A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
I hope everyone survived the weekend storm, and that the snow-lovers weren’t too disappointed with the final accumulation in West Hartford. It was hard to measure with all of the drifting, but I think we got about 6 inches – nothing compared to the 20-plus inches in the southeastern part of the state and the Boston and Cape Cod area.
Millie loves playing in the snow, and with all that fur she didn’t care how cold and windy it was on Saturday.
I’m not sad about today being the last day of January, and while February always seems way longer than 28 days, I’m personally glad to be entering the last full month of winter.
We are very lucky to live about a quarter of a mile from Rockledge Golf Course, and Ted lured me away from work to head up there for some cross country skiing on Sunday afternoon. The golf course really is beautiful all year round, and it was a great way to get some exercise and (eventually) I was nice and warm, too.
Maybe the the gray skies and cold temperatures are getting to people, but I feel like the comments on social media have gotten extra nasty these days. I wrote a story last Monday, that I then shared on Facebook the following morning, about a couple that recently moved to West Hartford from Los Angeles. He is a film producer and she owns a public relations business, and the point of the story was that when the pandemic hit and they realized they didn’t need to be in Hollywood to do their jobs, they essentially picked West Hartford as their new hometown after first noticing the town’s many accolades that appear when you Google best places to live, to raise a family, best schools, etc. And after moving here, virtually everything about West Hartford has been exceeding their expectations – although if I were them I would maybe question that a bit after reading some of the Facebook comments.
To those who wondered why I would write a story like this, please note that not every story on the We-Ha.com site is “hard news”; we probably have an equal number of feature stories included in the mix of content on the site. And the story would have been equally intriguing to me had someone decided to move here from Alaska, or Chicago, or Omaha, or Miami, or anywhere else – learning during the pandemic that their job(s) can be done from anywhere, and believing that West Hartford would be a great and welcoming place to raise their family. Some members of our community aren’t sounding too welcoming to our new residents, and that’s really quite sad.
I know people often comment without reading all (or any) of a story, but I do hope you will not just read the headline and assume you understand the entire story – which brings me to my next point.
There are also quite a few ugly comments on Facebook posts about the stories about new construction planned for town. Of course not everyone is going to support the projects, but please think about the big picture and about why the decisions are being made. These developers are part of the community as well, and many are even town residents. Real estate development is their business, their livelihood. They’re not some international conglomerates planning to swallow up West Hartford’s existing buildings and with it the town’s charm and history. Development, and redevelopment, are the only ways for the town to continue to thrive as a community, and the economic reality is that if there wasn’t demand for multifamily housing, developers wouldn’t even be considering it – and certainly wouldn’t be able to get the financing. If people want to live in West Hartford, and the demand does exist, then greater supply is going to keep rental costs down. According to an analysis by CoStar, published just two weeks ago, the multifamily vacancy rate in West Hartford is just 3%, the lowest it’s been in at least a dozen years. According to Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, a vacancy rate of 5% or less indicates a strong market with solid demand.
We are upgrading our server as of today. If you’ve occasionally gotten error messages, particularly on high-traffic days, this should take care of it. Due to the impending updates, a few stories that would have been included in today’s newsletter have been slightly delayed and we thank you for your patience.
On to some much lighter subjects … we saw “Five Guys Named Moe” at Playhouse on Park, and I highly recommend it! Great singing, great dancing, and plenty of interaction with the audience. (Details about the show can be found here.)
In deference to the cold and snowy weather, our Saturday night dinner was homemade turkey chili this week.
But we did grab some great pizza and Caesar salad at Zephyr’s Sunday night – a craving I developed after interviewing owner Dante Cistulli (see bullet point below) earlier in the day!
