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West Hartford Business Buzz: February 26, 2024

Zephyr's Street Pizza has added "& Grinders" to its name. 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

I am writing this column with an even heavier heart than I had last week. As many readers know from seeing my social media posts, my dad passed away peacefully early Wednesday morning after being in hospice care for a few days. I’m very sad, but he was 92 and had been in declining health for a few years. I’m choosing to focus on the joyful times we spent together – in my childhood as well as with my husband and children over the years.

I will be taking some time off this week to handle arrangements, but the news doesn’t stop and there will still be plenty of reporting and plenty of stories to read on the We-Ha.com site.

This week’s mid-week dining out turned into the feature story, and those photos can be found below. On Saturday night, Ted and I wanted to be sure not to miss the UConn vs. Villanova basketball game and grabbed takeout from Refresh Food & Drinks, the new Korean restaurant that opened on Route 4 just west of the Farmington Avenue Reservoir (technically Farmington, but just over the border). It was excellent and I definitely want to go back and try some other items. We split the Bulgoghi Kimbap as an appetizer, and also had the Tofu Bap and a noodle dish with black beans that was delicious – I think it was either Japchae or Jjangmyun but I can’t remember for sure what it was called! The restaurant is owned by Joon Joo and his wife – who also own the Pick & Mix in Glastonbury and formerly owned the Pick & Mix in Avon. Photos of the interior (they have seating for about 22 people), exterior, and menus are at the end of the column.

Dinner from Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Bulgoghi Kimbap from Refresh Food and Drink. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

One housekeeping note: If you are submitting a press release for publication, or providing photos for a story we are writing, please make absolutely sure the photos are authorized for publication. It is NOT okay to take photos from a business site without permission. It is NOT okay to submit photos of a piece of equipment that is similar to the one that is used in your business but is actually a photo of another business’ equipment. It is NOT okay to just do a google search for an image of a scene that works well with your submitted article and download it and submit it to We-Ha.com when the image is subject to copyright. There are sites that allow the use of images at no charge and without licensing requirements (Unsplash is one). I generally use my own photos to avoid any issues, but have inadvertently gotten burned a few times, and one recent incident an egregious misstatement of permission to use an image. (On another note, please don’t use my photos, or photos from other We-Ha.com photographers, without permission. We don’t mind seeing them pop up on social media, but please give us credit in those cases.) Thanks for listening.

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].


Here’s this week’s Buzz:

Zephyr’s Street Pizza has added “& Grinders” to its name, and is also offering a pastrami sandwich. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • I’ve been a big fan of the pizza at Zephyr’s Street Pizza (968R Farmington Avenue, on “the lot” as owner Dante Cistulli says) since the beginning, and I’d been meaning to stop by to check out the grinders – and then I started seeing social media posts about the pastrami … and I was meeting with our We-Ha.com business manager and sales director for lunch last week, and decided it was a “must try.” Zephyr’s has actually added “& Grinders” to its official name, and is now more than “just” a place for pizza and salad. Dante loves being inspired to do things differently (“just” was in quotation marks because there is plenty that is unique about Zephyr’s), and he had added grinders because he was already prepping all of his own meat for the pizza on site. Shortly after adding grinders to the menu, the impetus for adding pastrami came from a casual conversation with Max’s Oyster Bar General manager Bob Cooke. “He goes just randomly, ‘You gotta do a pastrami sandwich,'” Dante said, and he began the quest to perfect it. He started off buying a pastrami from the renowned Katz’s Deli in New York, thinking it would be cool to offer that in West Hartford, but soon realized to even break even the cost per sandwich would be prohibitive. (A 4- to 5-pound pastrami was costing about $120.) Then he started buying his own pastramis and preparing them the way Katz’s does, but he didn’t think it created a product that was distinctive enough. “Every time I’d make a new one I’d bring it to Bob [Cooke]. He was my guinea pig,” Dante said. I won’t give away the entire secret, but his approach to preparing an entire brisket “confit” (in the fat left from previously prepared pastrami) is what led to a pastrami that he said Cooke, chef Adam Greenberg from Sparrow, local attorney and foodie Rich Rochlin, and others have proclaimed “the best pastrami ever” and he’s been told it’s even “better than Reins Deli.” This is not just a sandwich slapped together, and to complete the pastrami experience, Dante said he thought long and hard about the right bread, and what to put on it. He settled on just stone ground mustard, on thick slabs of pastrami (why cut it thin, seems like you’re hiding something, he said), served on rye bread from Roly Poly Bakery that his chef discovered in New Britain. “It’s so deliciously simple,” he said. Dante said he is dedicated to serving the pastrami sandwich – at lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday – for at least a year and hopes to gain a following. The grinders are also available whenever Zephyr’s Street Pizza & Grinders is open, and include turkey, ham, BLT, and salami, as well as the Italian Combo. The grinder rolls are fresh from Sweet Harmony in Middletown, and grinders come in 8-inch ($11-$12) or 16-inch sizes ($$16-$20). Adding grinders has made a big difference in traffic, especially during the week and during the winter, when the patio is closed. “The grinder game has kept us comfortably treading water,” he said, and although the margin isn’t high, and everything is made “from very good stuff,” Dante said, “my prices are as high as I want to go.” More grinder offerings, including a build-your-own, will be added to the menu. We-Ha.com business manager Bob Carr, also a foodie, said he always samples the cheese pizza when he goes to a new pizza place, so we had that for lunch, too – and it exceeded his expectations.

