educational administration from the University of Hartford, and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. He has taught at the elementary and high school levels, and served as high school principal in East Haddam, Naugatuck, Hamden, and Brookfield. After retiring for the first time in 2006, he spent two years as superintendent of schools in Monson, MA, retiring again in 2008 before signing on to supervising an after school Federal Title I program in reading and math. Upon his third retirement in 2012, he joined the administrative team at HHNE/NEJA and has accepted the reality that he does not know how to retire. The community is invited to participate in the virtual event, which will also include a showcase celebrating the 33 faculty members who inspire and education students ages 2 through high school, on Feb. 10, beginning at 7 p.m., and can also purchase a catered dinner from The Crown Market, available for curbside pickup in advance of the event. The event will feature a silent auction as well. For ticket pricing, dinner reservations, and advertising opportunities in the digital program, please visit the website.
  • Chocolatier Godiva announced last Monday that the company will be closing or selling all 128 of its U.S. stores by the end of March, which includes the location at Westfarms. Chocolate lovers need not despair, however, because Munson’s Chocolates still has a location at Westfarms (Nordstrom wing), and the Connecticut-based company, which is family-owned, has been around for three generations.
  • ICYMI, Caribe Restaurant opened Monday at 345 Prospect Ave. (corner of Park Rd.), and the community is very excited to welcome their Dominican cuisine to town. All the details can be found here.

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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  • It’s hard to understand the mentality of supposedly civilized citizens that they would bother to send out a profane comment. I think your column is wonderful- I like that you write about your family and the events in which you patronize as a family here in West Hartford-please dont ever change that. There are so few real columnists left who can make their content relevant to their readers. I am like so many in town looking forward to a time when normalcy will return and we can again patronize the shops, restaurants, events as a community without the ongoing fear on contracting this invisible yet highly dangerous virus. I would ask that you include a psa that clean face masks must be worn when in public as well as frequent hand washing. Together we can neutralize the virus.

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