A universal indoor mask mandate remains in place in West Hartford. (Click here for the details.) Please comply, and please don’t give our business owners and their staff a hard time about it. Really. Please 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:
- Hot Table opened Wednesday in the Corbin Collection, bringing an addition (and yummy) fast casual option to the West Hartford dining scene. “We are happy to be part of the West Hartford community,” said Scott Nehmer, one of four partners in the family-owned and operated business that was founded in Springfield in 2007 by brothers John and Chris DeVoie, along with restaurateur Don Watroba. West Hartford is the company’s ninth location and third in Connecticut (others are in Glastonbury and Enfield, and the rest are in Massachusetts), and there are plans to open two more this year in Massachusetts. “Inspired by small eateries in Italy called Tavola Calda, literally ‘Hot Table’ in English, their vision for Hot Table was simple, delicious pressed sandwiches, made to order, and served in a way that makes customers feel cared for and valued, by employees that feel cared for and valued,” the company’s website states. “We’ve been eyeing West Hartford for a long time,” Nehmer said. They had a previous lease elsewhere in town, he said, which didn’t work out, but are very happy with the Corbin’s Corner location. “We just love this area, good traffic and visibility,” he said. And the proximity to other fast casual restaurants (Shake Shack and Pokeworks are in the same building) is viewed as a draw, not a competition. The paninis are made fresh to order, with pricing by the size with as many or few toppings as you like (small is $8.29, medium is $10.49, and large is $12.69). I had the medium, which was a very hefty portion. Whole wheat wraps and gluten free bread are available as options. There are also salads (see apple walnut photo below), soups, and a kids menu. Most of the food prep is done in house, Nehmer said, including the baking of the bread, and all of the meat and vegetables are sliced fresh daily. and Hot Table is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and closed on Sunday. “On Sunday we rest,” states a sign on the door. “Since day one, in 2007, it’s been part of our culture,” Nehmer said, allowing staff to spend time with friends and family, which is rare in the industry.” A grand opening and ribbon cutting will follow in the near future. “On that day we will be donating all sales for the day to Connecticut Foodshare to help those with food insecurity,” John DeVoie said. For more information about Hot Table, including the menu, visit their website. More photos are at the end of the column.
- I ran into Sonny Chen last week, and he confirmed that plans are moving forward to relocate Black Bamboo – which has been one of West Hartford’s most successful and beloved casual food businesses since opening 11 years ago – about five blocks down the street to the site of the former Anna’s Hair Perfection. He purchased the building at 766 Farmington Ave. in the fall, and plans to completely update the space. It’s slightly larger than the current location, with more on-site parking, and will also allow Chen to make a long-term commitment to the business.
- In this challenging environment, restaurateurs are looking for creative ways to attract diners, and Zephyr’s Street Pizza owner Dante Cistulli is adding pop-up collaborations with some award-winning local chefs. “They’ll doing a couple of courses, and I’ll do a pizza” with the same theme, he said. A full slate is already in place for Wednesday nights during the month of February, beginning with Millwright’s owner and renowned chef Tyler Anderson, who will be serving up some highlights from his TA-Que truck on Wednesday, Feb. 2, beginning at 4 p.m., complemented by some “collab” pizzas. “I’m super excited to be working with Tyler again,” Cistulli said. The two have done numerous events together. The line-up for the following weeks includes Adam Greenberg of Food Network fame on Feb. 9, “Chopped” star and The Place 2 Be Culinary Director Xavier Santiago on Feb. 16, and Jason Welch, currently a private chef who does dinners at Sub Edge Farm, on Feb. 23. “We’re going to try to carry the series through March,” Cistulli said. “We had to get creative,” Cistulli said, noting that even without the pandemic, January and February are tough months of restaurants. He’s got some innovative ideas heading into April as well, with perhaps a pizza cook-off on the patio.
