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West Hartford Business Buzz: September 20, 2021

Future Smoke Public House at 140 Park Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

The first day of fall is upon us this week (sigh), but it looks like the fabulous weather we had on Sunday is going to last for a while so I won’t complain too much.

I’m still wearing my white pants, too – in fact I wore them to take photos at a construction site last week, which elicited lots of eye rolling from my husband and son.

Last week was a busy work week that also included two lunch meetings (definitely both a mix of business and pleasure) – extra opportunities to support our local restaurants.

I did eat every last bit of the tacos myself on this tray from bar taco last Monday, but the Toro Taberna dishes in the photos below were shared!

From left: chorizo, cauliflower, and fish tacos from bar taco. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Cauliflower hummus from Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Albondigas (beef and pork meatballs) from Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Potato croquettes at Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Braised beef at Toro Taberna. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ted and I ventured out of West Hartford on Saturday, and headed down to the river in Hartford to listen to some music and tour the Amistad, which is docked in Hartford through Oct. 1 and open for tours – which are free! Every time I am down along the Connecticut River in Hartford I realize what a hidden gem that area really is. We walked along the paved pathway up toward the Riverfront Recapture boat house, and there was artwork for sale, sculpture, live music, and beautiful views of the river.

Since we were already in Hartford, and this weekend was the Yard Goats’ last homestand, we decided at the last minute to get tickets to the game. Unfortunately the Yard Goats lost, but the experience was great anyway – as was the stadium food and ice cold draft beer!

Chicken Tender Fender Bender at Dunkin Donuts Park. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Brisket sandwich from Bears at Dunkin Donuts Park. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

In my quest to not say goodbye to summer prematurely, I took a brief break from Business Buzz writing on Sunday and Ted and I went to Winding Trails to enjoy the beautiful weather for a bit. There were a number of families with the same idea, but the beach was still quiet, calm, and beautiful.

I got a little beach fix at Winding Trails. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

I was also lured to Farmington on Sunday because I really wanted more of the silver queen corn we got a few weeks ago at the stand at the intersection of Meadow Road and Red Oak Hill Road. It was definitely the best corn I’ve had all summer!

Please continue to support our local businesses, wear your masks indoors (regardless of vaccination status) – 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:

Future Smoke Public House at 140 Park Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Throughout West Hartford restaurants have been closing temporarily (staffing shortages have been a major problem as noted in one of the bullet points below) and Beachland Smoke has been closed for a few weeks, but when the sign came down last week it was evident that the restaurant was not reopening. Susan Kohn, owner with her husband Chip Kohn of Beachland Restaurant Group, confirmed that the business is in the process of being sold and will reopen under different ownership and with a somewhat different concept. Rich Sin-Clair is taking over the business, and the new restaurant (at 140 Park Rd.) will be called Smoke Public House. Sin-Clair, who has known Chip Kohn for decades and has been working with him for the past several months, has been looking to open a restaurant in West Hartford for months, and was excited when this opportunity presented itself. “This sort of fell into my lap,” he told me. The space, which will have seating for 63 (including the patio) has been remodeled with a “whole new colorful design,” he said. “A public house has a little bit for everybody,” said Sin-Clair, who is British. “I want everybody to be there, all races, all cultures, to come in and say, ‘There’s something for me,'” he said. The smoker remains on the premises and will get plenty of use for popular menu items such as brisket and wings, Sin-Clair said, but the recipes will be a bit different. He will also serve other smoked foods such as smoked cheese and (I may have drooled a bit when he told me this) a smoked chocolate cake served with Godiva chocolate liquor. There will be a veggie wrap and other dishes to appeal to those who are vegetarian, crispy squid and prawns, charcuterie and a humus plate, grilled and smoked street corn, panini, tacos, and an Asian-style wrap with hoisin sauce. “Really cool salads, too,” Sin-Clair said, including Caesar and Cobb salads as well as an Asian noodle salad. Full dinners will also be features, including a biscuit dinner, chicken dishes, and pastas. The transfer of ownership is being finalized, Kohn said, and according to Sin-Clair, Smoke Public House should be opening in the next few weeks.

Sonny Chen, owner of Black Bamboo, has purchased the former Anna’s Hair Perfection building at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Vanderbilt Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Black Bamboo has been one of West Hartford’s most successful and beloved casual food businesses since opening 11 years ago, but (don’t start to worry as you continue reading this sentence …) will likely be moving about five blocks down the street. Owner Sonny Chen, who leases his current space, purchased the building at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Vanderbilt Road that formerly housed Anna’s Hair Perfection earlier this month, and confirmed to me that “Black Bamboo is likely going there.” He plans to completely update the storefront, and has already engaged an architect. It’s a slightly larger space, with more on-site parking, and will also allow Chen to make a long-term commitment to the business. Much more to come!
  • For those who are still craving the items served at Beachland Smoke, Chip Kohn said the smoked food menu remains available for catering (think football parties and tailgates) through the Beachland Tavern menu.

Rizzuto’s has reopened after completing a few minor interior renovation projects. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • We mentioned a few weeks ago that Rizzuto’s was closed briefly for some minor renovations, and those projects have been completed. The restaurant reopened a week ago.
  • When she was telling me about the new ownership for the former Beachland Smoke restaurant, Susan Kohn also shared that both Beachland Tavern and Rockledge Grille had closed briefly over the summer due to staff – who had been working crazy hours as part of skeleton crews – some much-needed vacation time. I’ve spoke to the owners of restaurants of all types who have said the same thing: it’s very difficult to find staff and new hires don’t necessarily come with the same level of experience. On Saturday I ran into Michael Voight, managing partner of Vinted Wine Bar in Blue Back Square, and he shared many of the same challenges, particularly since he tries to hire staff who are extremely knowledgeable about wine. Billy Grant of Restaurant Bricco hopes that patrons will be patient and understand that new wait staff don’t have the same skills as those with extensive experience. And at the same time as there are staffing challenges, food prices have been skyrocketing. The wholesale cost of chicken wings has roughly tripled over the past few months, Kohn said, and restaurants aren’t raising their prices to earn more profit, but just to be able to break even. This is happening not just in West Hartford, but throughout the region and the country. Restaurateurs work extremely hard, and many in our area are nearing the breaking point. If you’re looking for a job there are plenty to be had, and if you’re going out to eat (or getting take-out or delivery), please try to have some patience and understanding.

