Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: July 23, 2018

The space next to Shake Shack will be home to Pokéworks. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

Our family went to a wedding in Pennsylvania this weekend – the first wedding that Ted and I have attended in about 15 years!

The four of us, plus Katie’s fiancé Matt (still getting used to that after calling him her boyfriend for almost seven years!), my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephew, and my niece and her future husband (whose name is also Matt) had a great time celebrating with the Novaks, a family we have gotten to know because we would see each other on the beach in Nantucket every year and our kids are all about the same age. We can’t even remember how long we’ve known each other – but it’s at least 18-20 years – and we were so excited to all get together in a different location for the marriage of their oldest son, Sean.

And because it’s a small world, and there’s not even one degree of separation when it comes to West Hartford, one of the first things we learned when we met the Novaks on the beach in Nantucket many years ago is their tie to this town. Many may remember Sean’s late grandfather, Stephen Novak, the former personnel director for West Hartford!

The wedding was in Leola, PA, in Amish Country. As we drove into town I was in the passenger seat of our car, posting the story about Om Street that Ryley McGinnis had covered Saturday morning. It was quite the contrast to be working on my laptop, hooked up to wifi through a mobile hot spot, as we were passing by residents traveling by horse-drawn buggy.

Get ready to be hungry because it’s a very food-oriented column this week!

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 editorial@we-ha.com.

Here’s this week’s Buzz:

  • Another tenant is preparing to move to The Corbin Collection! Sonny Chen, owner of the popular Chinese restaurant Black Bamboo on Farmington Avenue, said Friday that he, along with his business partner and lifelong friend Max Condren, will be opening Pokéworks right next to Shake Shack. Pokéworks is a franchise, that was started in Hawaii in 2015 and now has several signature dishes inspired by Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon. The state’s first Pokéworks is currently under construction in Wilton. Poké bowls are trend that’s been big in cities like Los Angeles and Boston, and for those who are unfamiliar with the dish it’s most commonly marinated and sliced raw fish, such as tuna, served over rice and topped with vegetables and umami sauce. “The fast casual concept is like Chipotle,” Chen said. “You go down the assembly line and get your protein, your veggies, your topping,” said Chen. The menu at Pokéworks will feature raw tuna and salmon, as well as cooked chicken, tofu, scallops, and shrimp as proteins, and the base can be white or brown rice or quinoa. The food is vegetarian and vegan friendly, said Chen. And even though it’s a franchise, as part of the agreement all of the fish, meat, and produce will be locally sourced, he said. Chen said that plans have been approved for the façade, and he expects construction to begin in the next few weeks – and yes, there will be a door where none exists now! The landlord is doing the initial work, and then is scheduled to turn over the space to Chen and Condren in October for the build-out of the interior, and he’s hoping for an opening at the end of the year or early in 2019. “West Hartford loves sushi, so I think this will be crazy,” said Chen. “The food is super healthy.” The restaurant, which will seat 20-30, will be a great complement to Shake Shack, Chen said, and he loves the ample free parking. His plan, once the first Pokéworks opens, is to be “very aggressive building more in the area.”

    Cafe Louise on New Britain Avenue in West Hartford will have a new focus as ‘Sweets and Savories.’ Courtesy photo

  • Café Louise is undergoing a reboot, and what was Café Louise Express at 1156 New Britain Ave. in Elmwood has had a bit of a facelift and will have a soft re-opening later this week as “Sweets and Savories.” Owner Louise Albin said that the change was spurred by the hiring of fabulous new pastry chef Sara McCabe. The “sweet” offerings will include truffles, specialty cakes, cupcakes, and breakfast pastries like muffins, scones, and a signature coffee cake, said Albin. The “savories” will include some signature favorites like tarragon chicken salad with grapes and walnuts, salads, cheeses, soups, and salsas. Albin also said that she is partnering with former sous chef Kate Taylor, who is now an APRN, and will be preparing vegan Buddha Bowls – which are dense in superfoods. Acai smoothies, and organic chicken bone broth (to be sipped, or used as a base for soups) will also be available. Taylor, who can prescribe medications, is also working to build her private clientele in health and nutrition. The New Britain Avenue location is still going to be used as a location for pick-up of catering orders. It will be close Sunday and Monday, and open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Wednesdays. A grand opening is in the works for sometime in August.
  • Pokéworks is actually going to be the second poké restaurant to open in West Hartford. The first, Poké Man, is under construction now in Blue Back Square right next to SPoT Coffee on Memorial Road, and should open early this fall.
  • Congratulations to Cook and The Bear, which has just celebrated its first anniversary at 50 Memorial Rd. in Blue Back Square.
  • Skeleton Key and Deadbolt – the adventure emporium and associated restaurant – are now open in the Raymond Road parking lot area of West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. Check out the photos on Facebook!

