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West Hartford Business Buzz: February 12, 2024

WeHa Candle Co. will be opening at 970 Farmington Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

Business Buzz is sponsored by NBT Bank, and we are very thankful for their support! 

By Ronni Newton

If February could always have weather like we’ve had the past few days I would never complain about it. What a beautiful stretch of springlike days – which sadly (in my opinion) will seem to come to an end with the return of winter on Tuesday.

I usually write this column on Sunday (with the goal of finishing it before dinnertime), but although I may inject some post-Super Bowl commentary, I am writing on Saturday this week. Not only are we attending a Super Bowl party on Sunday (at the home of avid Chiefs fans), but our grandson is being baptized on Sunday morning so it’s going to be a very full day!

I looked back at my column from this weekend a year ago – when we participated in the St. James’s Episcopal Church trivia night on Saturday rather than our usual dinner out. I will state once again that am terrible (really awful) at trivia, with the possible exception of questions about West Hartford and was figuring I would not be a major contributor to our team. There weren’t any West Hartford questions, but our team won – mostly thanks to Joe Rose’s encyclopedic knowledge of music and movies – but thanks to my few stints of celebrity bartending, I was able to contribute by correctly identify all of the cocktails from a list of ingredients.

Trivia night also included some fabulous pub food, including these empanadas made by Rev. Bob Hooper.

Bob Hooper’s empanadas. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

I did have a great dinner with Jeannette Dardenne (founder of INGroup Creative and Eat IN Connecticut) at Gather55 on Wednesday night. Adam Greenberg of Sparrow is the chef of the month at the restaurant that’s an initiative of Hands On Hartford. I included this as a bullet point with most of the food photos in the main part of the column below.

Jeannette and I actually started off our evening at the Yard Goats Season Preview party at Dunkin’ Park. The food there looked delicious, too (but we had to save our appetites), and it was great hearing from the new General Manager Bobby Meacham and other staff, and chatting with President Tim Restall and Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations Jeff Dooley (who is a West Hartford resident). The first home game of the year is April 9, vs. Bowie.

Ronni Newton, Yard Goats President Tim Restall, Jeannette Dardenne at Yard Goats Season Preview.

Yard Goats Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations Jeff Dooley and Ronni Newton

Jeannette Dardenne (left), Adam Greenberg, Ronni Newton at Gather55.

One of the first course choices at Gather55 is artichoke hearts with farro, fennel, olives, and orange vinaigrette. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

If you’re looking for news about West Hartford in print please note that many stories from We-Ha.com, as well as other local news, is published in the twice-monthly issues of the West Hartford Press.

If you have information to share about local businesses, please provide details in the comments or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].

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Rendering of signage for WeHa Candle Co. space at 970 Farmington Avenue. Courtesy of Jennifer Dube

  • Just a few months ago I reported on the opening of the brick and mortar location of WeHa Candle Co. on New Park Avenue – and while I didn’t expect this to happen, I am excited to share the news that they are actually moving their retail candle and home decor business, as well as their candle-pouring to the former Pokemoto space at 970 Farmington Avenue. Jennifer Dube, who owns WeHa Candle Co. with her husband, Phil Dube, (both are West Hartford natives, and you can read more about the business here) said they ultimately had no choice but to find another place after having a steady stream of leaks from the roof that damaged their product and severely cut into their business, weeks of inadequate heat (she said they couldn’t get the temperature above 58 degrees for the past few weeks, and that made it quite uncomfortable to host candle-pouring parties). Jennifer Dube is also an attorney with Keily Mira Law in the Center, and in December, WeHa Candle Co. LLC filed a 39-page, multiple-count lawsuit against the landlord of 635 New Park Avenue, claiming damages in excess of $15,000, citing issues that include lack of heat as well as 14 different instances of roof leaks between Jan. 4, 2023 through Nov. 9, 2023, that caused major flooding and damage to their products. “When the leaks happened again a couple of weeks ago, that ruined all of our pillows and hats, we pulled the plug,” she said of the decision to move. “It’s been emotional. We built a lot of goodwill over the holiday season,” she said, but now that it’s happening, Jennifer said she is so excited about the move to the Center, and work is already underway to update the space – which will include reopening the double doors to the interior hallway of the Central Building. They’ve got pouring parties scheduled at 635 New Park throughout the month of March, but she hopes to be open in the Center by late March or early April where they will not only be hosting pouring parties but they will also have a “pouring bar” where people can come in and create their own candles any time the business is open.  Jennifer said she had been asking Mike Mahoney of RLM Co. to keep his eyes open for a space in the Center, and when the Pokemoto space opened up, it was perfect. “To me, WeHa Cable is a great story, a great use for West Hartford Center,” Mahoney told me. “I’m also very happy that this represents a conversion from restaurant to retail use. It brings something to the Center that we really don’t have,” said Mahoney – not only retail, but also an interactive, experiential business that can accommodate individuals or groups of people. WeHa Candle Co. allows BYOB, and bring your own food as well, but it’s also a business that dovetails well with the busy dining scene in the Center. Mahoney said he envisions people being able to go pour a candle while waiting for their table to be ready at a nearby restaurant, returning to pick it up after dinner. “If we can figure out more ways to bring something like this into this great retail area,” it will make the Center even better. “I’m totally psyched that we ended up with something like this,” Mahoney said. “I’m super excited, and I think they are, too,” he said, adding that the space is going to be beautiful, and they’re removing the drop ceiling to make the space visually appear larger. West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski also shared her excitement about the plans. “WeHa Candle Co. is the perfect fit for West Hartford Center,” she said. “It’s exciting to see them relocate within town to a larger, more prominent space. In addition, the Center gains another retailer, furthering the mix of businesses that help this area thrive.” I’ll be updating the progress, and definitely report on the specifics of the opening plans once they are confirmed.