From left: Damion Williams, Executive Director/CFO; Luann, Sales Associate at Good Cause Gifts; Liz, Sales Associate at Good Cause Gifts; Pamela DonAroma, President/CEO of Futures Inc.; Andreas Kapetanopoulos, Connecticut Regional President of NBT; Sharon Faucher, VP Social Enterprise. Courtesy photo

  • West Hartford-based Futures Inc. will be holding its annual fundraiser, the Good Cause Gift Fashion Show on Nov. 4 at the AquaTurf (and also online, and last week NBT Bank Connecticut Regional President Andreas Kapetanopoulos presented the organization with a $10,000 check. NBT Bank is the sole title sponsor. “Good Cause Gifts is the kind of community organization where NBT Bank couldn’t be more happy to invest. What they accomplish to advance individuals with learning and developmental disabilities makes our community better and stronger and NBT wants to do whatever we can to help those services grow,” Kapetanopoulos said. WTNH-TV8 has joined is the event’s media sponsor.

Andreas Kapetanopoulos signs the mock check for a donation to Futures Inc. Courtesy photo

  • Based on the signage in the window it looks like Aroma Body and Foot Massage is getting close to opening in the Central Building at 970 Farmington Ave. Sharon and Vinny, who also own a location in Watertown, previously told me that the West Hartford spa will provide the same services, specializing in aromatherapy and reflexology. According to their website, “Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy with essential oils added to the massage oil or lotion. Some of the health benefits of aromatherapy include its ability to reduce anxiety, ease depression, boost energy levels, speed up the healing process, eliminate headaches, boost cognitive performance, induce sleep, strengthen the immune system, reduce pain, improve digestion and increase circulation.” Reflexology involved applying pressure to the reflexes on the feet, with the goal of promoting overall good health, improving circulation and reducing swelling, improving mood, and according to the website, “if done carefully, it treats pains and aches such as headaches, migraines, neck pain, lower and upper backaches.”

Future Aroma Body and Foot Spa. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Extra Space Storage is getting close to opening at the site of the former Bally Total Fitness at 1031 New Britain Ave. I belonged to Bally’s when I first moved to West Hartford in the late 1990s, but it closed many years ago and the building had fallen into a state of complete disrepair. I originally wrote about the planned transformation five years ago, but the original investor pulled out and the property was sold to Extra Space Storage which completed the project. The parking lot has just been paved and the area really looks good now.

Extra Space Storage is almost ready to open in the former Bally Total Fitness location on New Britain Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Speaking of spaces formerly occupied by fitness facilities, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the former New York Sports Club space in Blue Back Square. The NYSC signs were removed a few weeks ago, and according to Blue Back Square management, although there has been interest there is no information currently available about a replacement tenant for that location.

Former New York Sports Club. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There is some other Blue Back Square news, including that “Toddler Tuesdays” began on Sept. 7 and will take place every first and third Tuesday of the month. The fun and free event includes a story time with Mother Goose, themed crafts, magic, and more from 10-11:30 a.m.
  • Blue Back Square is also hosting the Blue Back Bash on Saturday, Sept. 25. Memorial Road will be shut down from 9 a.m. until noon “to celebrate the change of season with fitness, brunch specials, special offers from a variety of our shops and restaurants, and so much more! Book a bike for one of CycleBar’s outdoor rides, then treat yourself to a ‘Thirst Trap’ from Place 2 Be. And of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without a complimentary braid or hair accessory from Blo Blow Dry Bar! If sweating it out isn’t on your agenda, grab a coffee from SPoT and enjoy a live painting demo from Muse Paintbar.” Follow the event on Facebook for updates.

  • In more Blue Back Square-related news, I ran into Mitch Jackson, one of the owners of West Hartford’s Playa Bowls, over the weekend and he shared that he and co-owner Mike Bogdan have now opened a second location, at the Shops at Somerset Square, 140 Glastonbury Blvd. in Glastonbury (next door to Starbucks). I was on vacation in August when they had their grand opening, but if you are east of the river you can now get your Playa Bowls fix there, too. For more information about the menu of açaí, pitaya, coconut, green, chia, banana, and oatmeal bowls, and their huge variety of smoothies and juices visit the website or follow on social media @playabowls.

Playa Bowls. 51 Memorial Rd. (Blue Back Square) West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  • Congratulations to Susan Rochford of West Hartford-based Legrand, winner of the Hartford Business Journal’s C-Suite award for 2021. She will be honored at the HBJ’s awards ceremony on Oct. 6. A complete list of the award winners can be found here.
  • We mentioned last week that the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and committee leaders were profiled in the the most recent issue of West Hartford Magazine, and we are going to spotlight one of them each week in this column, beginning with 2020 Media’s Tom Hickey. These are the people who are working hard – often behind the scenes – to facilitate support for our area businesses. You can find all of their headshots and bios (beginning on page 48) by clicking here.

  • ICYMI, there was a column-signing last week hosted by Hartford HealthCare and their construction partners for the Park & Main Medical Center under construction at the corner of South Main Street and Park Road. 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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