A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
It’s the last week of January, and to me it seems like this month has been flying by. Only one more short month of winter after this (although February does often seem like the longest week of the year), and we will begin meteorological spring.
Of course there are many dark days ahead, but I do feel like I see some light at the end of the tunnel. I have some hope that the political scene may turn a bit kinder and gentler now that we have moved past the inauguration of President Joe Biden, with things like Bernie memes replacing some of the previous political commentary. I don’t in any way want to make light of the serious issues that our country must deal with in the coming months and years, but a reduction in the vitriol will be a step in the right direction.
We’ve also been seeing some positive trends on the COVID-19 front. Although the number of fatalities remains high, that is a lagging indicator, reflecting infections from weeks ago.
The positivity rate statewide has dropped to just over 5% as of data released Friday, and while the reported number of positive cases per 100,000 for West Hartford remained at 40.4 for the past two weeks, it’s a bit of a lagging indicator, based on reported cases for the 14-day period Jan. 3-16. Based on my calculations, West Hartford has been averaging 22 cases a day for the past two weeks, so next week’s rate per 100,000 is likely to drop to the mid-30s, if not lower.
Nursing home and assisted living residents, as well as staff, have been getting their vaccinations, and in some cases have received two doses – and statewide as well as in West Hartford there has been major impact in the infection rate. According to data released by the state on Thursday, there were just three positive cases reported among nursing home residents in West Hartford, no cases among nursing home staff, and no fatalities. There were no cases among assisted living residents, and five among assisted living staff, spread among four different facilities.
I’m hoping that Monday’s report from the state shows the trend continuing, and that the vaccination effort will be able to pick up as the supply increases to meet the demand.
On a very sad note, Saturday night I reported on a fatal fire in West Hartford. As of the time this column was published, the name of the victim has not been released. Also, please note that while I am aware of the address of the home where the fire took place, I have not published that address, nor any other identifying information, at the request of the West Hartford fire chief. When I spoke to Chief Priest at the scene late Saturday night, he specifically asked media to refrain from publishing that information in order to prevent family from finding out about the fate of their loved ones in the news. I will of course honor that request, and when the information is made public, will update the story.
On Saturday, just hours before the fire, Ted and I dropped off several bags of returnables at a can drive fundraiser that Friends of Feeney was holding at GastroPark. On Sunday morning, Friends of Feeney, with the assistance of Eric Bergenn, had already launched a supplemental fundraiser to assist the family impacted by the tragic fire – just one example of the great work done by this local nonprofit.
There is no good segue, but on a completely different note this week’s restaurant visit involved a Friday lunch rather than a Saturday dinner, and a venture just yards over the West Hartford line to Seoul BBQ (593 Hartford Rd., New Britain – just past Westfarms) where owner Mark Moon showed off his new Rinnai tabletop grill. “The grill is made for pork belly,” Moon said, as he pointed out the concave shape that allows grease to drain off into cavities built into the edges where it seasoned the eggs, garlic, kimchi, and corn that were also being grilled. The grill allows the “food to be the star,” he said, and provides an option to cook over charcoal as well.
Jeannette Dardenne (from Eat IN Connecticut) and I sampled not only the pork belly (great in lettuce wraps with a bit of everything else that was cooking on the grill plus some rice), but also gote (un-marinated short rib) and marinated short rib. There wasn’t much left after our “sampling.” A few more photos can be found below.
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.
Keeping it in the Community Tip: Getting ready for Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. If this holiday holds a special place in your heart, here are some ideas to show the love of your life a memorable experience.
Inside dining is currently an option, but if this not in your comfort zone, you can pick one of our incredible restaurants and order take-out for a romantic feast. Add on dessert from one of our many fine bakeries or ice cream shops. Feel like cooking yourself? Pick a menu, gather the ingredients, and cook a storm with your Valentine.
Gifts? West Hartford’s retail scene is one of the most eclectic in the state. Jewelry, clothing and other sundries can be easily obtained across town. You can also give the gift of experience with a professional massage or spa treatment.
