A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
Like many people, I hope that this weekend’s full moon and turning back of the clocks will provide the re-set button needed for 2020.
I’ve got so many thoughts swirling around in my head, and so many stories that should be written, I don’t even know where to start.
It snowed right before Halloween. Again.
Halloween, however, wasn’t canceled this year. Ted and I crafted a physically-distanced candy distribution device out of a piece of plastic gutter that we had in the garage. We propped it against one of the tall chairs from our kitchen island, and we could stand in our front doorway and drop pieces of candy onto a table (which we covered with an orange table cloth) for trick-or-treaters to retrieve.
The candy chute kept us a safe distance away, but we still got to see the cute kids in their costumes. Yes, we wore masks, too – but just not for this photo which was taken by one of our friends who happened to be walking by with his dog when we were setting up.
To see some other creative Halloween scenes, click here. And if you have photos to contribute, email them to me at [email protected].
There has been lots of COVID-19 news, much of it sobering. I hold my breath when the state releases the numbers each weekday, typically at 4 p.m. I’ll be doing that today, and keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t need to roll back to Phase 2.
Tomorrow is Election Day, and for myriad reasons this is an election year like no other. I’ll just leave it at that, other than to add: PLEASE VOTE.
I’ll be reporting on the progress of voting throughout the day, but I normally meet with representatives of West Hartford’s Democratic and Republican parties after the polls close, to report results and interview the candidates. Since there won’t be in-person events this year, we’ve got a 2020 approach.
Please join me and John Lyons for a Facebook Live program that will run from 8-10 p.m. on election night. We have all of the local candidates, Mayor Shari Cantor, Town Clerk Essie Labrot (live from the ballot counting scene at Town Hall), and several other surprise guests! You can watch on Facebook, as well as West Hartford Community Interactive’s cable channels and on YouTube. Details are here.
Ted and I didn’t do our usual dinner out this past Saturday night because of Halloween, but we got take-out from a new place that is detailed below. The food (see photo above) was fantastic!
We launched a new feature two weeks ago that will remain a regular part of this column: “Keeping it in the Community.” Included in this feature, which is a collaboration with Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Conway and West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, are tips for how you can support local businesses, as well as a mini-feature on a local business. Heading into the next few months, I think it’s more important than ever.
Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.
Keeping it in the Community Tip: Spread the Word with Positive Reviews
Did you know that social media has a significant impact on small business? In a positive way, that is!
Small businesses can benefit from your participation on social media in a variety of ways and may only take minutes, if not seconds of your time and mean all the world to these establishments. Think about it, you see a friend post a picture of a favorite new sweater from a local boutique; a delicious meal they ordered at a nearby eatery; or a seasonally-inspired craft beer at a local brewery. It catches your eye and next time you’re in the market for one of these items, the recommendation from the friends or followers on social media may rise to the top of your mind. Sharing your positive experience on social media, internet review platforms or even websites could help build your favorite businesses customer base and results in additional sales, thanks to you!
Spreading the word can help increase awareness and inquiries, increase the number of new customers/clients, and enhance the relationships with already existing customers. Next time you have a great experience or find something that you love, please consider supporting a small business by giving a positive review or sharing to your feed.
Keeping it in the Community: New Park Brewing
“Every aspect of our business has been impacted in some way,” said John Doyle, co-founder and co-owner of West Hartford’s first – and currently only – brewery. They’ve done an excellent job observing, and reacting to, the behavior of their customer base.
“Breweries are a hybrid business – part manufacturing, part tap room,” said Doyle. “In March, when the pandemic hit, the tap room part of the business went away so we replaced our front door with a drive up take out window. We operated that way through mid-April when we added a home delivery service, purchasing two refrigerated delivery vans and adding online ordering. We’ve since grown that to state wide deliveries and recently acquired a farmers market license that enables us to offer a pre-order pickup/option at regional farmers markets. We started with Trumbull last week and will be attending the Litchfield and Westport markets in the coming weeks.”
The website is updated regularly to highlight new beers, special events/announcements, delivery schedule, farmers markets, and other important information.
“We’ve recently added a weekly email option that folks can subscribe to at newparkbrewing.com. Our delivery service vans driving around the state have been another way to get the word out,” said Doyle. “We’ve also started to set aside some logs to send out to our favorite regional beer bars and restaurants. The farmers markets have been a great way to get word out and meet new customers.”
When the taproom reopened in June, New Park Brewing incorporated some major changes.
“Our old model was walk in, go to the bar for pours or to-go beers and self service from a rotating food truck,” Doyle said. “In order to comply with COVID best practices and the mandate that food must be purchased with alcohol, we essentially converted to a restaurant. We brought on a general manager who moved from New York where he held various roles for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, so he brought a ton of knowledge for the transition.”
Changes included adding an online reservation system and table service, and partnerships with local food trucks and restaurants that took up residency at New Park Brewing for anywhere from six to 12 weeks. Savoy was on hand with their wood fired-pizza in June. El Pollo Guapo, a fast casual rotisserie restaurant with three locations is stationed there currently, and will soon be followed by Tyler Anderson’s Ta-QUE taco/BBQ truck.
