A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
It’s President’s Day weekend, and I hope all who are off today, or for the next few days during the schools’ February break, are enjoying the holiday!
This holiday weekend kind of snuck up on me, and it was late last week when I realized that my husband would be off on Monday. I had already committed to appearing on CT Live on Monday morning (tune in at 11:30 a.m. on NBC Connecticut for Business Buzz Live!), and in the news business days off are rare anyway.
Years ago, and I am talking pre-kids and back when I was a consultant in the insurance industry and Ted and I lived in DC area, I was already a workaholic, but weekends were usually reserved for non-work activities. When the weather was nice we took long bike rides, went hiking, had picnics, and took drives in the less-densely-settled parts of Virginia and Maryland. We’d stop in antique stores, and eat in iconic diners or local restaurants in small towns. Sometimes we would go into DC to the Smithsonian museums, or go out for brunch, either alone or with friends.
As the end of the weekend neared, the “Sunday scaries” would set in. But rather than succumb to a bad mood, we came up with some enjoyable activities that became our traditions for Sunday afternoons and evenings.
Several years before Katie was born we had adopted our first dog from the Alexandria Humane Society. They told us the 3-month-old pup, one of 11 in a litter, was a Border Collie/terrier mix who would be about 30 pounds. Hobbes grew up to be a 55-pound fluff ball who looked exactly like a Bearded Collie (and had pretty much every one of a Beardie’s character traits, hence our attachment to the breed), and every Sunday we would take him for a long “Sunday afternoon walk” through our Falls Church, Virginia neighborhood. It was a tradition all three of us really enjoyed. When Katie was born in 1995, she of course came along. She learned to walk early, and before she was 2 the queen of “my do it myself” was hopping out of her stroller to walk part of the way herself, already practicing her gymnastics skills walking on the “beam” (aka curb).
At some point (possibly before we had a dog, and definitely before Katie was born) we also started having a glass of wine and cheese and crackers on Sunday night before dinner. Although it clearly signified the end of the weekend, it was a nice tradition to look forward to.
Fast forward several decades, two Bearded Collies, another child, and several hundred miles north to today. The wine and cheese and crackers tradition remains – and pretty much the only time we miss it is if we are away. The tradition has evolved into hosting a Sunday family dinner, and nearly every Sunday my sister comes over for dinner. It’s not a fancy dinner (but we always do wine and cheese first), but it’s something I really look forward to as a great end to the weekend. Since Katie and Matt live in town they join us most Sundays, as does Sam when he is not away at school.
At some point the afternoon dog walking turned into a Sunday night walk with a special route, but although Ted always does the walk, sadly I can’t always tear myself away from the computer. Since we launched We-Ha.com in 2014, and I started writing Business Buzz to lead the newsletter on Monday mornings, I have big-time Sunday scaries and Sundays are often my most intense workday of the week. When I’ve been away for the weekend, or just busy on a Sunday doing non-work things, I have often stayed up until 2 a.m. or later writing the column.
I love that people love reading this column, and I love writing it. I have, however, found myself dreading Sundays. Last week I wrote most of the column on Saturday, and finished it by the middle of the day Sunday and was so happy to really relax during dinner. It wasn’t an official New Year’s resolution, but my goal this year is to find a better work-life balance and not have a late night of work looming over every Sunday night family dinner.
I’m finishing this intro at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. We have tickets to the sold-out UConn vs. Memphis men’s basketball game that starts at 3 p.m. (depending on how that goes I may add an update) where we will see Sam working with the UConn equipment team. I’m hoping to get out for a run before the game, too. [Update: I didn’t manage to find time for the run, but did finish the column, and UConn won a very exciting game 64-61.]
There’s some great business news below, and links to a few other stories from last week. Happy reading, and enjoy your day!