The double doors that lead to the interior of the Central Building will be reopened when WeHa Candle Co. moves in. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Rendering of night view of signage for WeHa Candle Co. space at 970 Farmington Avenue. Courtesy of Jennifer Dube

A few of WeHa Candle Co’s offerings. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  • A few weeks ago I noticed that the “For Lease” sign had been taken down from the former Sweet Frog location at 13 Main Street, and had been waiting and watching for the telltale sign of the windows being papered over indicating that work was beginning on build-out for a new tenant in the space. I’m excited to report that Caffè Nero has permits in place and plans to open what will join Darien as the international chain’s second location in the state. “Our goal since the very beginning has been to create a place that radiates comfort, relaxation and warmth. A place to meet friends, work or just watch the world go by. A local neighborhood spot,” states the Caffè Nero website. The company was founded by Gerry Ford in Europe in 1997, and the family-owned and operated business now has more than 1,000 locations in the U.S., Europe, and Middle East, the website states. In addition to coffee and tea, Caffè Nero’s menu includes breakfast foods, soups, and salads. West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski confirmed the plans for Caffè Nero opening are underway, and I’ve reviewed the plans online, but I haven’t been able to get any estimates on the opening date – although they’re already advertising for a manager. Many longtime residents may remember 13 South Main Street as Friendly’s – and in between the closing of Friendly’s in October 2011 and the opening of Sweet Frog in January 2013, in December 2011 the space became the imaginary “Be Brite Diner” as part of the movie set for “Pawn,” an indie movie which starred Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis, and Nikki Reed. (I reported on the closing of Friendly’s, filming of the movie, and opening of Sweet Frog when I was editor of a different news site.) Sweet Frog closed in August 2022, and the space has been vacant since then.

Caffe Nero will be opening in the former Sweet Frog space at 13 South Main Street. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Sign rendering for Caffè Nero. Town of West Hartford website.

Schematic for Caffè Nero prepared by [Re]Architect. Town of West Hartford website

13 South Main Street as the “Be Brite Diner” for the filming a movie in 2012. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • As noted in the introduction above, Jeannette Dardenne and I had dinner on Wednesday night at Gather55, which this month is welcoming Adam Greenberg of West Hartford’s Sparrow as this month’s guest chef. In addition to being the chef at Sparrow, Greenberg is a four-time Grand Chopped Champion, and the Food Network’s all-time winningest competitor with a 5-1 record. He also “Beat Bobby Flay” – and that’s the name of one of the pizza’s he has created at Sparrow. As for his participation with Gather55, which is a program of Hands On Hartford, located in the former Spaghetti Warehouse at 55 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford, Greenberg states, I am volunteering with Gather55 because I truly believe in the comfort a meal can bring to someone, regardless of their backgrounds. The table has always been a place where I have gathered with my friends, family, and strangers, but, we’ve always come together to share stories, and simply enjoy a great meal together. As a chef, I’ve never taken for granted the idea that something I do, like cooking a meal, can truly brighten someone’s day, and perhaps, create a memory for them. I look forward to being a small part of the greater good that Gather 55 is doing, and I truly hope people will enjoy the dishes.” Greenberg’s contributions this month are the artichoke and scallop appetizers, and the lamb lollipops, and the other items on the menu were created by previous guest chefs. I’ve eaten there a few times and all of the food has been amazing – as is the concept which features a two-course or three-course prix fixe menu for $40 or $55 respectively (no tipping the server, but extra can be added to support the program). A certain number of seats are also available for those who are unable to pay. Gather55 also offers breakfast and lunch, Monday through Thursday, and offer the ability to volunteer for those who are unable to pay. More details and links to the menus can be found here.

