A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
I am very happy that we have reached the end of February and that tomorrow will be March 1 – the first day of meteorological spring! I like to consider the seasons I like (which are all seasons other than winter) using the meteorological rather than the astronomical classification – although of course I will also rejoice on the first day of astronomical spring on March 20. The snowman and other winter decor in my house will be forced to retreat into their plastic bins this week, where they will remain until December.
Any optimism I’m feeling right now – about the change in seasons, about improving COVID metrics – is tempered by the situation in Ukraine. I double-majored in political science and economics in college and that was during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union still existed. A study of diplomacy and international relations focused on “Zero Sum Games,” a detente achieved because those in power recognized that there could be no winners – only losers of a worldwide magnitude. When 9-11 happened, I feared the return of that precarious situation, and I again feel helpless and fearful. I have often quoted the lyrics from Sting’s song “Russians” and it’s been stuck in my head again this past week: “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology. Believe me when I say to you. I hope the Russians love their children too.”
I will continue to do a lot of praying, and while there is no natural segue into any other topic after digressing, this is of course a column about West Hartford and there is plenty happening in town.
We all need to eat, and even though the three lunch events I originally had last week were all postponed, I did more than the usual eating out in support of our West Hartford restaurants. (Luckily I also made time for a good amount of exercise!)
Ted always has President’s Day off, and we’ve had a tradition for several years of going out to breakfast that day. Last Monday we had a great breakfast at Effie’s which included a veggie scramble for me that was accompanied by deliciously crispy and savory home fries, and a breakfast sandwich for Ted (along with oatmeal).
I had a marathon-length dinner with a friend at Zohara one night last week – a great chance to catch up after only seeing each other recently in brief snippets.
And Saturday night, after watching my Blue Devils beat Syracuse (I feel like I can’t miss any of Coach K’s final games), Ted and I enjoyed a late dinner at Bricco. The restaurant was absolutely hopping – which was great to see! And the food, of course, was fabulous. I’ve been purposely trying to order menu items I haven’t tried before rather than my favorites, and I am still thinking about and savoring the memory of my entree of Pan-Roasted Day Bay Scallops (with mushroom farrotto, shaved Brussels sprout, and truffle cauliflower puree). Ted tried the Brussels Sprouts Pie – which even got a thumbs up from Sam who, while rolling his eyes at our fixation on Brussels sprouts, immediately devoured a leftover piece as soon as we got home. Because we didn’t want to completely shun an all-time favorite item, we started our meal with the calamari.
This is a jam-packed column, and the week ahead will definitely be busy, including the rescheduled Mayor’s State of the Town luncheon (see bullet point below), and the presentation of the West Hartford Public Schools proposed budget to the Board of Education on Tuesday – the last time Tom Moore will be giving the budget presentation since he announced Friday that he will be leaving the district at the end of the academic year. (That story can be found here if you missed it.)
The universal indoor mask mandate was lifted in West Hartford as of Thursday, Feb. 10 (click here for the details) as of today masks will be optional in schools, libraries, and other town buildings (click here for details). Some business owners, however, may still ask that their customers wear masks. And many people will choose to wear masks in a variety of settings. Please have patience with each other and our choices, continue to look out for each other, support our local businesses – and stay safe and healthy.
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:
- Sometimes people will ask a question on social media about the type of business West Hartford really needs, and when the focus is on restaurants there is often mention of a fresh salad place. Well, those wishes are about to be granted: Chop’t Creative Salad Company has leased 2,703 square feet – a portion of the former Maximum Beverage space at 333 North Main Street in Bishops Corner! Chop’t’s only Connecticut locations are currently in Greenwich and Stamford, but the fast-casual chain, founded in 2001 by best friends Tony Shure and Colin McCabe, has more than 70 locations in nine other states. Chop’t has a menu of classic and “light” salads, more than two-dozen dressing options (some also sold by the bottle), warm bowls, and the opportunity to also customize salads with an extensive choice of greens, fruits and veggies, cheese and dairy, crunch, and other toppings. While the stores are all corporate owned, the company prides itself on community involvement, both supporting frontline workers and sourcing ingredients. According to their website, “When it comes to supporting our local communities, we strive to form long-term partnerships with local food artisans, farmers, small businesses, and producers with better food and better practices. This approach, along with our commitment to source the freshest produce available, enables us to create the most flavorful salads and bowls around.” Much more to come as the opening plans materialize.