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:
- I have been really looking forward to sharing an update about GastroPark, and am so excited to finally be able to say that work is well underway, and West Hartford’s first food truck park will be opening at 637 New Park Ave. in the spring of 2020! I have been writing about, and looking forward to this, for more than three years, since before the Town Council first approved the food truck ordinance in 2017 – and although last summer it looked like the opening could possibly be in the fall of 2019, there were a few easements and other items that delayed the process. It’s really about to happen now and work is ongoing and really ramping up at the site, owner Tate Norden said. Look for a complete story with many more details coming in a few weeks as the updates are made to the GastroPark website and the property – which still looks like a construction site at a former auto body shop – begins to morph into what is sure to become a great asset to the West Hartford community. GastroPark’s Mission statement, Norden said, is “Let food unite, empower, grow, and celebrate our local community.” Plans are for the park to be open Wednesday through Sunday, he said, and there will be a daily rotation of food trucks. There will be seating indoors (in the former auto body shop building) and outdoors, a bar, fire pits, a yard game area, and a rotating lineup of events and entertainment, Norden said. He’s shared the GastroPark branding – which I love – and said the website will soon be updated with links for food trucks, vendors, makers, and artists to be able to sign up and be part of what is sure to be a popular place to “gather” and “graze.”
- Another eagerly anticipated opening will be Meçha Noodle Bar. Chief Operating Officer Kaylyn Crawford said the buildout is underway in the western portion of what was formerly Toy Chest’s location at 975 Farmington Ave. – where a sign in the window says “slurping soon” – and she told me that the hope is to open late this spring. “We’ve been looking for awhile in the area and are very excited to be opening,” Crawford said. “We’ll be looking to hire in the next month or so – and as usual will work to keep it local to West Hartford,” she added. As for the menu, she said it will be essentially the same as Mecha’s other locations, which are in Fairfield, Stamford, Norwalk, and New Haven. The best way to explain it is to quote the website: “From Vietnamese Pho to Japanese Ramen – we serve some of Asia’s most comforting dishes. Among other things, we do riffs on food that can be found in the streets of Southeast Asia. Don’t call us ‘fusion’ or a sushi restaurant, there are plenty of those in Connecticut. We are American-Vietnamese-Japanese-Thai-Chinese-Korean-New England-Momofuku-Totto-and-Ippudo-inspired.” Hungry yet? Much more to come as the restaurant gets ready to open!
- Several other West Hartford Center buildings have windows covered with “opening soon” signs, and I was able to catch up with Westfield Bank Executive Vice President and Chief Banking Officer Kevin O’Connor last week to get an update on their opening in the former Cookshop Plus location at 977 Farmington Ave. (Cookshop Plus is now at 60 LaSalle Rd., and has a J.René Coffee Bar located inside.) “We have construction underway and are still a couple of months out,” O’Connor said, but they are hoping for early-to-mid-April, and he said the announcement would be forthcoming in a few weeks. Westfield Bank has already been working to get involved in the West Hartford Community, and are already active with the Chamber of Commerce. Branch Manager Matt Cuddy already has an office on the building’s second floor, and three commercial lenders are in place there as well. O’Connor said a head teller and assistant branch manager have also just been hired. For more information about Westfield Bank, visit the website westfieldbank.com, or you can also call Cuddy at 860-490-880.
- There is also an opening soon sign on the future JP Morgan Chase Bank location at 962 Farmington Ave. in The Center, the space formerly occupied by Farmington Bank until it merged with People’s United. Chase Bank began an expansion into the Hartford area last year, and permits are in place and build-out is underway on the Farmington Avenue location. According to West Hartford Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski, the initial plans were for an “early spring” opening, but no updates are available.
- Welcome to Katherine Bruns, a longtime West Hartford resident who has been hired as the Department of Public Works‘ new part-time recycling coordinator. “In her new role, she will be responsible for developing and implementing recycling and diversion programs, assisting in the promotion of the West Hartford’s recycling efforts, and educating the public on recycling,” Town Manager Matt Hart wrote in his most recent Town Manager’s report shared at last week’s Town Council meeting.