“Live music has always been a big part of the brewery so we’ve tried to get creative to keep things rolling,” said Doyle. “This summer we hosted a socially distanced outdoor series called Summer Stage. We’re working on an interesting music project now – look for updates on that over the coming weeks/months!”
Heaters have been added to the patio, and New Park Brewing is also exploring adding heated tents, but as the weather gets colder, additional indoor space will also be opening up.
Doyle said that with whatever changes New Park makes, they listen to the experts and follow the science.
Throughout the warm weather months, the focus was on outdoor seating. Traffic flows in one directions, and there is 6-foot distancing between tables, and in lines for to-go beer, mandatory masks when not seated, and table side food and drink service.
High touch areas are cleaned in between guests and there are plexiglass dividers at the to-go station and service bar.
As guests arrive, a host/hostess explains the COVID policies, which are displayed on signage, and compliance is monitored.
“We’ve replaced all of our indoor furniture with beer garden tables because the table shapes allow us to maintain safe distancing and optimize capacity,” Doyle said.
“All of our customer policies apply to employees and everyone is temp-checked when starting a shift. We encourage everyone to be smart outside of work: keep their networks small, do not attend gatherings where people are not following COVID safety best practices, regular hand washing (the right way!), be smart and don’t come to work if they are not feeling well! We have been fortunate to not have a positive case,” Doyle said.
“We have been blown away and humbled by the support of our West Hartford neighbors and the broader Connecticut community and just want to say THANK YOU!” Doyle said.
“One individual has placed a delivery order every single week since we started delivering in April just to support our business and share our beers with friends – he also has a newborn at home and told us the beer helps.”
Doyle is thankful to the state for allowing home deliveries, and thankful to the town of West Hartford for allowing expanded outdoor seating and for assisting them every step of the way.
“We’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback on the home delivery service, the new operating model of table service/reservations/rotating food, and our COVID safety procedures. We are proud of the team’s ability to adjust to an ever-changing situation. And we’re very proud that we’ve not had to let anyone go,” said Doyle. ‘This winter/spring might get a little bumpy but based on the last eight to nine months, I’m confident we’ll adjust and figure it all out!”
If you have information about businesses changing their operations due to COVID-19, 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:
- The former Pixi space at 990 Farmington will soon – very soon – be home to Pink Soda, a hybrid blow-dry bar and hair salon that has two locations in Fairfield County (Danbury and Stamford). Pink Soda plans to open on Nov. 14, said owner and founder Wendy Brown, who grew up in Farmington and said she has been looking at the West Hartford market for several years. She’s very excited about bringing her boutique business to West Hartford. “We’ve developed this process, it’s the best blow-out,” she said. A resident of the Sandy Hook section of Newtown, Brown she launched the business in 2013, just weeks after the tragedy. In 2015, Pink Soda expanded to become a full-service salon that offers brush-set blow drys as well as cuts, color, and organic spray tans. Brown said her work has been featured in “People” magazine. “We use, and sell, very high-end hair products,” Brown said, unique product lines that she said are not currently available in the Hartford area. The emphasis is on organic products – farm to salon, she said, with vegan and gluten-free formulas, and a new line that includes CBD. “We are very centered on healthy hair, and healthy ingredients.” The space is very COVID-friendly, she said, with just four chairs. It’s currently being updated, and new flooring is being installed before the opening. See a sample of Pink Soda’s work in the photos below, and follow on Instagram (@pinksoda.us) for information about special promotions. More information is also available on Pink Soda’s website.
- The Yoga Shop in Bishops Corner (345 North Main St.) has added personal training to its offerings (which already included the Grace + Grit apparel shop), with the opening of Primal Fit. Owner Kara Delena calls Primal Fit, which opened just a month ago: “personal training that is raw and authentic; no shiny bells and whistles, just you and your innate ability to push limits!” Delena is originally from Farmington, but and after living in several other U.S. cities and Montreal she returned to Connecticut. She started teaching at the Yoga Shop, but also pursued her interest in boxing and strength training, and the year became a NASM certified personal trainer (CPT). Individual and small group training, as well as virtual Zoom training is available at Primal Fit. More information can be found on the website, and you can also follow Primal Fit on Facebook for more details about the business.
- Let’s talk about food, and then we will get back to fitness. Loco Urban Street Food began the soft-opening phase for its West Hartford take-out and delivery business on Friday, and I give it a major thumbs-up for the dinner we had Saturday night (pictured in the intro above). They are based in the former Park & Oak space (14-16 Oakwood Ave., but accessible through the Park Road entrance). Loco Urban Street Food offers, as the name implies, street food. “All really good, hand-held sorts of things,” owner Tony Camilleri said, including burritos and a “a really cool and fun spin on everything we do” at Toro Loco in Farmington. The street food concept will continue in the Oakwood Avenue kitchen once the renovations are done and the official restaurant – Toro Tavernia – opens. That menu will be a mix of Spanish and Mexican cuisines, Camilleri, who was the executive chef at Barcelona for more than three years, said. “We really want to make it that cool neighborhood space,” he said of the Tavernia, a unpretentious space where you can grab a quick bite and beer while watching football, but also come for a great meal and a nice date night. Camilleri and his partners, Stretch Altenhein (owner of Nautilus Tattoo) and James LaFond (Owner of Grey Matter IT), will also be opening Toro Loco Casita in the former Petals and Paws space next to Whole Foods on Raymond Road. All items are completely gluten free. The menu for Loco Urban Street Food can be found online, and is available for take-out (call 860-773-4003) or delivery. Visit the website for more details.
