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West Hartford Business Buzz: September 6, 2021

Fuego Picante will open for takeout on Monday, Sept. 6. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses. [UPDATED, Sept. 7]

By Ronni Newton

I wasn’t going to say it again, but …

“Nobody on the road. Nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air. The summer’s out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets. The sun goes down alone …” (Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer”)

I can’t start a Labor Day Business Buzz column without that song, which I always start humming to myself around this time of year, and it always makes me sad.

While Labor Day is also the unofficial end of summer, as usual I will hold onto summer until the autumnal equinox, which arrives this year on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 3:21 p.m. EDT. Until then, and likely well beyond then, white pants will remain a staple of my wardrobe and I will shun any pumpkin-related food or drink.

I’m already wavering on the mum issue because the bunnies (cute, but easy to blame) have eaten the flowers that were in the planter next to my front door and it’s not giving off a great first impression right now. I’m not sure any other flowers can be purchased right now so I may just have to buy a few mums.

We ventured out of West Hartford a few times this weekend, including to Rentschler Field for the return of UConn football after last year’s hiatus. Let’s just say the weather was beautiful, the tailgate grill I bought Ted for his birthday in 2019 (which we only got to use once) worked great for making our egg sandwiches, and the UConn band was excellent.

The only thing I ever personally grill is eggs, and this egg sandwich with cheddar and Canadian bacon, with a side of grilled hash browns, was yummy. Photo credit: RonnI Newton

We also ventured out of West Hartford for dinner on Saturday night. It was such a beautiful evening to sit outside for dinner and we decided it was a good night to finally visit Toro Loco in Farmington. Also, after speaking with the owner of Fuego Picante (see first bullet point below) on Friday, I was really craving tacos on homemade corn tortillas.

We had a great dinner (and thanks to Shawna and Alex for taking such good care of us), which started off with margaritas and guacamole (for Ted, I just ate the chips because I am allergic to avocado) and included tacos and tapas.

We enjoyed the trio of tacos on house-made corn tortillas (pictured, from top are grilled beef carne asada, pescado frito, and pork al pastor), as well as the migas (with chorizo and street corn, and topped with a fried egg).

Guacamole at Toro Loco in Farmington. Photo credit: RonnI Newton

The casa margarita at Toro Loco in Farmington – with salt, of course. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Tacos at Toro Loco in Farmington include (from top): grilled beef carne asada, pescado frito, and pork al pastor. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Migas at Toro Loco in Farmington (with chorizo, street corn, and fried egg). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Don’t forget that trash and recycling pick-up is delayed this week. Details can be found here. Town Hall, the Yard Waste and Recycling Center, libraries, and the town’s senior centers are also closed for Labor Day (as are schools), and the town has advised that Veterans Rink will be closed for maintenance on Monday.

Despite this being a holiday weekend, this is a jam-packed Business Buzz column today with lots of good news, and a piece of sad news as well.

“There’s so much activity in all our commercial districts,” Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski told me last week. She said the town is almost back to its pre-pandemic leasing situation, with vacant storefronts “few and far between,” and “lots of good new activity.”

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:

Tacos from Fuego Picante. Courtesy photo

  • Fuego Picante is opening today! The Mexican restaurant is a brick and mortar spinoff of the popular food truck by the same name, and is located at 280 Park Road, which was most recently Pachanga. “For the first two weeks we will. be take-out only,” owner Omar Bello told me, while they are looking to add more staff. They are also waiting for permits from the town for the outdoor seating on the patio, and for artwork they plan to hang inside. “We will be making fresh tortillas every day,” Bello said. “If you order an order of tacos, your tortilla will be made at that time, too.” He stressed that the restaurant is authentically Mexican, “not Tex-Mex, Mexican,” and included in the traditional Mexican fare will be tacos al pastor. Hours will be noon-8 p.m.