- If approved by the U.S. Senate, West Hartford resident Vanessa Avery would become the first Black United State Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Avery’s nomination last week by President Joe Biden was applauded by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), who offered comments in a news release. “Having held this job myself, I’m particularly proud of this nomination,” said Blumenthal in a statement. “Vanessa Avery is a proven prosecutor – tough and fair – who has deep roots in her community and a lifetime of service. A champion and fighter for Connecticut’s people with broad trial experience and solid, good judgement, she’ll follow the facts and law to deter and punish wrongdoers and fight discrimination. I’m proud to have recommended her nomination to the White House with Senator Murphy and I look forward to advocating for her confirmation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I anticipate strong bipartisan support.” Murphy added, “A Connecticut native, Vanessa Avery has dedicated her career to advancing fairness and equity in the judicial system, and I was proud to recommend her nomination to the Biden administration. Her vast legal experience and deep commitment to justice for all will prepare her well to serve in this new role leading the District of Connecticut as United States Attorney. I look forward to her confirmation in the Senate.” Avery has served as the Associate Attorney General for Enforcement, Litigation and Investigations at the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office since 2019. In this role, she has managed multi-district litigation and investigations involving the opioid epidemic, the Affordable Care Act, federal immigration laws, environmental regulation, and cases pending locally in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies. Prior to that, Avery was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. Avery has also served as a Trial Attorney for the Department of Justice Civil Division in Washington, D.C., a pro bono advocate for children, adults, and non-profit entities, and is a past President and current Advisory Board member of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association. She is a native of the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven, attended Yale University for her undergraduate degree, and earned her law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center.
- Congratulations to West Hartford resident Dawn Ennis, whose interview with Kamora Herrington on her show RiseUP with Dawn Ennis won first place in the category of Diversity Enhancement at the 23rd Video Festival for Community Media ‘Nor’Easters.” You can watch the show here: https://youtu.be/hW9rn1LVR7s. Congratulations also to West Hartford Community Interactive for also winning a first place award for “West Hartford Votes 2020: What You Need to Know about Absentee Ballots and Voting in Person” produced by Town Clerk Essie Labrot.
- There’s a new employee at Town Hall that I am sure I will be working with as I compile the content for this column! Andrea Masisak has joined the Town of West Hartford as their Economic Development specialist, and will be supporting the Economic Development Division part-time. She will provide assistance to West Hartford businesses through outreach, communications and social media. She will also assist with marketing efforts and recruitment of new businesses. Most recently, Masisak worked in the Public Outreach Division at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). She has previously worked at the Elizabeth Park Conservancy as well as owned her own business. “Andrea has already hit the ground running, and will be a beneficial addition to enhance economic development efforts in town,” said Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski. The Economic Development Division, managed by Gorski, reports to the Office of the Town Manager.
- West Hartford-based Environmental Systems Corporation (ESC), a leading provider of building technology solutions throughout Connecticut, is pleased to announce the promotion of Bruce Politz to audio visual technology sales manager. Politz brings over 30 years of client relations experience to this role. Prior to this promotion, he held the position of audio visual technology sales specialist, supporting sales efforts and offering business insights and strategic direction. “Bruce joined ESC about a year ago and I quickly realized his strong leadership qualities. He is a natural fit for this role and will support our ability to deliver cutting-edge solutions to our valued customers,” states Michael Amedeo, vice president of sales. Politz’s efforts specific to the audio visual group will be coordinated with corporate sales strategies. He will also work with the operations team on estimates and execution. Politz studied electronics at the Porter and Chester Institute in Waterbury, Connecticut.
- ICYMI, we had some major business stories last week, starting with the announcement Tuesday that Kingswood Oxford had finalized their plans to sell the parcel owned by the school, but occupied by The Children’s Museum, to developer Continental Properties, which plans to construct a luxury rental community on the site. The full story can be found here, and for more information about plans to save Conny the whale, click here.
- Also on Tuesday, the Town Council gave unanimous approval to the plans for redevelopment of 920 and 924 Farmington Avenue with a mixed-use multifamily building. Click here for the complete story.
- The Russell opened last week at 39 South Main St., and the town’s new Jamaican/Caribbean restaurant is already receiving rave reviews. Complete details can be found here.
- Specialty retailer BoxLunch is now open at Westfarms, and the grand opening celebration – delayed from this past weekend due to the weather – will be on Feb. 5 and 6. Read the story here.
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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