Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: May 24, 2021

The former Barb's Pizza is in the process of being transitioned to Zephyr's Street Pizza. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

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

By Ronni Newton

I’m not going to complain about the heat, but boy was it summery out there over the past few days. I wasn’t quite prepared for it yet (AC units not yet installed …) but although I definitely prefer the heat to the cold I’m glad for a few more spring-like days this week.

I was so excited to get to paint a heart as part of the ArtBarrier Murals project on Sunday. If you haven’t been in the Center or Blue Back Square recently, there has been a dramatic transformation that has taken place – first the installation of the outdoor dining corrals, then the painting of ArtBarrier Murals in Blue Back Square on May 16, the start of work on the MLK39 Racial Equity Mural on the side of the library on Saturday, and the creation of ArtBarrier Murals in the Center on Sunday. (Lots of photos can be found in this story.)

I had a chance to paint a heart on one of the barriers in the Center on Sunday. Photo credit: Jennifer O’Connell

In addition to the art-related activity, there is a dramatic uptick in events and other happenings in town, particularly now that nearly all COVID-19 business-related restrictions have been lifted. New businesses are opening, places that have been closed are reopening, and those who have been vaccinated no longer need to wear masks in most situations.

For one reason or another I was in Blue Back and the Center every day since the restrictions were lifted on Wednesday, and at first I felt naked at first even getting out of my car without my mask on, but after a few times it was incredibly liberating. I have very much appreciated interviewing people who are not masked, because not only is it easier to hear them, but it’s wonderful to see facial expressions again. I have, of course, worn a mask inside businesses that request it, as well as inside other spaces where I feel it’s a bit crowded (like at Trader Joe’s).

See the bullet point below for the story behind this photo.

Lucite swings face Memorial Road and Raymond Road inside The Place 2 Be.

Ted and I had dinner at Arugula on Saturday night. The restaurant just reopened Wednesday after being closed since January for a project that started as redoing the kitchen floors. Dinner was fabulous, and we loved the new decor!

Sangria with a sprig of mint and bread with olive oil for dipping to start the experience at Arugula. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Manousha (pita painted with za’atar, baked and served with a red onion, tomato and cucumber salad, yogurt-cucumber dipping sauce) from Arugula. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Korean Fried Cauliflower from Arugula. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Israeli Couscous from Arugula includes housemade chicken confit, mushrooms, zucchini, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach, in a light curry vinaigrette. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Quinoa, roasted potato, and beet bowl at Arugula includes roasted mushrooms, beets, artichoke hearts, green beans, roasted potatoes, red onions, quinoa, and spinach. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Pet peeve of the week: If you’re submitting a press release, please send it as a Word document, or a Google doc, or pasted into an email – but please NOT as a PDF.

I’ve received quite a few press releases that are PDFs this week. Copying and pasting a PDF into the We-Ha.com WordPress site sometimes works fine, but often requires extensive editing of the document in HTML – sometimes even going through it word-by-word to get the spacing and punctuation right. I receive more press releases than we can possibly publish, so if it’s a choice of one that’s a PDF vs. a Word document, the Word document is going to win. Please also send images as jpegs if at all possible. Thank you!!

After the new guidance recently issued by the CDC, and the lifting of COVID restrictions as of May 19 (including wearing of masks indoors in many places for those who are vaccinated), I’m changing the end of this section of the column …

Please continue to support our local businesses, wear your masks indoors if you are not vaccinated, 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:

  • The buyer of the former Barb’s Pizza is … Dante Cistulli! When Barry Arpaia of Barb’s told me he was selling the business and shared that the new owner was experienced and “very well versed,” he certainly wasn’t kidding. Cistulli, who was the managing partner of Savoy Pizzeria when it opened on LaSalle Road and most recently was with Square Peg Pizzeria in Glastonbury, is definitely a pizza expert. I spoke with Cistulli last week, and he said that he does plan to do a bit of renovating of the dining area before reopening the restaurant (the gas ovens will remain), but plans to have it open at 968R Farmington Ave. (Brace Road parking lot) this summer, under the new name: Zephyr’s Street Pizza, named for his 16-month-old son. “It will be New York-style pizza with big New York-style slices,” he said, just pizza and salads to start. Delivery and takeout will be a core part of the business, and he plans to use one of the windows as a takeout window for customers as well as the delivery partners. “It will be great for me, and if God-forbid we have to go through [COVID] again, the possibility of having to do business like this again, we will be able to switch to a contactless system.” As the pandemic retreats, he also respects that some people are also still more comfortable minimizing contact. Understanding the difficulty finding hospitality industry employees, Cistulli said he plans to have just two or three employees in addition to himself. “Of course the dining room will be in use, and that beautiful patio. I hope to get creative out there. … I’m up late at night thinking about that patio.” There will be gluten-free pizza on the menu, and Cistulli plans to purchase the dough from New Hampshire-based Peace of Mind Baking Company – which hand-stretches the dough and ships it overnight – a company he has used in the past and really likes. “There will be a gluten free slice at this restaurant as well. In the gluten free game it’s tough, but we’ve got to have a gluten free slice,” he said. Cistulli took a hiatus from pizza after leaving Square Peg in December 2020 due to the strain of operating the business amid COVID-19 issues, he said, and had looked at numerous places in West Hartford when he learned Barb’s was for sale, and was essentially turnkey. “I’ve always loved that little space, always had an attachment to that spot,” Cistulli said. He used to go there in high school when it was a coffeehouse with an open mic night, and it’s where he met his wife, Stephanie, who was a server there when it was Backstage Pizza.