Fattoush salad romaine, cucumber, olive, feta, tomato, pita crisp at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Bread, butter, and wine to start a great meal at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Scallop crudo with blood orange, cara orange, fennel pollen, pickled red onion at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Roasted salmon, white bean hummus, dill salsa, mint at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Lamb lollipops with braised potatoes, tomato, capers, and fresh herbs at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Flourless chocolate cake, bourbon, orange, creme fraiche, black pepper at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Campfire cake (toasted marshmallow meringue, chocolate) at Gather55. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There continues to be a flurry of construction activity at Restaurant Bricco, and chef/owner Billy Grant told me on Sunday that “it’s looking good for Tuesday” for the reopening. Bricco closed temporarily beginning on Jan. 21 because the flooring in the kitchen needed replacing, and at the same time he decided to do a bit of a refresh of the decor. He had hoped to be back open in time for Valentine’s Day – and that looks very likely! I did peek in that open doorway to the bar over the weekend when I took this photo and while there is still construction taking place, I can tell it’s looking great.

Restaurant Bricco is planning to reopen after renovations on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • It’s not yet posted as “coming soon” on the Westfarms website, but the barriers are up indicating that trendy athletic store JD Sports will be opening on the lower level near Center Court. More to come as the opening nears!

JD Sports will be opening at Westfarms. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • West Hartford resident Jessica Lastarza has announced the launch of her new business, We Mediate, a Divorce and Family Law Mediation Service. She shared the following in a news release: We Mediate is driven by a mission to simplify the divorce process, offering individuals and families the opportunity to peacefully navigate their own path towards a brighter future. With a steadfast commitment to the 4 E’s – Efficiency, Empathy, Education, and Empowerment – We Mediate tailors its approach to each unique situation. By providing a streamlined process, the service helps clients avoid protracted court battles and exorbitant legal fees, ultimately saving valuable time and money. Recognizing the emotional complexities inherent in family transitions, We Mediate fosters a supportive environment where every voice is heard and respected throughout the journey. By providing legal information and a wealth of resources, the service empowers clients to make informed decisions with confidence, ensuring clarity for their future. We Mediate offers a flexible approach tailored to individual needs and preferences, putting clients firmly in control of their destiny. Couples considering divorce, grappling with child custody issues, or seeking resolution for any family law matter are invited to take advantage of complimentary virtual or in-person consultations. For more information and to book a free consultation, visit www.wemediatect.com or call 860-245-9369.

Jessica Lastarza. Courtesy photo

  • Bonni Lapp Horwitz (who still lives nearby and lived in West Hartford for 60 years) has been hired as Director of Nursing at Saint Mary Home, part of The Mercy Community in West Hartford. A skilled nursing community, Saint Mary Home provides older adults with long-term care, short-term rehabilitation, memory care, and more. “We are delighted to welcome a professional of Bonni’s caliber,” said Saint Mary Home Administrator Rachel DeMaida in a news release. “Her commitment to high-quality care, her experience developing and managing teams, and her passion for serving older adults will serve her well at Saint Mary Home.  We have a Mission to serve our community as a transforming healing presence, and that aligns beautifully with Bonni’s personal and professional missions,” DeMaida added. Prior to her arrival, Bonni held leadership positions at Trinity Health Of New England’s Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center campus, West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation, and the Hebrew Center for Health & Rehabilitation.  Her professional background includes experience in acute care, radiation/oncology, infection prevention, home care, and assisted living nursing.  She is a certified dementia specialist and has held clinical supervisory roles at Goodwin College, Capital Community College, and the University of Saint Joseph. A Registered Nurse, Bonni received her bachelor of science degree in Nursing from Central Connecticut State University and a master of science degree in Nursing from the University of Hartford.