- Starbucks has submitted plans to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission (TPZ) in its capacity as the town’s Inlands Wetlands and Watercourse agency, for a restaurant at the former D’Angelo’s site at 25 Kane Street, just off the Prospect Avenue (Exit 44) westbound exit of I-84. Pending that approval, which will have a hearing on March 7, Starbucks is looking to open a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating – and a drive-through (where was this when my kids were in car seats and the weather was bad and I was craving a coffee?) – by August 2022 according to the submitted plans. There was already a drive-through at the D’Angelo shop, and Town Planner Todd Dumais said having one for the Starbucks would be grandfathered since there is no change of use to the property, rather than being subject to the town’s recently enacted drive-through ordinance. The site plan includes landscaping improvements, and some of the existing parking area will be transformed into greenspace reducing the amount of impervious material.
- U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been visited with Black-owned small businesses throughout the state, and last week met with Anthony Williams, owner of Health Is Wealth at 74 Park Rd. The juice bar, which first opened in 2019 after a lengthy build-out in what had been a sliver of space used as a garage for the former office furniture space next door (where Essential Health is now), has been closed for the winter since the day after Thanksgiving but is reopening on Tuesday, March 1, said Williams, who is also owner of the JAWS Barber Shop on Oakwood Avenue that he has operated for eight years. Williams, who is a barber by trade, said he’s also a “serial entrepreneur,” and he and his wife originally opened Health is Wealth to provide an opportunity for their children, ages 19, 16, 14, 9, and 2, to learn how to work in a “safe and fun” environment, running a business that positively impacts the community. Their 16-year-old daughter will be the face of the business when it reopens this week, he said. Health Is Wealth sells smoothies and juice – not food – and because they are not technically a restaurant, Williams told Blumenthal that they were not able to benefit from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and because they only employ two people, they also didn’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Plan. “We fell all the way through,” Williams told the senator regarding access to COVID-19 relief. “When we opened the business we did it for the passion, not the monetary gain,” but he urged Blumenthal to “fight for these micro-businesses.” Blumenthal said it was great to speak with Williams. “Many small business owners have faced daunting challenges during the pandemic, but have persevered with grit and determination,” he said, pledging to work to ensure they have the “robust and inclusive support” for their recovery.
- WECO Hospitality, a business founded in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, is a community of local kitchens focused on cooking and delivering freshly prepared, chef-crafted dinners (by local chefs) Monday through Friday. The business, based in Massachusetts but serving more than 100 towns, cooks and hand-delivers daily, with pricing based on the cost of ingredients and a contribution, on the honor system, based on what customers “believe is fair for ‘overhead, labor, and love.'” To spread the word of their business, WECO is popping up at New Park Brewing in West Hartford to give a sneak preview of their ultimate family favorite dish. “The limited edition Lasagna Drop features two versions of carefully crafted layers of deliciousness available for one afternoon only and in limited quantities. The Veggie Lasagna has layers of butternut squash, Lacinto kale + mushrooms, cherry tomato sugo, roasted garlic bechamel, ricotta, basil, parmesan + herbed breadcrumbs. The Meat Lasagna has layers of beef Bolognese, cherry tomato sugo, roasted garlic bechamel, fresh mozzarella, basil, parmesan + herbed breadcrumbs,” WECO said in an email. The pop-up will take place on Saturday, March 5, from 2-6 p.m., at New Park Brewing, 485 New Park Ave. To reserve a lasagna in advance, click here. For more information and to get on the email list, visit www.wecohospitality.com.
Change is coming to the Seniors Job Bank, which will soon have a very special job opening: a new executive director. Sheila Diamond has for six years led the nonprofit community resource that connects people over 50 seeking work, with companies, households, and other employers having work to be done. She recently announced her decision to move on. According to Bernie Weiss, the Seniors Job Bank president, “Sheila has left a distinguished legacy of accomplishments in fundraising, administration, information management, and strategic development – all while making sure the day-to-day business of helping folks find jobs and employers find staff runs smoothly.” The Seniors Job Bank serves the greater Hartford area from its headquarters in West Hartford’s Town Hall. As it has for so many enterprises, COVID showed SJB that many of its functions could be – and are being – conducted remotely. Weiss expects that like Diamond, her successor – who does not have to be over 50 – will have flexible working arrangements. The executive director’s responsibilities include (among others) managing office operations, fundraising, marketing, and representing SJB at community events and related organizations’ meetings. The 30 hour per week, paid (not volunteer) position is especially suitable for someone with experience in the non-profit industry. Complete information about the job is available at https://seniorsjobbankct.org.