West Hartford Apothecary will open at 994 Farmington Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Many people have seen the sign and asked me about it after it appeared at 994 Farmington Ave. (corner of Dale Street). West Hartford Apothecary will soon open in the former Liberty Travel space. “We are going to open July 1,” said owner Zahid Khan, maybe earlier. Khan, who is a pharmacist, is currently the owner of NostrumRx Pharmacy on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, and said the West Hartford location will be essentially the same model, but just bringing the business closer to their already existing West Hartford base and attracting other area customers. “We are going to be a compounding pharmacy, a specialty pharmacy, with also a wide range of vitamins and CBD products,” he said. Following the pandemic, more people than ever have been interested in taking vitamins for their health, Khan said.

Freshii reopens May 24 at 54 LaSalle Rd. in West Hartford Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Freshii (54 LaSalle Rd.) closed in January with a sign on the door that said they would reopen in the spring. Franchise owner Frank Williams told me last month that they would be reopening sometime in May – and that’s happening today! As a grand reopening promotion, they’re offering half off any menu item for in-store purchase, Williams said.

Interior of The Place 2 Be, 50 Memorial Rd. in Blue Back Square. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • I got a sneak peek at The Place 2 Be on Friday, and I can’t wait to be able to share the full story. It’s WAY more than just a uber-cool and Instagrammable breakfast/brunch/lunch spot. Owner Gina Luari‘s approach to her business is as unique and refreshing as the bottomless mimosas they serve. She’s anxious to open as soon as the fire marshal signs off on the safety of the greenery that enhances the ambiance of the interior – and I assured her I would hold the story until the restaurant has an opening date.

West Hartford Center early Saturday evening. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The Center was hopping on Saturday night. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but there was definitely a vibrancy I hadn’t seen in more than a year, even last summer when outdoor dining was hopping. And check out the cool vehicles we saw parked on Farmington Avenue when leaving Arugula. I’m sure there are some car aficionados (are they even “cars”?) who will know what they are. One had Massachusetts plates and the other two were from New York, so presumably they may have been driven on the highway to get to West Hartford.

Three unique vehicles parked on Farmington Avenue Saturday night. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Licensed lash technician Mikey Albreada has just announced the grand opening of Mad Lash Co. at 2475 Albany Ave., Suite 202A in West Hartford. She has eight-plus years of experience in the professional beauty industry at various salons throughout the area. Mad Lash offers eyelash extensions, waxing, makeup, and other beauty services. Mikey can be reached at 860-921-1296.
  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident and Fleet Feet Sports owner Stephanie Blozy, who was honored to have been chosen as commencement speaker for Sunday’s graduation ceremony at Central Connecticut State University.
  • Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance are proud to announce that Bouvier Insurance, which is headquartered in West Hartford and also has locations in Rhode Island, Georgia, and Tennessee, has earned a 2021 Make More Happen Award, which recognizes its exceptional volunteerism with Community Speaks Out and demonstrating its commitment to making a positive change within their community. The award includes a $5,000 donation with a chance to double the amount to $10,000 that will directly benefit Community Speaks Out, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the community by providing support and opportunities to individuals and families with access to recovery. Beginning Wednesday, May 19, the story of Bouvier Insurance and Community Speaks Out will be featured on the official Make More Happen microsite www.agentgiving.com/Bouvier-Insurance allowing the nonprofit a chance to earn the additional $5,000. If the featured story receives at least 500 votes – shares to social media and comments on their story – the donation will be doubled to $10,000. The $10,000 donation would provide up to 50 people with sober living housing, along with therapy assistance, recovery coaching, discovery mentorship, expenses for travel and a stay at a treatment facility. The funds will also be utilized to further the educational commitments to the community and youth programs.

Courtesy Bouvier Insurance

  • West Hartford resident and photographer Cara Paiuk, is opening a second Face Forward Headshots studio in Greenwich, and hopes to be open by the end of June. The address is 36 West Putnam Ave., Greenwich, CT 06830.

Dr. Elisheva Neffinger. Courtesy photo

  • This is supposed to be a really bad year for ticks (sigh) but West Hartford naturopathic physicians’ practice Bloom Natural Health will hold a free Zoom webinar  “How to Prepare for Tick Season: a Q & A with Dr. Elisheva Neffinger,” on Thursday, May 27 at 3:30 p.m. The link to the webinar can be found on their website.

Pure Hockey has moved one storefront over, which puts it in West Hartford, and the former Bed Bath & Beyond store has been gutted and is being transformed into Dick’s Sporting Goods. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Pure Hockey has moved one space over, right next to Ulta Beauty, and is therefore in West Hartford rather than Farmington. Their new address is 1557 New Britain Ave. The former Bed Bath & Beyond store, as well as the space that Pure Hockey formerly occupied, has been gutted and is being transformed into Dick’s Sporting Goods.
  • Also in that neighborhood (technically in Farmington), the former Petco is in the process of being transformed into Five Below. Five Below is a specialty discount store where pretty much everything is priced between $1 and $5.

Firefighters have been using the former Taylor and Modeen Funeral Home building at the corner of South Main and Park for training – which is why there are holes in the roof. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • If you’ve noticed firefighters on the roof of the former Taylor and Modeen Funeral Home building – where there are now multiple holes – it’s because the structure is about to be torn down and the new owner has given the West Hartford Fire Department the right to use it for training purposes. There’s a new sign on the construction fencing at the entrance to the parking lot – and it appears some existential thought taking place …

Something important to consider … Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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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