Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: October 26, 2020

Smash Avenue is planning to open at 635 New Park Ave., Building 2E in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

It’s been a week of contrasts in several respects.

Millie really enjoyed her hike to Heublein Tower. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

We had summer-like warmth for a few days followed by a return to fall temperatures, and it looks the the 70s aren’t going to return any time soon. The heat went back on in our house on Sunday, and I’m thinking I have to pack away [most of] my open-toed shoes for the season.

We did take advantage of the balmy weather, and a few hours on Friday afternoon with no scheduled meetings or other mandatory commitments, and Ted, Sam, Millie and I hiked up to Heublein Tower. We didn’t want to fight the crowds expected on the weekend, and although it wasn’t bright sunshine, the yellow leaves seemed especially vibrant. Millie was a puppy when we did the hike last fall and got tired partway, but this year she scampered up and down the mountain!

Last week seemed like one of the most “normal” weeks I’ve had since March – and while masks and physical distancing were involved and almost everything took place outdoors – I attended several in-person events. I reported on a swearing-in for a new police officer (actually did that two weeks in a row, and the latest story will be published soon), had a meeting over coffee with a few colleagues, and Thursday at lunchtime I accompanied INGroup Creative’s Jeannette Dardenne and Kristen Fritz on a tour of some of West Hartford’s restaurants that were participating in the Hartford Rib-Off.

Kristen Fritz (left) and Jeannette Punsoni-Dardenne (right) of INGroup Creative invited me to join them for lunchtime tour of some Hartford Rib-Off participants.

I’ve been in the Center almost every day over the past week, and mask compliance seems to have gotten much, much better. When I walked through Blue Back Square on both Friday and Saturday, 100% of the people I passed on the sidewalk were wearing masks. On Saturday, there was even live music.

Putting on a mask when I get out of the car has become pretty much automatic, and since I hate the cold, it seems like almost a welcome accessory for winter.

It doesn’t seem strange anymore seeing everyone in their masks, and I’m used to the arrows at the grocery store.

I am concerned, however, about the local restaurants as we move into the colder months, as the outdoor dining will disappear.

I’ve now eaten inside a number of times, and have not felt uncomfortable. Prior to the pandemic, Ted and I almost never got take-out unless it was Chinese food or the occasional pizza, but then we adapted and we will probably do more take-out over the next few months.

We had a great to-go barbecue dinner from Beachland Smoke on Saturday night – and we were so hungry that I forgot to take a photo before we demolished our pulled pork, brisket, baked beans, mashed potatoes, corn and black bean salad, and biscuits!

While many of us have settled into this new normal, Connecticut’s COVID-19 metrics have been heading in the wrong direction over the past several weeks.

According to Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, and other members of the governor’s staff, the spike we are seeing in the state right now is mainly being caused by small gatherings, where people let their guard down.

Gifford urged residents not to panic, but not to become complacent.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s message, as he signed off after Thursday’s press briefing, was to find ways to enjoy Halloween, and the upcoming holidays, safely. “Stay close to home, stay with your closest friends, just for the next 6-8 weeks. I’ve got to hope we’re going to be turning the corner,” Lamont said.

Last week we launched a new feature 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.

Read last week’s tip and feature on Kimberly Boutique and Kimberly Gift here.

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: Get Social with Your Favorite Local Business! 

One of the best ways to stay connected with your favorite businesses is to follow them on social media. One of the most powerful tools businesses have to share updates, news, and specials with their customers is social media. Not only can you stay in the know by following a business on social media, you can also support them.  Whenever possible, like, comment, and share their posts. Not only does this let you show your support, but it also helps their posts be more visible to others. In addition to your favorite business, consider following the The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce, the Town of West Hartford, and the local neighborhood and business associations on social media. They often share updates about local businesses.

Vinted Wine Bar, 63 Memorial Road, West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Keeping it in the Community: Vinted Wine Bar

This week we caught up with Michael Voight of Vinted Wine Bar. On Nov. 2 they will celebrate their eighth anniversary at 63 Memorial Road in Blue Back Square.