- Whenever I drive, or walk, around town I’m always checking on businesses that are in the process of preparing to open. (Yes, I’m that person who is trying to peek through the window where there may be a gap in the paper covering it over. Also please note that sometimes business owners ask me to hold off on providing updates until they are ready and of course I will always comply with those requests.) While I haven’t been able to obtain a status update from the owner, the sign is up for El Santo in the former Cosi space at 970 Farmington Ave., build-out is in progress, and they have applied for their liquor permit. Their social media indicates plans for a spring 2022 opening, and I will continue to watch for more details!
- There is now a wrap on the windows of the future Oath Pizza which plans to open its first Connecticut location this spring at 67 Memorial Road in Blue Back Square. According to a news release, Oath Pizza, “the better-for-you craft pizza brand from Nantucket Island … [is] known for its deliciously unique avocado oil crust, thoughtfully sourced toppings, and feel-good ambiance.” The location will be corporate-owned, and will offer dine-in as well as takeout and delivery options. “People want to make better choices for themselves and their families,” CEO Drew Kellogg said. “We’re on a mission to help them do just that and we couldn’t be happier to become a part of the West Hartford community.” Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin said, “We’re thrilled that Oath Pizza chose Blue Back Square as their first Connecticut location and know that the community will embrace their unique culinary offerings. This is just one of the many exciting new tenant announcements coming to Blue Back in 2022.”
- Chel Benyair, who recently moved to West Hartford, has launched the new business Insight & Illumination. The business offers Reiki, an energy balancing technique, as well as Transformation Partnerships (“similar to coaching, but I don’t like that word,” she said) based out of her Elmwood home. More information can be found on the website insightandillumination.com or by calling 917-922-7688
- Kevin Masse, owner of Small State Provisions which is located at GastroPark (637 New Park Ave.) was featured on the Connecticut Public podcast “Seasoned” last week, in an episode entitled “Baking tips every bread lover ‘kneads’ from King Arthur Baking, Small State Provisions and Wave Hill Breads”. Click here to listen.
- Moe’s Southwest Grill in West Hartford will be hosting a fundraiser to benefit Playhouse Theatre Group (PTG), Inc. On Tuesday, March 8, from 4-9 p.m., 20% of all purchases will be donated to PTG. There will also be live performances by the Playhouse Mainstage Singers Patrons must show the Moe’s/Playhouse flier (found on www.PlayhouseOnPark.org or @PlayhouseOnPark on Instagram). This offer is only valid at the West Hartford location of Moe’s Southwest Grill (722 North Main Street in Bishops Corner). “Help keep the arts alive by eating at Moe’s on March 8th!” Playhouse on Park said in an email.
- Taste of Elmwood will be happening this year, and its just a week away! All of the details are on the flier below, and you can purchase tickets here.
- The property at 602-608 New Park Ave. was purchased in late January for $735,000 by American Landscaping (69 Talcott Road) and while they have also purchased other parcels in town and have not announced what their plans are for those properties, in this case one of the existing businesses has already closed. Oscar’s Tux, which was at 606 New Park Ave., has closed for good and business owner Oscar Sosa has moved to Florida. The other business on the property, Argelia Novias Bridal, which is owned by Sosa’s brother Ody Sosa, is still open, but Ody Sosa said, “We are playing it by ear right now.” The pandemic has been hard on the formalwear business, he said, and while there are clearance signs in the window, he said the final decision about the store won’t be made until the end of March.
- ICYMI, the Mayor’s State of the Town has been rescheduled from last Friday (due to the snow and ice) for this Friday, March 4, at the Pond House. Details can be found here.
- Congratulations to West Hartford’s Cora Cora and Chef Macarena Ludena for being named James Beard semifinalists! Click here for the 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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