The Italian Combo Grinder at Zephyr’s Street Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The classic cheese pizza at Zephyr’s Street Pizza & Grinders.” Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Zephyr’s Street Pizza, at 968R Farmington Avenue, has added “& Grinders” to its name. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • NBT Bank is not only the sponsor of Business Buzz, but also a news story this week as they celebrated the opening of their newly relocated retail banking office in West Hartford with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning! The office is located right next to Town Hall, at 68 South Main Street, and offers customers options that were not available in the former brach location at Corporate Center West (433 South Main Street, where the Connecticut regional headquarter remains, and the regional president and members of the commercial banking and wealth management team are still based) including drive-up banking, Saturday hours and a 24-hour ATM. “The opening of our new West Hartford location reinforces NBT’s commitment to fulfilling the banking needs of Connecticut residents,” said NBT Bank President of Retail Community Banking Joseph Stagliano. “We are dedicated to providing convenient and accessible banking services while also actively supporting the communities we serve.” Victor A. Gonzalez is the branch manager for the new location, and comes to NBT with more than 12 years of banking and management experience. NBT Regional President Andreas Kapetanopoulos said NBT, which recently acquired Salisbury Bank, now has almost 100 employees in Connecticut. Since the new branch location opened several weeks ago, he said they are already seeing customer traffic skyrocket. In addition to cutting the ribbon with town officials and the Chamber of Commerce, NBT presented $1,000 financial contributions to two nonprofits – selecting one they have previously supported (West Hartford Food Pantry, which is part of the Town That Cares) and Friends of Feeney. “These donations underscore our commitment to supporting the well-being of the communities we serve,” said Kapetanopoulos. “We are proud to contribute to organizations like the West Hartford Food Pantry and Friends of Feeney, which play a vital role in assisting our neighbors in need.” Town of West Hartford Assistant Director of Social Services Liz Buczynski accepted the donation to the food pantry. “We are so grateful for NBT Bank’s generous contribution to our Town That Cares Fund which supports West Hartford residents who are experiencing crisis. Donations to Town That Cares allow us to stock our food pantry as well as provide financial assistance for critical needs such as housing or utility costs, medicine or other essentials,” she said. “We look forward to building a strong partnership with NBT Bank and their West Hartford-area team.” Friends of Feeney is led by its founder, Wolcott third grade teacher Eric Feeney, who could not be present at the ceremony because it was during the school day, but said in a statement, “We congratulate NBT Bank on their new West Hartford location and thank them for this generous donation. As a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children and families who need assistance after heartbreak and tragedy, the support of local businesses is critical to achieving our mission through raising funds and building a strong network of connections. We look forward to continued collaboration as we both work to serve the local community.” For information about NBT Bank’s new West Hartford location, including hours of operation, visit their website.

Town officials and the Chamber of Commerce celebrate the opening of NBT Bank’s new branch office at 68 South Main Street with a ribbon cutting on Feb. 21, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

At the ribbon cutting for their new branch office at 68 South Main Street, NBT donated $1,000 to the Town That Cares to support the Food Pantry. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

At the ribbon cutting for their new branch office at 68 South Main Street, NBT donated $1,000 to Friends of Feeney. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

NBT Branch Manager Victor Gonzalez at the ribbon cutting on Feb. 21, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