“I’m a little bit of everything,” Voight said when asked about his role with the business. “My official title is managing executive chef partner, but my day-to-day role is general manager which allows me to oversee both front and back.”

COVID-19 has impacted Vinted, Voight said, but it hasn’t been all bad.

“I like to stay positive and say a ton of great stuff has come of COVID,” he said. “Vinted has gained seats outdoors we have never had. We have also had the opportunity to grow our take-out business. People love paper menus but our online platform has allowed us to switch the menu more often without the crazy steps to print.”

On the downside, however, Vinted’s catering business has all but disappeared due to people not working in offices or holding in-person events. “Happy hour has also been non-existent because the same people [are] not being in town earlier in the day,” Voight said.

Precautions that have been instituted since reopening this summer include spacing outdoor tables as much as 10 feet apart and eliminating table side water service.

“Every table gets thier own water pichter and those are sanitized every time in between tables. Previously tables were set when you arrived now you only get items directly from your server to cut down on contact.”

Voight said that more plexiglass barriers are being put up indoors as Vinted prepares for the colder weather.

High top tables are enclosed as well as the entire bar area, which is just now being opened up, he said. Sanitizing products are available for customers.

“Our bar is currently open and can take up to a five-top. Reservations are able to be placed for the cocktail bar as well.”

Vinted has really amped up social media since reopening.

“Fun, personal, and contest-driven posts have engaged people at home,” Voight said. “More outlets like online takeout groups on Facebook and neighborhood communities have really created dialogue as well so people know where and when to get the deal and great food.”

Voight said he tries to remain positive about the effect of COVID on his business.

“Sometimes businesses get into a groove that’s not necessarily the best. We had a large menu, fancy lunch, promotions on certain days. COVID hit the reset button. We were able to start to refocus on who we are. We are not there yet but come spring we will be where we want to be,” Voight said.

While there aren’t any other Vinted Wine Bar locations, there are two related restaurants in Massachusetts – The Federal in Agawam and Posto in Longmeadow. “Both are very popular and we share regulars between all of them,” Voight said. 

Outdoor dining, on the sidewalk as well as in a corral on the street, was a positive result of the COVID pandemic, Vinted Managing Partner and Executive Chef Michael Voight said. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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:

Testing out Smash Avenue. Courtesy photo

  • The owner of West Hartford’s boutique fitness business BodyRoc Fitness Lab has found a productive way to deal with stress and rage – feelings that have escalated over the past months. Shaun Chambers is planning to open Smash Avenue at 635 New Park Ave., Building 2E (right down the alley from his existing location) to provide an outlet for his clients to deal with their stress and personal frustrations amid the “new normal.” Smash Avenue will be Connecticut’s first smash room, also called a “rage room,” and the meaning is clear from the name. Smash Avenue will be “a room to release their rage by smashing items.” Chambers is hoping to open in November (to also give voters an outlet for their election-related tensions). According to a news release, “it will offer a judgement-free zone where individuals can yell, laugh, cry and smash their way into a better mental space.” Smash rooms are a new and growing trend. “After recognizing that many of our current BodyRoc clients needed a way to safely relieve their stress, I knew we needed to grow the business while helping others,” Chambers said. “Smash Avenue allows you to bring the rage in, let the rage out, and leave the rage here. People need an outlet and this is it.” Chambers has been working with a few clients in preparation for the official opening – bringing in experts like Jonathan Codraro, a Licensed Professional Counselor, who said, ​“During these trying times of covid it can often be difficult to find an effective outlet for the anxiety many of us have been feeling as a result of the quarantine. It can be equally difficult to find a physical activity that will grip and engage the younger generation and one that is safe and fun to do. It is for all of these aforementioned reasons that I am happy to endorse Smash Avenue as a safe, fun, and family-friendly outlet to be able to get out and release some pent up energy and feel the positive effects of physical exercise.” To ensure the safety of participants, Smash Avenue will provide PPE coverage and offers a list of “what to bring” on their website. Up to four participants will be able to “enter a room, which will be amplified with music, and use tools such as crow bars, hammers, and baseball bats to destroy items like [no longer functional] computers, printers, furniture, TVs, bottles, plates, and more.” Participants must be 18, or between the ages of 11-16 with parental supervision onsite. Chambers plans to be open Thursday and Friday evenings, and from noon- 8 p.m. on Saturday and noon-6 p.m. on Sunday. Follow them online for more information, as well as on Facebook and Instagram (@smashavenue) where you can see some videos of smashing in action.
  • Updates added! The space vacated by Gilley Kitchen & Bath at 16 LaSalle Rd. will not be vacant for long! SockStarz, which operates a retail store at 18 LaSalle Rd., will be taking over the space next door. SockStarz is a social enterprise mission of Harc, Inc., that was founded as a pop-up in early 2019 and opened its brick and mortar retail space in September 2019. I did get confirmation from property manager Mike Mahoney of RLM Co. that the lease is signed, and the former Gilley Kitchen awning has been covered over, and Monday morning I got some additional information from Harc, with confirmation that the space will be used for job training and coaching for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The following detail was provided in a news release: “The concept is similar to the approach being taken by parents with school-age children where learning is conducted in small groups outside the school location. The space will be designed with employment skill stations to train Harc participants for targeted industries, and to maintain the skills that some of them normally use at their respective job sites, to which they hope to return when it is safe to do so. The idea is to use the employment readiness center for participants during the week and weekends. Retail space will also be used for Harc participants to showcase and sell products they create such as jewelry and artwork. Participants will work weekends and evenings, as customized jobs are typically not just Monday through Friday during the day. ‘We are excited about this new program and the learning opportunity it creates for our participants,’ said Kimberly Paluska, interim senior vice president of programs at Harc. ‘Opening our first learning center in West Hartford, right next to SockStarz just feels right, and we look forward to continuing to build partnerships with other businesses in the area.'” Harc said that longterm use of the space will be finalized, and it could be a continued expansion of the Employment Learning Center operations or perhaps become additional social enterprise space.

SockStarz will be expanding into the space next door at 16 LaSalle Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Congratulations to Kevin Masse, owner of Small State Provisions, who has been honored by King Arthur Baking’sFor Goodness Bakes” program. Through the program, King Arthur purchased $500 of product from Small State Provisions, Masse said, and then he in turn donated 90 loaves of bread to a nonprofit – in this case Loaves and Fishes. Here’s the statement he shared with King Arthur Baking:  “I’ve wanted to own a bakery for as long as I can remember, and when my town passed legislation that allows Cottage Food Operations, I knew it was a sign. I took the leap and opened up a micro-bakery out of my home in 2019, specializing in naturally leavened sourdough bread and small-batch granola. Small State Provisions was born out of my passion for two things: baking delicious bread and giving back to the community. When the pandemic hit, I decided to ramp up baking and get as much bread out in the community as possible (with touchless delivery, of course!) and through the community support that I receive, in the form or bread orders, I’ve been able to donate nearly $3,000 to local organizations that are actively working to improve the community we live in. This is what excited me so much about the For Goodness Bakes program, the opportunity to bake bread for an organization doing incredible work to make our community a better place. Loaves and Fishes Ministry in Hartford, CT was a perfect fit for this opportunity. They provide hot meals and food to individuals and families in need, and are currently serving upwards of 90 clients on days they are cooking. When I am baking for organizations like Loaves and Fishes, it reminds me that we are all interconnected, and that the actions we take can positively impact our communities. Giving your time can be equally as powerful as giving your money. At Small State Provisions we rely on three ingredients: Flour, Water and Salt, so quality is critical, which is why we’re proud to bake all of our breads with 100% Organic King Arthur Flour.” Learn more about the Loaves and Fishes Ministry Kevin bakes bread for here: https://bakewith.us/loavesandfishes. You can order online at smallstateprovisions.com, and Masse said he provides free delivery in West Hartford and limited pick up for those outside the area. For more information email Masse at [email protected]. He will also be holding a pop-up shop at Cookshop Plus (60 LaSalle Rd.) on Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – or until the product sells out!

