A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
This was a somewhat quiet week in my house with Sam back at school, but not a quiet week in West Hartford.
It was a week of inspiring stories like the town’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, lots of sports stories (Marlon Pitter was hard at work this week) including Conard vs. Hall boys and girls basketball games, several fires, a few ribbon cuttings, and a lengthy Board of Education meeting.
I also ventured out of West Hartford for a tour of Chrysalis Center (in Hartford) provided by Director of Development (and West Hartford resident) Adria Giordano.
I was extremely impressed by the scope of what Chrysalis Center does for area residents who are struggling – people with mental illness, veterans, homeless – in need of transforming their lives. They not only provide assistance finding housing and jobs, but also provide case management to deal with the root problem.
The Hartford facility includes the Urban Roots hydroponic garden, where a fine crop of lettuces is currently growing, the Freshplace food pantry where 100 families who are currently enrolled in the program can “shop” for groceries including fresh produce, a fitness center, the REC (Recovery and Empowerment Center) where social, recreational, and wellness opportunities are available on a drop-in basis,, and La Cocina, a commercial kitchen where culinary arts training is provided under the guidance an experienced chef. La Cocina also provides catering services, and the Homestead Avenue facility also has an onsite training and conference center which can accommodate up to 300 people and is available for rental by nonprofit and for-profit businesses as well as any member of the community in need of event space.
Many Chrysalis Center volunteers are from West Hartford, and more are always welcome. For additional information about the organization, visit chrysaliscenterct.org.
This week will be highlighted by the Mayor’s State of the Town luncheon on Tuesday, as well as a Town Council meeting.
I am a member of the CFOG (Connecticut Foundation for Open Government) Board, and we are hosting “Stories Behind the Stories) tonight at the Lyceum in Hartford. It’s going to be a fascinating chance to hear firsthand from the reporters who have been covering some of the area’s biggest news stories this past year, and there is still some space available for those interested in attending. See the flyer below for details.
Next week’s edition of Business Buzz will be coming to you from Florida. It’s not a vacation – although I do hope to soak up a little bit of warm sunshine – but my sister and I are going to visit our dad, who was hospitalized in early December and has been in various medical facilities since then. Let’s just say that navigating intricacies of the healthcare system is not something I wish upon my worst enemy.
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:
- It may not look like much other than boarded-up windows and a boarded-up door, but build-out is finally well underway for Arethusa, which will be located in the eastern section of the former Toy Chest space at 975 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford Center. Many people have been asking questions and anxiously awaiting evidence news about the cafe and dairy store. Arethusa is owned by George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, now former top executives with Manolo Blahnik, who bought some farmland in Litchfield about 20 years ago, a move which eventually led to the creation of the Arethusa brand. They also have two buildings in Bantam, where the dairy operation is now located along with a retail store, the bakery and cafe Arethusa a mano, and the acclaimed restaurant Arethusa al tavolo. “We are hoping to open our West Hartford location by Memorial Day. We are thrilled to be joining the West Hartford community, the permitting process has just taken a bit longer than we initially anticipated,” a spokesperson from Arethusa told me. While you can’t see anything going on from the sidewalk on Farmington Avenue, it’s much more evident that construction is taking place when seen from the parking lot in the rear. (I peeked in the open doorway in the back the other day, too – but didn’t take a photo of that!) Following Toy Chest’s move next door to 973 Farmington Ave., the space was subdivided and the western portion is being built out as Mẹcha Noodle Bar.
- Small State Provisions, is a newly-formed Cottage Food business founded by local West Hartford resident, Kevin Masse – who was kind enough to drop off this incredible loaf of sourdough bread and a package of granola for me to sample earlier this week and provided information about the new business. Kevin said he and his husband Michael moved to West Hartford more than three years ago after spending 10 years in New York City, and when West Hartford passed the ordinance allowing the operation of Cottage Food operations, the seed for Small State Provisions was planted. As head of digital and social partnerships for Bake from Scratch Magazine (@thebakefeed), Kevin has spent years working in the food media industry, but his passion for cooking and baking has been lifelong. Small State Provisions has quietly been building a following for their Sourdough Bread and Maple Olive Oil Granola, both of which are made in small batches, by hand, here in West Hartford. Small State Provisions offers traditional Sourdough Boules as well as a Sourdough Rosemary Focaccia – both made the old fashion way with salt, sourdough starter, flour, water and time. In addition to the artisan bread, Small State Provisions sells Olive Oil Maple Granola, made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Dark Grade Maple Syrup, and finished with just the right amount of salt. Most recently, Small State Provisions has begun experimenting and working on Sourdough Croissants and hopes to host a Croissant Pop-Up in the near future. Kevin said that “leaning into the incredible experiences” he has had with local community supported agriculture shares (CSA), Small State Provisions will be launching its first Community Supported Baking Program (CSB) the week of Feb. 9. Weekly and bi-weekly options are available to receive Sourdough bread and/or granola on a recurring basis. Pickup days of Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday will be available, so community members can pick the day of the week that best suits their needs. “Spaces are very limited for this first program (remember, Small State Provisions is doing this out of a home oven!), so sign up quickly before this first program is full,” Kevin said. For more information about Small State Provisions, follow them on Instagram and to sign up for their CSB, or place an order, email [email protected]. Orders must be picked up in West Hartford, he said, but Small State Provisions can ship granola.