You don’t celebrate? No problem. Any of the above are great ways to treat yourself or share with friends – and don’t forget that as an alternative to Valentine’s Day, “Galentine’s Day” is on Feb. 13!
Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: Luna Pizza
Luna Pizza has been a West Hartford Center staple and a family-owned business since 1997, and Alex MacDonald became the owner in 2007, taking over for his uncle.
While there are other restaurants with similar names, Luna is not a chain and 999 Farmington Ave. is the only location – and while MacDonald is the owner, he’s also involved in everything else going on with the business, including making the pizza and other cooking.
MacDonald gave Luna a facelift in late 2018, redesigning the dining room to accommodate both adults and young children, adding a bar, and expanding the kitchen and the menu beyond just pizza.
Now he’s had to pivot again.
“COVID has had a huge impact on our business,” MacDonald said. “We have done more takeout and delivery, as we had to take out many of our tables for indoor dining and on our patio this past summer in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. We began offering curbside pickup and weekly family takeout specials, as well as make-your-own-pizza kits. In the spring when there were supply shortages in grocery stores, we also offered staples like flour and toilet paper in our online ‘Luna market,'” he said.
With the increase in COVID-19 cases in West Hartford and the surrounding area coinciding with the weather becoming too cold for outdoor dining to be feasible, MacDonald said he closed the dining room. “We felt it was safest for our employees and customers to stick to takeout and delivery for now,” he said.
“We ensure our employees wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines, and are in regular communication with the Bloomfield-West Hartford Health Department about COVID safety protocols,” MacDonald said.
To keep Luna Pizza front and center in the minds of diners, MacDonald said he has relied on social media as well as email marketing to reach customers.
“We have enjoyed tremendous support from the West Hartford community since the very beginning of the pandemic, and we truly wouldn’t still be here without all of our customers buying gift cards, and ordering takeout and delivery,” said MacDonald. “Our family takeout meals have been a big success and we plan to continue those. Our make-your-own-pizza kits have also been a really fun activity for kids to do safely at home, including our own three kids.”
MacDonald said he’s planning to reopen the dining room by March 1, and is looking forward to some additional updates. “[I] have plans as well to add an awning and new seating to the patio so that it’s more comfortable for our customers this spring and summer!” he said.
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:
- These structures appeared late last week and have already gotten quite a bit of attention: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar now has five greenhouses for a unique indoor/outdoor dining experience! Managing Partner Liz Kiyak has been working to make this a reality since the fall, and finally was able to secure approval through the town, and the greenhouses were erected over the past week or so and officially put into use Sunday night. “It’s been a journey. I started conversations with the town in August,” Kiyak said, but before the town could approve the greenhouses, the state’s Department of Economic Community Development had to approve the use of greenhouses and igloos for dining. The Fleming’s greenhouses are heated and ventilated, the doors will remain open if at all possible, and units will be aired out for at least 30 minutes between seatings, which are scheduled daily for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. It’s also possible to reserve a greenhouse for the entire evening. Each accommodates four people, or six “if you don’t mine being close,” according to Kiyak. Diners are able to order from the a la carte menu, and there are food and beverage minimums required, which Kiyak said is necessary to comply with the state requirements that meals must accompany sale of alcoholic beverages. Reservations must be made by phone (not online) at 860-676-9463. “This is a way for you to eat out and only share the space with members of your own circle during the chilly months. My service team will be there masked for every thing you need. Your and their safety is my number one concern and inspiration for these. Thank you for trusting us and I hope everyone enjoys!” Kiyak said in a Facebook post. Kiyak said she’s just happy to be able to keep staff working, and to be able to accommodate guests who aren’t quite ready to eat inside. “It’s an investment,” Kiyak said. “We’re taking a gamble.” Even though they technically count as indoor dining (because more than two sides are closed) greenhouses will be able to remain for as long as the governor’s executive order allowing for the expansion of outdoor dining beyond what the town has approved. Winter is usually the busiest time at Fleming’s, but this year has been the opposite, Kiyak said, and she is hoping the greenhouses will bring more guests during the cold weather months. More photos can be found below. The door was open to one of them so I got to peek inside!