    Dunkin’ Donuts will be taking over the former Jakes’ Wayback Burgers space, South Main Wines & Spirits has reduced its footprint, and Jakes will reopen in the rear of the shopping strip. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • In an earlier column we reported on the plans for Dunkin’ Donuts to move diagonally across the street at the intersection of New Britain Avenue and South main Street. The construction is underway, and Jake’s Wayback Burgers closed temporarily on July 15, and plans to reopen on July 28 in a new spot at the back of the shopping strip, while Dunkin’ moves into its former space facing New Britain Ave. It’s actually just a renovation and repurposing of storage, not an addition to the building.  South Main Wine and Spirits has remained open during the construction and remains in the same location, but just with a smaller footprint. An additional photo can be found below.
  • Continuing with the food theme, look for details coming this week about the opening of Pho 135 at 135 South Main St. The target opening date is Aug. 4.
  • Many of the restaurants participating in Taste of Blue Back Square and The Center have provided their menus. It’s a long list of fabulous restaurants and mouth-watering dishes, which can be found on the Facebook event pageTickets are $40 each, and there are bulk discounts available. Click here to purchase tickets. Attendance will be capped at 600, and a sell-out is anticipated. Read more about the event here.
  • In other Blue Back Square and food/wine news, Artisan, the restaurant at the Delamar West Hartford Hotel, will unveil its new private-label wine this week. Click here for details.
  • This isn’t really business news, but it’s very important. The West Hartford Food Pantry is almost out of pasta sauce, canned corn, and rice. Please consider purchasing a few extras of these items when you go to the grocery store. Donations may be left in the Town Hall lobby (MondayFriday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) If you have questions, or need assistance with a large donation, contact Food Pantry Coordinator Nancy Stockman at 860-561-7569 or email Nancy.Stockman@westhartfordct.gov
  • In non-food news, congratulations to West Hartford resident and Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Klau, who was among those honored at the Connecticut Council of Freedom of Information’s (CCFOI) annual luncheon on June 26 for contributions to public’s access to information in Connecticut. CCFOI also honored retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, Stephen Armstrong of the state Department of Education, and Hartford Courant reporter Matthew Kauffman. According to a press release, Klau, who had been president of the CCFOI and Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) before being appointed a judge, was honored with an Outstanding Service Award. “Dan has been a strong and persistent advocate for press freedom and FOI, often telling ‘truth to power’ and willing to risk tackling the bureaucracy and especially poking hard at public officials who deny the public its right to know what their government is doing,” said Jeff Daniels, CCFOI’s legislative co-chair.
  • ICYMI, and also following this week’s focus on food, planning is in the works for West Hartford’s inaugural Restaurant Week. Click here for details.
  • Finally, ICYMI, plans for Seven Stars Cloud Group to build Chain Valley on the former UConn West Hartford campus will move forward now that the Town Council officially declined to purchase the property in a final chance that UConn provided the town to exercise its right of refusal. The town would have had to purchase the parcel for the same terms and conditions that Seven Stars has already agreed to. Click here for more information.

Remember, if you have any business news to share, add it in the comments section below or email Ronni Newton at editorial@we-ha.com.

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Jake’s Wayback Burger is closed from July 15-28, and will be moving to the back of the shopping strip. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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  • Pokeworks was not founded by Sheldon Simeon, he is an influencer and ambassador for them, but not the founder. They also use frozen, Taiwanese tuna, which is not local or fresh. Please check facts before writing false articles.

    • Hi Aaron. Perhaps I somewhat mis-read the Pokeworks website when I mentioned Sheldon Simeon. It does note that he is a chef-collaborator with the company, and has created several signature dishes and I will amend the blurb accordingly. http://www.pokeworks.com/our-story/ And as for the ingredients, Sonny Chen has indicated that he will be responsible for sourcing the menu ingredients for the West Hartford location, and as much as possible will be locally sourced. Can you please let me know where you see that they are using frozen, Taiwanese tuna and provide the link? I am glad to provide an update to the story, but need to base that update on fact that I can verify. Thanks, Ronni

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