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West Hartford Business Buzz: January 18, 2021

Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery is now open in Corbin's Corner, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

Today is Martin Luther King Day and although it’s a federal holiday and many people have the day off there is no trash/recycling delay this week.

Today is also the 25th town-wide celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and while like so many celebrations in the past 10 months this year’s event is virtual, it will definitely be inspiring! The program will premier at 10 a.m. Monday on WHCi’s cable stations, website, and YouTube channel, and while I always consider this celebration a “don’t miss” event, the good thing is that if you miss it live this year, you can watch it later. Details about the speakers and other participants can be found here.

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I had the opportunity to join Taylor Kinzler last week for a segment of Business Buzz on CT Live, and this month’s show went much smoother than last month’s, especially since the times I got tangled in the cord for my earphones and dropped my phone were before we started recording. After doing the show live at Westfarms once a month for a year I had gotten the hang of live TV, but it’s pretty complicated (for me) to not talk too long when there are no visual cues and also to coordinate Zoom on the computer and audio through the phone at the same time.

The link to the segment, which aired Friday, can be found here.

I lived in the DC area for three presidential inaugurations, and it was always a very exciting time. This year was already going to be different because of the pandemic, but I pray that everything stays peaceful as well.

We’ve been trying not to repeat Saturday night restaurant visits or takeout, but that can get difficult when multiple people are trying to agree on what to eat. Katie joined me, Ted, and Sam for dinner Saturday night and we got takeout from Nummy – and although Ted and I have been there multiple times, it was a first for the kids.

“Mom, do you think I’d like eel?” was the question Sam asked as we were deciding what to order. Not the question I expected to come out of the mouth of the kid who ate NOTHING but chicken nuggets and mac and cheese for the first decade of his life. At 22, however, he now eats pretty much anything so he ordered the Eel Rice Bowl (top right) – which we all agreed was delicious. We also sampled the Mr. Peanut and Mrs. Peanut and Bam Bam Noodles.

Takeout from Nummy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

We’re back on track with 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 the challenges of the local restaurant community here.

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Keeping it in the Community Tip: Local businesses can help you stick to your wellness resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? How is it going? By mid-February, many people have veered away from their intended commitment to implementing change. If this idea resonates with you, fear not! There are many wellness practitioners in our community who can help keep you on track. Most gyms are operating in a safe, physically-distanced manner. Many of them are also offering online or hybrid training sessions. Individual activities such as yoga, pilates, and even martial arts can be performed from the comfort of your home with a virtual qualified instructor. Platforms such as tele-health can easily connect you with a physician, therapist, or dietician to coach you on your progress. Have you made a commitment to a more mindful existence? Similar to physical fitness, you can exercise your mind with a trained meditation teacher on your computer or mobile device. Don’t forget our wonderful retailers, many of whom specialize in equipment, gear, clothing, and supplements.

Regardless of the change you want to make, be assured, there is more than likely a professional in our community who can guide you a on your journey to a new you!

Ignite Fitness is located at 137 South Main St., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: Ignite Fitness

Ignite Fitness opened its doors on Jan. 24, 2019, and had just passed its first anniversary when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, forcing the studio to close for several months. Not only have they figured out how to get creative with the fitness business while maintaining a safe environment for those who train in the facility, but they are also just about two weeks away from opening the second location, at 300 West Main Street above the former Truffles, owner/operator Kim Zengerle said.

“We have switched to a hybrid model for all of our training programs, Zengerle said. “We offer private personal training, semi-private training, and small group classes that now all run on our virtual platform simultaneously with our in-person training. So a semi-private session may have two clients online, and one in-person working with their coach at the same time.” Large TVs and iPads have been added to the studio in order to accommodate the hybrid program.

Ignite Fitness clients work out distanced, wearing masks. Courtesy of Kim Zengerle (we-ha.com file photo)

“We also operate at 20% capacity and broke the club into four ‘suites’ to maintain ample spacing and to eliminate equipment sharing,” said Zengerle. “Some clients are comfortable returning to the club and others aren’t, so our focus is on providing the solutions to keep people exercising and working toward their health and fitness goals. For new clients that are virtual we also converted our onboarding protocols to be able to be implemented remotely.”

In addition to breaking the club into suites to keep clients separate, Zengerle said they have invested in duplicate equipment so each suite has a full set and there is no sharing.

Other protocols she listed include: “Both staff and clients must remain masked at all times and maintain proper distance from each other. We also created additional cleaning protocols using hospital grade disinfectant misters to sanitize all surfaces and equipment after use, along with hand sanitizing stations in each suite and other areas of the club. We opted to adhere to an even lower capacity limit than mandated by the state as an additional measure to ensure proper spacing.”