- Work will soon be getting underway for the build-out of Zaytoon’s Bistro in the former Chalkboard space at 1126 New Britain Ave., owner restaurant owner Omar Hayajneh confirmed. He said they hope to open the restaurant by May or June, definitely by the summer. The Town Council approved changes to the Elmwood Shopping Center façade in late June of 2020, which will allow the updates to take place and will also permit outdoor seating for the new restaurant. Hayajneh said this will be a second Zaytoon’s location, not a move, and the menu will be to the Park Road location that opened in 2017. There had been some discussion about the location also serving as a market, but Hayajneh said it will be a restaurant. Many more details to come as this project gets going!
- Warby Parker opened Saturday at Westfarms, on the second floor near center court. The company shared the following information in a news release: “As our very first store opening of 2021, Westfarms will mark WarbyParker‘s third location in Connecticut, with a more convenient and accessible option for the West Hartford and Farmington communities. Our newest retail space will carry full optical and sun eyewear offerings (including our latest launch of theSpring Collection) which come in a range of lens types, from blue light filtering, progressives, and light-responsive frames, along with our brand of daily contact lenses (Scout by WarbyParker) as well as a wide range of daily, bi-weekly, and monthly contact brands.” A full feature story will be coming shortly!
- While it’s technically in Farmington, I count anything at Westfarms as being part of West Hartford, and many people will be excited to hear that Cotton On has obtained building permits and will be opening a location where the Harry & David pop-up was located during the holidays. Cotton On, according to its website, is Australia’s largest global brand, focused on cotton clothing, and with a strong commitment to ethical operations. This is so new that Westfarms has not announced it yet, but much more information to come.
- I did get updates on some other Westfarms businesses. I had heard a rumor that the plans for Maggie McFly’s to open (announced in February 2020) had fallen apart, but spokesperson Amanda Sirica confirmed that lease negotiations are still underway. January is a time when many leases turn over, Sirica said, and while there may be some vacant spaces at Westfarms right now, that’s typical for January and new leases are in the works. One recent closure at Westfarms is Nespresso.
- Another plan that has seemingly stalled is BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, but they are still planning to open in the former Jared Jewelry space in Corbin’s Corner, and according to West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, they are working on finalizing some of their interior architectural designs.
- A few updates in Blue Back Square include build-outs underway for the very cool brunch and lunch spot, The Place 2 Be (50 Memorial Rd.) and Sola Salon Studios are still underway. Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin said construction is “full speed ahead” and that both are targeting an early March opening.
- The building at 702 Oakwood Ave., formerly owned and occupied by Flame Treating & Engineering Company, was on the market for years and recently sold to West Hartford Landscaping, which had been previously leasing space, Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski said. The nearly 16,000 square foot space is now the landscaping company’s new headquarters.
- Max Burger has closed temporarily due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19, Max Restaurant Group announced in an email Friday. They said the closing was “out of an abundance of caution,” and details about the reopening date will follow.
- Freshii, located at 54 LaSalle Rd., has a sign on the door indicated that it is closed temporarily and will reopen this spring. No other details are currently available.
- I personally want to give a shout out to Sue Quan at Aria Nail Spa for the great manicure! After speaking with her and writing about Aria in a previous column, I decided to check it out last week. Their permanent sign is now in place, too.
- ICYMI, Restaurant Bricco celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday. Read the complete story here. One thing I forgot to mention in the story is that Bricco was just named one of the top 15 restaurants in the state by Connecticut Magazine. Many congratulations to Billy Grant and his team!
- West Hartford’s Omaha Steaks (13 South Main St.) storefront is closing its doors on Feb. 14, store employee Sandra Keenan confirmed. Remaining product is being sold at 50% off. The nearest location will be South Windsor, and Omaha Steaks are also available online.
- People’s United Bank will be closing their locations inside Stop & Shop stores, the company announced Thursday. The closings will be gradual, and take place as leases come up, the news release sates. In West Hartford, there is currently a People’s United branch in the Newington Road Stop & Shop, but only an ATM in the Farmington Avenue store. I’m not sure what will happen to that ATM.
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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