  • West Hartford resident Kate Hunt has recently secured space for an office and showroom, with Kathryn Hunt Studio taking over ground floor space in the Central Building at 970 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford Center. “I’d been looking for space for six or seven months, then COVID hit,” she said during an interview last week. Hunt said she had been working out of her home, but with all the samples she keeps on hand she was really outgrowing the space. After having her second child (she has an 8-month-old daughter as well as a 3½-year-old son), she resumed her search and credited property manager Mike Mahoney of RLMCo. with helping her find the current spot. She looked in the Parkville area of Hartford, but “made a decision that we wanted to be closer to the Center. … I love being in the Center,” she said. Hunt is originally from New York, and that’s where she got her start in the design business, and she focuses on high-end residential projects, particularly new construction or full-home renovation. Most of her clients are out of state – although she’s working on a nearly-net-zero home in Litchfield County and a few in Fairfield County – and when she and her husband moved to West Hartford a few years ago, the business transitioned with her. These days, the biggest challenge is supply delays on items that range from nails, to bluestone, to lighting. Furniture orders can involve waits of 22-24 months, she said, but she is transparent with her clients. “You’re planning for a forever home,” she said, and she urges people to be patient to get what they really want, and quality that will last. “Their home is a reflection of them. Part of my job is sitting down with clients and listening to them.” While Hunt said her personal style (traditional, bordering on modern) doesn’t interfere with what she does for clients, “I steer them away from making bad decisions.” Hunt, who has two part-time employees, would love to build her business locally as well, and said she has been getting to know other designers in the area. They don’t really compete with each other, she said, but are part of the same community. “We all have something to learn from each other,” she said. “We’re in this together.” She also used to design showrooms for a textile company, and that’s led to another related business venture – a new line of textiles. Hunt paints her own designs, usually at home in the mornings while she’s having some quiet time with her son, who also likes to paint, and they are being digitized for printing on wallpaper. Eventually she will expand to fabrics as well. “It’s all Connecticut printed, all eco-friendly,” she said. See below for more photos of the studio, as well as a few of Hunt’s projects. For more information email [email protected], call 631-240-3871, or visit www.kathrynhuntstudio.com.

Kathryn Hunt. Courtesy photo

Conference table at Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

  • PeoplesBank opened their West Hartford banking center location last week at 102 LaSalle Road (next to the LaSalle Road Post Office), and in the new location has introduced “VideoBankerITM,” a contactless banking system that allows customers to bank seven days a week. While people may be confused, particularly since the space was formerly United Bank, the company noted that “PeoplesBank has no affiliation or relationship with People’s United Bank, which was just bought by M&T of Buffalo, NY.” Regarding VideoBanker, “It’s about as close to curbside banking as you can get, except with better hours,” stated Aleda De Maria, Executive Vice President of Consumer Banking and Operations at PeoplesBank, in describing the drive-thru VideoBankerITM. “Customers can do pretty much anything they can with a teller – except they do not have to enter the banking center. This new technology also allows us to extend our service to seven days a week and after hours on weeknights, so customers are finding a whole new level of convenience by banking when they need to as opposed to when they have to.” Romika Odedra is vice president, regional manager, and manager of the new banking center, and brings more than 15 years of financial services and banking experience in the West Hartford market. The local team also includes Kris Lucke, assistant manager; Karmeliz Camacho, senior operations specialist; and Kevin Hernandez, operations specialist.

PeoplesBank is now open at 102 LaSalle Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The sign is up for  The Next Chapter! The used bookstore, which will be located in the former Omaha Steaks space at 13 South Main St., is a program of West Hartford Public Schools. The name of the store is a play on words for giving life to new books – and also will provide a space where students in the town’s post-secondary program can train and be and employed, with roles that include collecting and cataloguing donations and working in the store – developing life-skills and vocational training they will be able to use for the next chapter of their lives. Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy Morrow said the store is “getting there,” and now that school is back in session, should be opening in the next few weeks.

The sign is up for The Next Chapter, a used bookstore that will be opening at 13 South Main St. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • AutoZone is making progress on building out space for a new retail operation in the former Coastal Tool space, and the space next door, at 510 New Park Ave. According to the sign, they are also hiring.

AutoZone is renovating the former Coastal Tool building, and the space next door, on New Park Avenue. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Har-Conn Chrome purchased the building at 114 Shield St. in West Hartford in early August, and will be expanding their operations into the 32,000-plus square foot space, Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski said. Har-Conn is the fourth largest manufacturer in town already, and the additional space will provide the opportunity for them to further expand their lines, and add jobs.
  • [UPDATED] Information originally published in this column regarding Dillon Mailing and Printing, which currently occupies the entire 114 Shield St. building, was incorrect. Dillon Mailing and Printing, which is celebrating its 90th year in business this year, will continue to occupy roughly 8,000 square feet in the building. The reduced footprint is possible due to the company’s investment in new and modern equipment over the past several years – which takes up much less space – as well as completely upgraded IT infrastructure. “We’re having a great year,” Operations Manager Amy Kennedy said, noting that the business is growing. Look for a feature story coming soon about the company’s 90th anniversary!