- It’s good to combine eating with working out (I love both), and F45 Training West Hartford now has an opening date for the Bishops Corner (Crossroads Plaza) fitness studio. They will be opening on Dec. 5 – after nearly a year of planning and build-out. Follow on Facebook for details, and for information about the extensive COVID-safe processes that are in place.
- Back to food, and now that the calendar has flipped to November, it’s time to think about Thanksgiving. (NOT, in my opinion, Christmas or any other December holidays quite yet.) Hartford Baking Company is already sharing photos of their fabulous pies (visit the website for ordering details), and many other West Hartford restaurants are offering Thanksgiving menus. Please feel free to add details of any Thanksgiving menus in the comment section below!
Cafe Louise has re-invented itself once again, owner Louise Albin said. While they are still catering for pick-up, delivery, and staffed gatherings – those gatherings are all small, so Cafe Louise has adapted, and has changed and re-designed the store-front once again at 1156 New Britain Ave. in Elmwood. “Since Covid we have been doing ‘Meals To Go’ with a weekly menu, Albin said. “Now we are offering walk-in ‘Grab and Go,’ fresh and frozen sandwiches, soups, salads, hors d’oeuvres, entrees, sides and desserts. We do a weekly menu of offerings and also have much more in our reach-in fridge and freezers. Gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan offerings are also included. Curbside pick-up and home delivery are still available. Cafe Louise is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Visit the website for details.
- The APK Charities 5K Ruck to Support Veterans will be virtual this year, like so many events, and anyone ruck, walk, or run anytime between Nov. 1-7. In West Hartford, Fleet Feet will be sponsoring a 5K Ruck on Saturday, Nov. 7, beginning at 9 a.m., and is asking that participants fill their rucks with non-perishable canned goods that can then be donated to The Town That Cares Fund to stock the West Hartford Food Pantry. “Fleet Feet is thrilled to host this 5K Ruck for Veterans on Nov. 7,” owner Stephanie Blozy said. The perfect thing to do this year, outside and healthy to support veterans like Andrew Perdersen Keel (the APK name sake). If you can not join us in WeHa on the 7th, ruck, walk, or run anytime virtually and drop off your canned goods at Fleet Feet in West Hartford Center. All you have to do is register and then show up ready to do the 5K on Saturday, Nov. 7. The apkcharities.org website tells you how many canned goods to put in your RUCK (or you can use a backpack). We RUCK rain or shine.”
- Congratulations to West Hartford resident Daniel S. Matos, who has been hired as senior vice president and in-house legal counsel of Liberty Bank, David W. Glidden, president & CEO announced in a news release. Matos will lead Liberty Bank in creating an Office of the General Counsel in the Middletown office while providing strategic direction and complete oversight for all of the Bank’s legal matters. “Recruiting someone of Dan’s caliber – especially now – is another example of our unwavering commitment to hiring talented leaders who possess the expertise, business acumen and shared vision we need as we face the ever-growing complexity of the banking industry while at the same time our organization continues to strategically evolve,” said Glidden. Matos earned a Bachelor of Arts cum laude from UConn and his Juris Doctorate cum laude from Temple University’s School of Law. He was most recently the principal and founder of the Matos Group, LLC, a regional real estate development company based in Hartford, CT. Previously, Matos was a senior partner with the law firm of Day, Berry & Howard (now Day Pitney) for over 20 years.
- Foodshare, which will be continued its distribution at Rentschler Field throughout the month of November, has announced the launch of the 2020 “Turkey and Thirty“ campaign effective Nov. 1. “We will continue our tradition of providing Thanksgiving meals and raising funds to fight hunger year-round. In an effort to keep everyone safe, this year’s campaign will look a little different,” Foodshare announced in a newsletter. The following are changes to the annual campaign: Rather than in-person collection drives, Foodshare has purchased turkeys in advance. Foodshare is asking that community members donate online to support the purchase of a turkey (or more than one turkey) for a neighbor in need. “Your monetary gift will help Foodshare achieve our goal; to provide thousands of families with the food they need on Thanksgiving and beyond,” Foodshare said. More details can be found on the Foodshare website.
- ICYMI, offers were due by Friday for the former UConn West Hartford campus, now owned by Ideanomics. For details on the progress, click here.
- A West Hartford business is offering a product that fights COVID-19 in the air as well as on surfaces. Read about A Safer Surface 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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