NBT Bank has opened a new branch office at 68 South Main Street, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The nearly 100-year-old Elmwood Community Church building at 24 Newington Road was listed for sale this month by Berkshire Hathaway, for the price of $1.1 million. Lyle Rotondo, the listing agent for the property, said it’s a beautiful building that he hopes will remain. “It has a lot of character in the Elmwood community,” he said. The building, which was constructed in 1926 and is just over 13,000 square feet on 0.89 acres, also includes 18 dedicated parking spaces. While it’s appraised at $2.1 million, Rotondo said the sale price reflects the understanding that updates will likely be needed for future use. The listing states it’s a “versatile property” which is “ideal for a myriad of uses including another church, a school, a daycare, or even a veterinary clinic” – all of which was verified by the town prior to activating the listing, Rotondo said. The property is located in an R-6 (single-family residential) zone, and I checked with West Hartford’s Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski who stated that allowable uses in R-6 include “places of worship, nursery school, child day-care center, group day-care home, public/parochial/private school, religious institution, private, nonprofit membership club, library, museum, veterinary clinic, and a few others.” While the church is one property south of the CVS that’s at the corner of New Britain Avenue and Newington Road, which is a BC (Central Business District) zone that includes a large portion of New Britain Avenue, Gorski shared the following in an email: “A re-zone to BC or another zone that permits general commercial uses would not be likely as the 2020-2030 Plan of Conservation and Development specifically calls for the protection of residential neighborhoods from commercial creep. A re-zone request to multi-family could be possible at this site. As the Town has previously received requests for and approved in other instances, there is an ability to request a re-zone from single-family to multifamily. This is based on a number of factors including its proximity to a commercial corridor and its position located near other multifamily properties meaning a multifamily would not necessarily be out of character with the neighborhood.” Any changes in zoning, however, would need to be approved by the Town Council. As for the reason the church is being sold, I spoke to Susan Wiley, the controller for Elmwood Community Church (who is also a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway) and she said that decision was determined to be the best course of action by the congregation which, like many churches, continues to face “declining membership” and therefore fewer resources. “It is with great sadness that Elmwood Community Church has decided to discontinue regular Sunday worship and list our church property for sale. The congregation was formed in 1873 and  celebrated its 150th anniversary last year,” Wiley said in a statement on behalf of the church. “The building on Newington Road in Elmwood Center was built in 1926. The congregation determined, as membership declined and expenses rose over the years, that this was the proper course of action. The building will continue to be used for non-worship church purposes until a sale closes.” Wiley said regular Sunday worship will be discontinued in mid-June. The decision on what to do with the proceeds of the sale will be made by the congregation, she said. “We certainly hope that whatever transpires with the property will be beneficial to the Elmwood community,” Wiley said. The listing went live on Feb. 2, and while it remains for sale, according to Rotondo, “We have had activity – a lot of inquiries on it.”

Elmwood Community Church at 24 Newington Road is for sale. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • I got a peek inside Wabi Sabi (135 South Main Street, former Pho 135 location) this past week and met owners Andy Moser and Gao Cai who said the restaurant should be open by mid-March. There was still some renovation work going on, but it looks great with a new bar and a screened private dining area in the center of the space. They are finalizing the menu (which will include hand rolls and a variety of rice bowls), and I can’t wait to try it out in the next few weeks!

Wabi Sabi’s sign is up and the restaurant at 135 South Main Street is nearly complete. The owners are hopeful for a March opening. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Nautical Bowls (345 North Main Street in Bishops Corner – along the strip that faces Albany Avenue) is also getting close to opening, and franchise owner Michael Smith said the framing is complete, and inspections were scheduled to begin last week. “We are on pace for an early to mid-April opening, and he said they are beginning the hiring process. More information, including the application, can be found on their website. Nautical Bowls specializes in fresh and healthy plant-based bowls with açaí and other superfoods. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @nauticalbowlswesthartford.

Nautical Bowls will be opening soon in Bishops Corner. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  • Like the reporting of pitchers and catchers (which has just taken place) one of the official signs that spring is on the horizon is the reopening of Rita’s – and that happened Friday. “Ice, custard, and happiness” is now available at 1134 New Britain Avenue in Elmwood, daily from noon to 9 p.m.

Rita’s (1134 New Britain Ave.) reopened for the season on Feb. 23. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  • West Hartford-based Verogy, a solar energy developer, announced in a news release last week that the company has received permits from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to convert former landfills in Deep River, Middletown, and Montville, CT into sites that will host solar energy projects. The capped landfills will now host solar projects with an aggregate size of 2.15 MW DC, and will produce over 2,600 MWh of zero carbon, clean energy annually – enough to power 252 homes for a year. The transformation will allow the landfills to be “given a new lease one life” rather than remaining an environmental burden, and will convert more than seven acres of remediated land into useful assets. The news release notes that the recent approvals from CT DEEP reflect a core strategy of the company, which is to develop and prioritize opportunities to convert landfill sites into clean energy producing properties. “Verogy is grateful to Connecticut DEEP’s staff for their thoughtful review of our three landfill projects,” Will Herchel, CEO of Verogy, said in a statement. “These projects mark a dual victory for the environment. First, by generating renewable energy, these projects will significantly reduce carbon emissions, contributing to the fight against climate change. Second, the use of capped landfills for the projects represents an important achievement in land reclamation and sustainability.” He added that Verogy’s commitment to sustainability “is at the core of our landfill projects. By harnessing the power of the sun and revitalizing formerly unusable land, we are taking meaningful steps towards a cleaner, greener future in Connecticut. We are excited about these great projects and look forward to finding even more opportunities to transform landfill sites into clean energy producing properties.”

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

Refresh Food and Drink is now open at 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Interior of Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Menu at Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Menu at Refresh Food and Drink, 58 Farmington Ave., Suite 5, Farmington. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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  • The black bean sauce with noodles from Refresh is called Jjajangmyeon. We just had it last night.

    Also, I can attest to Zephyr’s pastrami sandwich – it’s one of the best I’ve ever had – up there with Wise Sons Jewish Deli in SF. Highly recommend it (along with anything you can order from Zephyr’s really)!

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