Har-Conn plans to expand into 114 Shield St. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The town and West Hartford Chamber of Commerce are partnering for a job and resource fair to be held later this month. “We understand the increasing challenges of running a business over the last 18 months, including the current need to find employees to fill vacant roles to operate your business,” an announcement of the event stated. It will be held in the Town Hall auditorium, on Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and is free and open to the public to participate – for both employers and job seekers. Businesses, nonprofits, and career resource organizations interested in having a booth at the event, can register here. More details to come!

  • JMcLaughlin (981 Farmington Ave.) is holding a “sip & shop” fundraising event this Friday and Saturday, Store Manager Marisa Delponte advised. Details can be found on the flyer below.

  • A big thank you to Cheyney Barrieau for making sure I was aware of this! Rizzuto’s is closed temporarily (no worries!), and taking a small break to do some interior renovation work, but is planning to reopen on Sept. 11. See details on the sign that’s posted on the door.

Courtesy of Cheyney Barrieau

  • Stop & Shop at 176 Newington Rd. in Elmwood is once again participating in the Bloomin’ 4 Good program to support the West Hartford Food Pantry. Throughout the month of September, Stop & Shop will donate $1 to the Food Pantry for each $10.99 Bloomin’ 4 Good Bouquet with the red circle sticker sold at the store.
  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident Elysa Gordon, who has joined the board pf the CT Council on Philanthropy. Gordon is vice president of Community Impact for the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. She joined the Foundation staff in 2014 and sits on the executive leadership team, leading strategy development, research and evaluation, public policy, and HFPG Impact! Greater Hartford, the Foundation’s impact investing subsidiary. Gordon’s career has focused on collaborative national and statewide efforts to advance opportunities for children impacted by the child welfare and justice systems. “It is an honor to join the CT Council on Philanthropy’s board of directors,” said Gordon. “CCP plays an essential role in Connecticut by strengthening philanthropy’s impact and partnering with nonprofit and public leaders on issues critical to communities across the state.  I look forward to working alongside Karla, the CCP staff and the CCP Board members to support CCP’s vision to advance equity in Connecticut philanthropy and statewide.”

Elysa Gordon. Courtesy photo

  • Westfarms announced last week in a news release that the shopping center, along with all 17 Taubman shopping centers and the Taubman offices, have earned the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) WELL Health-Safety Rating. The WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating awarded to companies that focus on exceptional operational policies, maintenance protocols, stakeholder engagement and emergency plans that address the global COVID-19 pandemic. The WELL Health-Safety Rating recognizes Taubman for prioritizing health and safety in its business operations, and the rating signals to the community, employees and customers that the company’s shopping centers follow the highest health and safety standards. “We take pride in our ongoing commitment to upholding or exceeding industry-leading health and safety standards,” Taubman Director of Facilities, Energy and Sustainability Steve Moore said in the release. “Recognition from the International WELL Building Institute and the WELL Health-Safety Rating acknowledges our care and concern for our people, our customers and for the communities in which we operate.” Throughout the pandemic, Taubman shopping centers have implemented enhanced cleaning and sanitization procedures to reduce respiratory particle exposure. Prior to COVID-19, the company regularly conducted ventilation assessments and mold and moisture management, among many other actions, to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers prior to COVID-19.

Doughnuts from Citizen Chicken & Donuts. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  • This week’s very sad news: Citizen Chicken & Donuts, which opened in the former Hartford Baking Company space (new venture, same ownership as HBC) at 625 New Park Ave. in January, has closed. The following was posted on the Citizen social media accounts on Friday: “Friends, it is with great sadness that we announce that Citizen will be closing this location permanently tomorrow. While we hope to eventually reopen in another location, the complications of running a business during Covid, most notably the extreme labor shortage and fluctuating and rising food costs, have made it impossible for us to continue for now. You may see our donuts soon at HBC, and we are so grateful to each and every one of you who came in for donuts and chicken sandwiches over the last few months. It’s not goodbye – it’s see you later!”
  • ICYMI, the WEHA Bear Fair began last week. The bears are located near the Noah Webster statue and in the courtyard at Blue Back Square. Each has a sponsor, and benefits an area nonprofit. Click here for the complete story.
  • Also ICYMI, LobsterCraft officially opened as of Friday at 981A Farmington Avenue! Details can be found 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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Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

Project by Kathryn Hunt Studios. Photo by Josh Goetz Photography. Courtesy photo

Project by Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

Project by Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

Project by Kathryn Hunt Studios. Courtesy photo

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