Courtesy of Ignite Fitness

Zengerle said she has had to make major changes in the way she promotes Ignite.

“I traditionally collaborate with many local businesses throughout the year for joint events bringing our clients to other local businesses and vice versa, but that has been halted by the pandemic for multiple reasons. We’ve also had to create an entirely new bank of marketing materials and images to reflect a current depiction of what it’s like to be a client at Ignite and why we are a great fitness program choice, particularly in today’s climate. Our professionally-designed materials and photos did not show the club current layout or everyone wearing masks – which is a challenge we are still overcoming. These materials are also necessary to promote our new services and options,” she said.

Client working out at Ignite Fitness. Courtesy photo

There have been challenges, but there have also been successes – and Zengerle said that’s what she is most proud of.

“We have been very fortunate to be able to keep all of our clients going and our staff employed both through the shutdown and re-opening. We were also able to do this without missing a single day of training in transition,” she said.

“The day after businesses were ordered to close we moved everyone online. This of course was imperative for the business to keep functioning, but more importantly allowed us to continue to fulfill our commitments to our clients fitness and health. Our coaches have kept their same schedules and pay as well. All of this has kept some sense of normalcy, when ‘normal’ is hard to come by. We have also gained new clients both virtually, and in person. Our virtual platform has been very effective and we have gained clients because of it. Some of our new in person clients joined our facility looking for fitness help with many new obstacles and challenges, and were attracted to our smaller, more controlled environment where they felt safe,” said Zengerle.

“We are so grateful to be able to provide a solution for people to keep both physical and mental health a priority. Another silver lining is that with our new virtual platform, we have also been able to create greater consistency with clients exercise routines. Where transition time, travel, or home obligations used to interfere with scheduled sessions from time to time, being able to log on to a session remotely from anywhere has helped to remove that obstacle!”

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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:

Hiriatiki salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, Greek feta, and Greek dressing) from Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • A few weeks ago, I reported that Simple Greek, which had opened in June 2017, had closed its doors in Corbin’s Corner. This week I was able to connect with owner George Chatzopoulos, and learned that the restaurant had actually been transformed, and reopened a few days ago as Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery. “We rebranded,” Chatzopoulos said. Simple Greek was a franchise (he owned both the West Hartford location and one in Glastonbury, which is also being transformed) and due to the impact of COVID-19, he said the parent company said they could no longer support the franchise locations past the end of 2020, and gave them the opportunity to break away. The menu at the fast casual restaurant is similar – but more Mediterranean than exclusively Greek, and with more vegetarian and vegan options, he said. The menu features soups, salads (Greek, Casesar, Horiatiki, Mediterranean, and “Maria’s Special Salad”), priced from $6.95-$8.99, and with a variety of add-ons available. There are pita sandwiches, which include several varieties of Gyro ($9.95) and a build-your-own bowl option ($12). There are also some lunch box specials, Acai bowls, and a kids menu, as well as desserts. (See photo below of the Loukoumades, which I sampled warm, oozing with honey). In addition, Chatzopoulos said, “We will have the freedom going forward to change things.” Chatzopoulos, who also owns theChip’s Family Restaurant chain, has hired a husband and wife team to manage Kouzina, and they have an ownership interest as well. “We’ve known each other for many years,” said Penny Vastakis, who has restaurant experience but most recently was working in an office. “Kouzina means ‘kitchen’ in Greek. This is just like being in your family’s kitchen,” she said, adding that she looks forward to getting to really know the customers. Her husband, Teddy Zervantaridis, had his own restaurant in Greece and also worked as a butcher. Most recently, he owned Zorbas, a Greek restaurant in Meriden. “Everything is homemade, the hummus, the tzatziki,” he said. The meats are marinated and grilled on the Gyro machine. Both stressed the freshness of everything on the menu, and said they want to serve the kind of food that they would want to eat themselves. While the footprint of Kouzina is exactly the same as Simple Greek, it looks larger. An interior wall was removed, and the windows aren’t covered with posters anymore, said Chatzopoulos. His sister did the interior design, and incorporated some of the elements that had been used to decorate Balos, which closed its doors in Blue Back Square last year. Kouzina currently seats 15-20, but once COVID-19 restrictions ease, there will be space for about 40. Customers order at the counter, and staff will deliver the food to the table. Takeout and delivery, as well as curbside pickup – all of which are a growing percentage of the restaurant business – are also available. The website is in the process of being completed, and should be live by Jan. 28 (kouzinaeatery.com). See more food photos and the menu, as well as photos of the interior below.

