A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
Business Buzz is sponsored by NBT Bank, and we are very thankful for their support!
By Ronni Newton
So we finally had some snow. Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of winter, but I did choose my “Let it Snow!” coffee mug on Sunday since it was a kind of pretty snow, and I didn’t have to go anywhere first thing in the morning. I’ll reserve the “Bah Humbug” mug for another day.
I’m sorry for those who lost power overnight and still without power well into Sunday afternoon. I understand the outages were caused by falling tree limbs, including one that sparked a transformer fire. I’m writing this around 3:15 p.m. Sunday and the Eversource website still indicates 210 customers without power. I hope it’s restored soon.
I put out a call for snowman photos on Sunday afternoon. I’ll publish them on We-Ha.com later today, and hope to also include some in the next issue of West Hartford LIFE – maybe even as the cover! If you built a snowman (from this snow), send your favorite photos to [email protected].
We weren’t sure about the parking situation in the Center because of the parking ban, so Ted and I decided it was a good night to walk to dinner at Taste of India, which is only about a half-mile away. Our delicious meal warmed us right up, and after having quite a lot of food (I did not eat my entire portion!) we were glad for the walk back home.
Just before our dinner was over I learned the sad news about a pedestrian being struck and killed on Albany Avenue. My heart goes out to the family and all involved with this tragic situation. We were extra careful walking home – especially since we realized we were wearing dark jackets and did not have any reflective gear.
If you’re looking for news about West Hartford in print please note that many stories from We-Ha.com, as well as other local news, is published in the twice-monthly issues of the West Hartford Press.
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:
- Bliss Nails 2 opened on Dec. 26 in the former Silk Nails space at 345 North Main Street in Bishops Corner, and those who have already discovered this salon – including some former Silk Nails customers – are already giving it rave reviews on Facebook. Tram Le said she bought the Silk Nails business, and in just about six weeks transformed the space. Bliss Nails already has a location in New Britain (990 West Main Street), and this is an expansion. “We heard about this location being very good,” said Le when I stopped by last week. The interior of the completely remodeled salon is bright, and spotless, and Bliss Nails 2 offers four different kinds of manicures and pedicures, as well as waxing and other spa services. And – they offer complementary drinks including wine as well as soft drinks, coffee, and tea. They have lots of pedicure chairs, an extensive selection of the latest polish colors, and are offering a 20% discount on services in the month of January to celebrate the opening.
- While the location is not in West Hartford, one of the three owners of this soon-to-open business is a town resident! State House Distilling, which is owned by the founders of Drink Mechanics – Aaron Stepka and Taylor Gillaspie (who lives in West Hartford), as well as Dylan Spevacek will be opening a full-service restaurant as well as a distillery – a elevated version of a brew pub, with the focus on cocktails rather than beer – in the former Morton’s Steakhouse space at 30 State House Square in Hartford. They hope to be able to open this summer. “It’s the culmination of what we always envisioned for the brand when we started back in 2020,” Stepka told me in a phone interview. He and Gillaspie – experienced mixologists who are both from New England but met working in LA – launched the Drink Mechanics cocktail delivery service in the summer of 2020, taking advantage of an executive order issued by Gov. Ned Lamont in the early days of the pandemic that allowed for cocktail delivery. They renovated an ice cream truck, and Stepka said that allowed them to develop their canned cocktail brand, which by the spring/summer of 2022 was being distributed in stores and restaurants across the state. “Then, we found our forever home,” Stepka said of the future State House Distilling location, which will allow them to add the “guest-facing experience” to their brand. Combined, the three have more than 40 years of hospitality experience, not only in LA, but also in Nantucket (Stepka and Gillaspie helped open the Lemon Press and prior to the pandemic had considered opening a restaurant on the island). Stepka worked with Spevacek – who got his start with the Barteca Restaurant Group – at the former Cook & The Bear in Blue Back Square. The Morton’s space has been empty since 2015 or 2016, Stepka said, and he and his partners were able to take advantage of the HartLift program to help with the transformation. The demolition has been completed, Stepka said, and they were amazed to discover that under the dark walls of the former steakhouse, “it’s nothing but glass.” Stepka was so excited to create what will look like “a giant urban greenhouse,” complete with a hydroponic herb garden growing behind the bar where herbs can be freshly picked for the drink creations. The Morton’s flooring was installed several feet above the original floor of the space, and when it was removed they discovered pits where trees can be planted, and they will be making use of those as well to complete the greenhouse canopy feeling. The food menu will be crafted by chef Richie Lopez, who is Peruvian-American and is a friend from Southern California. Latin-American and East Asian influences will drive the menu – flavors of Mexico, South America, Japan, China, and Korea, Stepka said. He and his partners feel very strongly about the future of Hartford – the investment in residential as well as small business – and they have signed a 13-year lease, Stepka said. The production of the Drink Mechanics cocktails, which has been taking place at Central CT Distillers in East Hartford, will relocated to State House Square once the renovation is done. The cocktails can still be found in stores – and in new 12-ounce cans that maintain the 10% ABV and same price point as the former 8.4-ounce cans. The Drink Mechanics truck is still operational as well, although they haven’t been actively promoting it. For any questions about the business, email Stepka at [email protected].
- I was following up on some businesses in Blue Back Square over the past few days – looking for updates on the future Bakery by the Place 2 Be (former Spot Coffee space) as well as Chip City (in the former Oath Pizza space) along with news about Gran Gusto, which has been dark for the past week. “We cannot comment on the specific details of individual tenant leases or operations, but are excited for all the positive momentum coming to Blue Back Square in 2024 including the opening of Chip City, Bakery by P2B, and more,” said Kate Terricciano of Image Marketing, the spokesperson for Blue Back Square.