- I love it when I can mix business with pleasure, and one of the perks of this job is attending openings of new restaurants. In a recent column I included the announcement that Tyler Anderson (who is a West Hartford resident) was transitioning Restaurant Porrón (located in the Goodwin Hotel in Hartford, 1 Haynes St.) into Terreno, and last week I had a chance to sample the cuisine at an event hosted by Eat IN Connecticut for food writers and other media. “My wife said why don’t you do a restaurant with what you cook at home,” Anderson told the group, so he combined his California roots with his wife’s Italian roots (her mother, whom I happen to know well, is from Sicily and a fantastic cook), for the “Cal-Italian” or what he is also calling “seasonal Italian” menu. We had a feast – and I at least sampled every one of the dishes – which started with a chicken noodle/miso/wonton soup and several mouth-watering pizzettes (Genovese with raciette cheese and olives; winter squash with ricotta, onions, and pistachio; and a few others). There were two salads (kale with Meyer lemon, parmesan, and chickpeas) and Terreno chopped salad with roasted and pickled peppers, olives mortadella, shallots, and oregano vinaigrette. Main dishes include gnocchi a la vodka, rigatoni (with braised beef, pickled onions, and kale), NY strip with a selection of sauces that included chimichurri and bernaise, and a melt-in-the-mouth roasted chicken with fennel butter and fingerling potatoes. Courtesy of pastry chef Kristen Eddy, we also enjoyed (very much enjoyed) upside down citrus cake with whipped cheesecake and cara cara oranges paired with “Brown Sugar Budino,” which was a chocolate hazelnut crunch with caramel. I sat across the table from Taylor Kinzler and Jimmy Marlow of CT Live, and we will be talking more about our feast on CT Live this morning. I’ve included photos below of all of the rest of the dishes!
West Hartford-based spirits brand Bellis Bourbon, owned by longtime friends Mike Bellis – the company’s namesake – and Colin Santacroce, has just launched a new rye whiskey product: Bellis Rye. The following detail comes from one of the owners: “Just like its bourbon counterpart, Bellis Rye undergoes a proprietary distillation process to remove harsh fusel alcohols. This process eliminates the typical ‘whiskey burn’ and makes all Bellis products exceptionally smooth. The high-rye mash used in Bellis Rye creates a spicier flavor profile when compared to the sweet corn mash found in Bellis Bourbon. Every bottle of Bellis Rye comes packaged inside the signature Bellis barrel. Both the bourbon and rye can be found in hundreds of bars, restaurants, and liquor stores throughout the state, including several in West Hartford. To find a location near you, please visit www.bellisbourbon.com.”
- WeHa Roasting Company, which was featured in a recent Business Buzz column, is now popping up in downtown Hartford! You can find their freshly-roasted coffee beans, apparel, and branded coffee mugs at 241 Asylum St. on Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for the next several months, business owner Cody McCormack said. The online store is now open as well. Visit the website for further details about the product.
- Congrats and best of luck to West Hartford residents Marla Byrnes and Dominque Soto, who, along with Lori Meyerson have joined forces to form MSB Group. “We have 50-plus years of combined real estate experience and are absolutely committed to making the buying and selling process as stress free and successful as possible for our clients.” MSB Group is part of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, and can be found at msbgroup.bhhsneproperties.com or 860-983-4792.
- I’ve taken CTrail from Hartford’s Union Station to Grand Central Station in New York City, but found the ticketing process to be rather complicated. Now, there’s an app for that. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) hosted a press conference last week and made the following announcement about CTrail eTix, a smartphone-based mobile ticketing application, for CTrail Shore Line East and CTrailHartford Line customers. “With CTrail eTix, passengers can now purchase CTrail Shore Line East and CTrail Hartford Line tickets, with optional connecting service on New Haven Line (Metro-North) trains, using a single device in one transaction with a credit or debit card! Once purchased, CTrail mobile tickets are then stored electronically in a secure CTrail eTix account. When ready to use a mobile ticket, the passenger simply opens the application and presses a button to activate the ticket. After the ticket is activated, passengers then show it to the train conductor from their smartphone. The CTrail eTix app also allows CTrail passengers utilizing the Berlin and Wallingford stations to purchase station parking. CTrail eTix is available for free download from Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store.
- ICYMI, there were a number of business stories last week, including a few that broke on Monday after Business Buzz was published. Included was the very popular announcement that Maggie McFly’s will be opening a location this year in Westfarms (the part that’s in West Hartford). Complete details can be found here.
- In other Westfarms news, the mall itself is in the process of being purchased by Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest owner of retail shopping centers. Read the full story here.
- Welcome news for cord cutters: GoNetspeed is expanding its service area even further in West Hartford. Click here for details.
- Finally, voting is open for CT Entrepreneur Awards. Many West Hartford people and businesses are in contention for an award. Click here for the full story.
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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