Kouzina owner George Chatzopoulos (right) with partners Penny Vastakis and Teddy Zervantaridis. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Looks by Lena hair studio in West Hartford, which is located within Salons by JC in Bishops Corner (same building as Marshalls/Home Goods) is raising money to benefit the South Park Inn. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the homeless community, a population at increased risk of contagion and death. South Park Inn’s mission is to assist men, women and veterans experiencing homelessness and to help improve their life situation. Looks by Lena hair studio in West Hartford is working to raise funds for this critical mission with a virtual raffle to benefit South Park Inn in Hartford, CT. Tickets are $10 and each enters you in a drawing to win a prize valued at over $300 which includes a haircut and blowout, color, highlights, or balayage, and an Ikoo product bundle,” owner Lena Whalen said in an email. All proceeds, 100% of the ticket price, goes to South Park Inn. The winner will be drawn on Feb. 10, 2021, and for more information or to purchase a virtual ticket click here.

Courtesy image

  • If you’re wondering what’s going on with Pachanga (280 Park Rd.) being closed, don’t worry. They are just taking a short but long-deserved vacation, owner Karin Montiel said. They closed Jan. 13, and plan to reopen Feb. 3.

Elbow Room (986 Farmington Ave.) will be closed through spring. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The Elbow Room is also closed, and while it is also temporary, no reopening date has been set. The sign on the door of the West Hartford Center restaurant – which in the warm weather has a great outdoor dining space on the roof, and pre-COVID had an active night-time crowd – reads: “Temporarily closed due to Covid-19. See you in the spring!” We’ll provide updates as they become available.

A sign on the door of Elbow Room states that it will be closed until spring. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Beleza Beauty & Well Being has moved out of the space at 8 Ellsworth Rd. in West Hartford Center. Their Facebook page says “Big things are coming,” and they are reportedly relocating, but have not yet shared the details. Building owner Robert Udolf told me that has several prospective tenants interested in the space and doesn’t anticipate it will be vacant for long. “It’s unique because it has all that space for parking in the front and in the rear,” Udolf said.

Beleza has moved out of 8 Ellsworth, but building owner Robert Udolf said there is plenty of interest in the space. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Halloran Sage has announced that West Hartford resident and attorney Peter Royer has joined the firm. “Royer joins the firm’s Hartford office as a Partner and commercial litigator with a focus on bankruptcy and real estate related litigation. He handles foreclosures, collection actions, commercial evictions, prejudgment remedy applications, business and contract disputes, and quiet title actions concerning boundary disputes, adverse possession claims, and various title defects. In addition to his litigation practice, Royer routinely represents commercial lenders in connection with workouts, loan restructures, forbearance agreements, and loan sales. Moreover, he represents property owners and mortgagees with respect to title claims and other defects,” Halloran Sage announced in a news release. Royer has a BA from Denison University and earned his JD, cum laude, from Vermont Law School.

Peter Royer. Courtesy photo

Julia Winer. Courtesy photo

  • Julia Winer of West Hartford has been promoted to Chief Corporate Officer of Silver Fern Healthcare, a company dedicated to transforming care through its proprietary chronic disease management platform, Silver Fern announced in a news release. “Julia is a passionate, mission-driven leader of business communications, strategy, and operational efficiency,” said Colleen A. McGuire, co-founder and CEO of Silver Fern Healthcare. “Julia’s insights and creativity along with her dedication to our mission are invaluable.” In her new role, Winer, a who was a recent “Hartford Business Journal Forty Under 40” honoree, will lead PR, marketing, product improvement, and human resources at Silver Fern. “I am honored to receive this promotion and for the opportunity to serve as chief corporate officer of Silver Fern,” Winer said. “I was attracted to Silver Fern because of its mission and the passion of its leaders to improve the health of people with chronic conditions. Silver Fern’s growth and success is a testament to the value and innovation it is bringing to the healthcare industry, and I am eager to continue to contribute to the team in new ways through this incredible leadership opportunity.” Winer joined Silver Fern full-time in early 2020 as SVP, Marketing and Communications. She received an MBA from the UConn School of Business in 2016, where she met Silver Fern CEO Colleen McGuire and colleague Chris Tucker. For more information, visit www.silverfernhealthcare.com.
  • ICYMI, the West Hartford Greater Together Community Fund is accepting letters of intent for a total of $25,000 of grant funds. 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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Kouzina’s pork gyro, currently a $5 special. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Loukoumades are Greek “donuts,” served in hot honey syrup and sprinkled with chopped walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery is now open in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery is now open in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery is now open in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Menu at Kouzina Mediterranean Eatery, now open in Corbin’s Corner, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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