- The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Shari Cantor continue to be very busy hosting ribbon cuttings, and there have been several this week! On Thursday I attended the ribbon cutting at Code Ninjas in Elmwood (Stop and Shop plaza). The center, which actually opened late last year, provides “game-based coding education” to kids ages 7-14. As they do in martial arts, participants progress through various color levels with the goal of earning their black wristband. Many of the Chamber members had a chance to try out the program themselves after the ribbon cutting, and had a great time. More details about Code Ninjas can be found in a previous Business Buzz column here.
- Kaliubon Ramen just opened this past week (54 Memorial Rd. in Blue Back Square), and I am already addicted! The soft opening was earlier in the week, and the official first day was Wednesday. The restaurant is already appearing to be quite popular, and reviews have been wonderful. The Chamber of Commerce, joined by Mayor Shari Cantor and Blue Back Square management, officially welcomed Kaliubon Ramen on Friday with a ribbon cutting. For more information, see the Business Buzz column from two weeks ago.
- Congratulations and best of luck to resident Deb Cohen, creator of the West Hartford-based “The Front Door Project,” who has launched a new career as a realtor with the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office in West Hartford. Cohen had a long and successful career in finance, most recently with the Mark Twain House, but what began as a hobby taking photos of welcoming front doors while she walked really ignited her love of architecture and real estate.
- Congratulations also to West Hartford resident Kathy Christensen, CPA/PFS, CDFA, on her promotion to partner at Connecticut Wealth Management.
- If you’re missing Hilliard’s chocolates, they will be offered as a special amenity included with the Delamar Hotel‘s Month of Love Package. Hilliard’s Candy Store was a longtime and beloved staple in West Hartford Center, and the Delamar said they will be providing Hilliard’s Rose Truffles (as well as a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, late checkout, a discount to the spa, and a full breakfast buffet) to those who book the Month of Love package throughout February. “Recently named as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things 2018 and featured on the Today Show in December 2019, Hilliards now has three stores in the Greater Boston area and sells its award-winning products online at www.hilliardscandy.com,” the Delamar noted in an email. For more information, visit delamar.com/west-hartford or call 860-937-2500.
- As we move from the really good news to the sad news, in the middle there is the news that Phở 135 (135 South Main St.) is for sale, just 18 months after opening. I heard about this from several people on Sunday, and immediately reached out to owner Tiffany Nguyen. She said the reason for the sale is not because the business is struggling – quite the opposite. She is also the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency office in Berlin, and has found the ownership of the two businesses to be too much for her and her family. There is still time to get some great pho from the current ownership. “I’m not closing until the right owner comes along,” Tiffany told me. For more information about the sale of the business, click here.
- Now for the closings … Bar Louie, which opened its doors at 51 Isham Rd. in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square in April 2016, closed for good – rather unexpectedly – after Saturday night’s customers were gone for the night, apparently without any warning to its employees. This was NOT just a closure of the West Hartford location, however, and the Milford, CT, location, which opened a few month after the one in West Hartford, has also closed. Calls to Bar Louie’s corporate offices were not returned, but articles like this one on MassLive.com, that appeared Sunday in publications across the country also noted the abrupt closure of locations in Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and there do not appear to be any statements released to media. Blue Back Square management was unable to offer comment. Bar Louie posted the following message was posted on the Facebook pages of all of the now-closed locations: “To our loyal guests, our last day of business was January 25th, 2020. Please visit us at www.barlouie.com/locations to find the Bar Louie nearest to you.” There was also a sign in the window in West Hartford with a “thanks for the memories” message. UPDATE: Bar Louie issued a press release through PR Newswire Monday indicating that the company has now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and “[I]n advance of the filing, the Company closed underperforming locations to strengthen its operational and financial position.” In that release, the following statement was also included: “Bar Louie is a profitable business focused on long-term growth with new investors. The sale through Chapter 11 will help us to focus on our profitable core locations and expand in areas that have a proven track record of success,” said Tom Fricke, CEO of Bar Louie. “Most importantly, it ensures that we can continue to provide superior service to our guests, implement an exciting range of new customer-facing initiatives, expand our marketing influence, and continue to offer the 5-star experience we are known for.”
- Papyrus, which had a location at Westfarms, is shuttering all of its stores, and the stationery and greeting card business has a final sale notice posted on its website as well. According to the New York Times, Papyrus filed for bankruptcy last week but will continue to offer its branded merchandise at other retailers.
- If you saw the “liquidation sale” notice outside Max Zeller in the Center (976 Farmington Ave.), please note that the store is NOT closing. They are selling off the remaining inventory from Connecticut Furs of New Britain, which did close, as I learned when I stopped by after seeing the sign.
- ICMYI, this week’s Experience We-Ha podcast features three local women from Buzz ELM who are supporting young entrepreneurs with the first ever Pop Up Kids Market next Saturday at West Hartford Town Hall. 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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