- Regarding Gran Gusto, I did observe (by going there as well as attempts to call the restaurant number, and by information from others who have also peeked in the windows) that they have been closed for at least the past week. Over the weekend I was able to confirm with Chris Austin, who had been hired as the chef after the original team had departed and was hopeful about changing the name and the concept, that the restaurant has closed for good.
- Work is underway on the future Wabi Sabi, a Japanese bar/restaurant that is owned by West Hartford resident Gao Cai and his business partner, Andy Moser. Signs in the windows indicate it will be opening in the former Phở 135 space at 135 South Main Street.
- I took some photos last week of the progress on The Byline at 920-924 Farmington Avenue – and many will be pleased to see that the sidewalk is now open to pedestrians. The Byline is being developed by Brian Zelman, Avner Krohn, and Richard and Zach Korris. The mixed-use development will include 48 apartments, and 10,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Two of the units will be deed-restricted as affordable housing for those earning 80% of the area mean income (AMI).
The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce is happy to announce the addition of a new member of their staff. Lauren DiMauro recently joined the Chamber team as Communications & Outreach Coordinator. Her primary role will be to support the organization’s communications, outreach programs and initiatives. She will also be responsible for creating engaging content for the WHCC site, social media platforms, newsletters, emails and other communication channels. “We are excited to welcome Lauren to the West Hartford Chamber team,” said Chamber President & CEO Chris Conway. “As our organization continues to grow in membership, programing, and resources, we needed to grow our staff. Lauren’s skills and background, combined with her desire to work with a community based organization, made her the ideal person for the role.” Prior to joining the chamber, Lauren previously held roles in Project Management, Research and Investments and worked for both Cigna and Aetna. Lauren lives in West Hartford resident with her husband and her dog, is a USJ alum, and is passionate about supporting local businesses in the community. When she’s not working at the Chamber, you can most likely find her walking around town or at one of the local farmers markets.
- NBT Bank, which has its regional headquarters in West Hartford (and is the sponsor of this column) has recently made a generous donation to The Village for Families & Children. According to a press release from the Village: “As children and teens across Connecticut continue facing mental health crises, NBT Bank is stepping up to help ensure youth have access to care and provide healing to adolescents in crisis through a $75,000 grant backing services at The Village, including its youth mental health Urgent Crisis Center (UCC) in Hartford. The grant to The Village is focused on helping to address the needs of local families and children. The funds will help sustain The Village’s UCC – one of four grant-funded programs created in the state as a result of landmark bipartisan mental health legislation in the 2022 legislative session to address the state’s children’s mental health crisis – until a sustainable funding plan is developed. ‘We’re honored to support the critical work that The Village is providing to the Greater Hartford region, especially the services through their UCC,’ said NBT Bank Regional President Andreas Kapetanopoulos. ‘Support for mental health services is an important aspect to ensuring the future strength of our communities.’ The UCC provides urgent mental health support to youth who are experiencing a crisis—including depression, anxiety, out-of-control behaviors, substance use issues and thoughts of self-injury and suicide—to help them stabilize and work through challenges, get connected to ongoing care and guide families with safety planning and other resources. Since opening its doors in late July, the UCC has provided support to hundreds of children and adolescents. ‘The mental health needs of children continue to be an urgent issue that we are committed to addressing, and our Urgent Crisis Center will be here to do exactly that,’ said Village President & CEO Hector Glynn. ‘The Village is grateful to have friends and supporting organizations like NBT Bank who are stepping up to ensure that children and teens who are facing mental health challenges can get the help they need, and fast.'”
- The patio is now open at Boqueria (46 South Main Street). Yes, I know full well it’s winter, but this does look rather cozy – or at least it did before the addition of snow! I did sample their hot sangria at the Holiday Stroll, and it was excellent.
- In other closing news, Pokemoto at 970 Farmington Avenue had a sign in the window a few weeks ago indicating that they were being remodeled. The response I got when I reached out (social media was the only way to reach them since no one answered the phone was: “Aloha Ronnie (sic), yes at the moment we are closed. We apologize for any inconvenience.” Although the handwritten note about the remodeling is still on the door, this week I saw an RLM Co. “for lease” sign in the window and confirmed with Mike Mahoney that Pokemoto is officially closed.
- Psychic Gary McKinstry is coming to West Hartford on Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m., at Warehouse 635, as a fundraiser for APK Charities. He was interviewed by Tom Hickey and Bob Carr as a guest on the “On the Scene” podcast in advance of his appearance and you can listen here. To purchase tickets, visit McKinstryInWeHa.eventbrite.com.
- ICYMI, Los Imperios is gone – as in the building has been demolished – as the first stage of the construction of The Camelot, which will include renovation of the former West Hartford Inn. Read the full story here.
- The Town Plan & Zoning Commission postponed its vote on the wetlands application for 1700 Asylum Avenue, which is the eastern portion of the former UConn campus. Click here for a complete update on the status of the development.
- You can now access the Town Center garage directly from LaSalle Road with the opening of the Memorial Road Connector. The complete story can be found here.
- This is always a really interesting forum (and I’m not just saying that because I am on the board of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government). Details about the upcoming “Stories Behind the Big Stories” at the Elmwood Community Center can be found 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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