Kevin Masse of Small State Provisions (center) dropped off 90 loaves of bread at Loaves and Fishes in Hartford as part of a program through King Arthur Baking. Courtesy photo

  • Frida, located at 1150 New Britain Ave., will be bringing offering something I don’t recall ever taking place in West Hartford as they host their first of what they plan as an annual Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. “We will have Ofrenda and Mexican traditions,” said co-owner Xiomara Zamudio. The cultural celebration will include Mexican food and cocktails appropriate for the holiday, Calaverita (trick or treating) for the children, and traditional dress Zamudio said. Visit the Frida Facebook page for more details!

Courtesy image

Michael Amedeo. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to Michael Amedeo, who has been promoted to vice president of sales at the West Hartford-based Environmental Systems Corporation (ESC), a leading provider of building technology solutions throughout New England. Amedeo, who has more than 25 years of experience in commercial facility management and engineering, previously managed ESC’s energy division, where he oversaw sales and operations to support the delivery of turnkey energy efficiency solutions which involved working with utility companies to maximize incentives and coordinating closely with other divisions of the firm, particularly building automation and mechanical services. “We’ve worked with Mike for many years now and have long been impressed with his ability to immerse himself into each division and offer an overarching perspective on operations and sales,” said Chief Operating Officer Michael Mullin. “He is adept at creating new business opportunities and developing solutions that truly match the needs of our clients.” Amedeo, a resident of Wolcott, CT, has a BS in electrical engineering from Kennedy Western University and  holds a State of Connecticut Electrical License, as well as HVAC and IAQ training certifications.

    Dr. Rajesh Lalla. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident Dr. Rajesh Lalla, recently awarded the 2020 Evidence-Based Dentistry Accomplished Faculty Award from the American Dental Association and the American Association for Dental Research. According to the announcement, “Dr. Lalla is a professor and associate dean for research at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. He developed as well as teaches the school’s course on evidence-based decision-making, which emphasizes experiential learning and student participation with minimal lecturing. Dr. Lalla has published over 100 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, including 23 systematic reviews and evidence-based guidelines such as the 2020 clinical practice guideline for the management of mucositis secondary to cancer therapy published in the journal Cancer.”

    Janice Hamilton-Crawford. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations also to West Hartford resident Janice Hamilton-Crawford,  M.B.A., FACHE, President of Trinity Health Of New England Senior Communities, who has been appointed to the Board  of Directors of LeadingAge Connecticut: a membership organization representing more than 130 not-for-profit and mission-driven provider organizations serving older adults and disabled individuals across the continuum of services, supports and housing, including nursing homes, residential care homes, housing for the elderly, life plan communities, adult day services, home health care agencies and assisted living. “I am both humbled and excited to serve on the LeadingAge Connecticut Board of Directors,” Hamilton-Crawford said.  “Serving on this Board will allow me the honor, challenge, and responsibility to work alongside experienced and passionate individuals who have been entrusted with enhancing the lives of our senior population.” Hamilton-Crawford has directed the operational and developmental activities of Trinity Health Of New England Senior Communities since March 2018. She holds bachelor of science and master of business degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, TX. She is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, a member of the American Hospital Association, and a member of Catholic Health Association’s Elder Care Committee.
  • ICYMI – and this was a very well-read story – LobsterCraft has signed a lease for the former Bella Gusta space at 981A Farmington Ave. in West Hartford Center, and will soon be building out the space in anticipation of an April 2021 opening. The “coming soon” sign went up Saturday, and you can read all about the plans here.

The “Coming Soon” sign is now in the window of the future LobsterCraft location on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Also ICMYI, the West Hartford Center Business Association’s We Care Card initiative returns this week, and for a 10-day period the We Care Card will provide savings at many local businesses. The donation for the card supports Foodshare. Click here for details.
  • The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce has gone above and beyond for members – and even non-members – since COVID hit, and they are holding their annual membership drive. More information can be found here.
  • A West Hartford chef is among the competitors in The Better Half Brewery presents the Chef Showdown, a food and beer pairing contest which is raising funds for suicide prevention. Click here for the complete story.

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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