Bonni Lapp Horwitz. Courtesy photo

  • Watkinson School has announced the hiring of two West Hartford residents, Thomas Murphy (Director of Development) and Max Schweitzer (Boys Varsity Tennis Coach). Murphy grew up in West Hartford, where throughout middle and high school he lived just a mile away from Watkinson’s campus. He comes to Watkinson from the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, a need-based college scholarship fund in Norton, MA, where he spent the last eight years working in fundraising, development, and alumni relations, most recently as the fund’s Director of Development. During his tenure the organization saw record growth in the endowment, continued expansion of unrestricted major giving and annual fund programs, and the creation of brand new alumni engagement opportunities, which centered on a growing career resources program along with a restructuring of alumni networking events. Having attended Northwest Catholic for high school and having earned a degree in Communications and Media Studies from Fordham University, Thomas is passionate about working in education, and has seen firsthand how philanthropy and education work collectively. “Education has always been incredibly important in my family, and thus I’ve been so fortunate to spend the last eight years raising money for need-based scholarships to help young people attend college,” Thomas said. “I have been so warmly welcomed by the faculty, staff, and students at Watkinson, and I look forward to working with the phenomenal team on campus to create bigger, bolder scholarship opportunities for families, broaden the school’s incredible alumni engagement programs, and continue to establish legacy giving options for our amazing students, parents, and alumni.” Schweitzer brings decades of tennis experience to Watkinson as both a player and a coach. In 2017, Schweitzer founded a private tennis coaching business and has worked with over one hundred kids and adults, providing both technical help and strategic advice. Additionally, Schweitzer is the assistant director at the Nike Tennis Camp at Mount Holyoke College, the largest sleepaway tennis camp in the country. He will be entering his sixth year at the camp this summer. A West Hartford native, Schweitzer competed in USTA tournaments in New England and beyond during his youth. His success on the court led to his eventual recruitment to Clark University, where he was a 4-year varsity starter in singles and doubles. At Clark, Schweitzer obtained a master’s degree in interpersonal communication and received the Russ Granger Award for outstanding academic and athletic achievement in his class. Schweitzer is excited to bring his philosophy of “leading by example, respecting one another, and utilizing the power of two-way communication” to Watkinson.

Thomas Murphy. Courtesy photo

Max Schweitzer. Courtesy photo

  • Mayor Shari Cantor and her husband, Michael Cantor, have funded a class at the UConn Business School called “BUILD Hartford” and both were featured on the “Brian and Company” WTIC podcast recently with Professor Rory McGloin speaking about way’s to increase the area’s vibrancy. You can listen to the podcast episode through this link.
  • Congratulations to attorneys Joshua Feldman and Jason Gagnon, both of West Hartford, who have been elected as Connecticut Bar Foundation Fellows. According to a news release, Fellows are nominated by their peers based on their outstanding service to the profession and larger community and are elected by the CBF Board of Directors. “We are pleased to recognize our new Fellows for their distinguished service to the legal profession, and for their commitment to the principles of equal justice and the rule of law,” the Honorable Victoria Woodin Chavey, President of the Connecticut Bar Foundation said in a statement. According to the release, Feldman, who lives in town with his wife, Jillian, and their children Emma and Arielle, is a partner at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt, LLC, in Hartford. He received a B.A. from the University of Connecticut, Storrs, in 2010, and a J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2013. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 2013. Feldman serves on the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, a position he has held since 2020. He is also a member of the Hartford County Bar Association, and has been named a New England Super Lawyers Rising Star every year since 2017. Additionally, has served as the Treasurer of the Mandell Jewish Community Center of Greater Hartford since 2021 and has been a Board Member since 2019. He has also been a member of the Men’s Philanthropy Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford since 2021, and a Board Member of the Jewish Community Foundation since 2023. Attorney Gagnon, who lives in town with his wife, Jessica, and children Hadley and Emerson, is a partner at Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP. He received a B.S., magna cum laude, from Florida State University in 2005, and a J.D. in 2008 from Boston College Law School, where he also earned a Certificate in Environmental Law and Land Use. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar and the United States District Court, District of Connecticut, in 2009. Gagnon currently serves on the Board of Governors of the Connecticut Bar Association, a position he has held since 2022. He was also President of the Waterbury Bar Association from 2021-2023. Attorney Gagnon has also been a member of the Defense Research Institute’s Product Liability Steering Committee since 2018. Gagnon has been on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Greater Waterbury since 2020, and has served on the West Hartford Board of Education since 2023. He also sat on the Board of Directors of the Mattatuck Museum from 2012-2020. Gagnon has received a number of professional honors. He was named Litigation Star by Benchmark Litigation (2022-2024); Rising Star, Connecticut Superior Lawyers, Product Liability Defense (2012-2023); New Leaders in the Law, Connecticut Law Tribune (2016); and Rising Star, New England Super Lawyers, Product Liability Defense (2012-2017).
  • Thanks to Keating Agency for signing on as sponsor of our sports coverage! We hope to be able to continue to bring our readers more coverage of high school sports and features about athletes – but will continue to accept submitted content (please provide score, any highlights, and at least one good quality photo) since we will never be able to get to every single game/meet/match but are glad to share the details.
  • ICYMI, there has been a lot of business news lately, including the announcement that Triumph will not only be remaining in West Hartford but also expanding its operations. Click here for the complete story.
  • Multiple options are on the table for the reconstruction of LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue as part of the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan. They were unveiled at a meeting on Wednesday morning, and you can find the details here, along with the link to vote in the poll.
  • The inaugural Black Business Expo is on Feb. 17 at West Hartford Town Hall. Complete information can be found here.
  • The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Network is holding a Black History Month breakfast event on Feb. 22. Click here for details.

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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