Category Archives: Local business

FunBites Now Shark Bait

FunBites is about to become shark food.

The product — a food cutter that creates bite-sized shapes (“great for picky eaters!”), invented by Westport mom Bobbie Rhoads — gets a star turn on “Shark Tank” this Friday (February 6, 9 pm, ABC-TV).

shark tank logoIt’s a nail-biting — but potentially lucrative — step for the 3-year-old company. Can a little kids’ product — launched in a local kitchen and basement; packed by Bobbie’s 2 girls and neighbors; fed by grassroots marketing and mommy bloggers — make the big leap into treacherous, reality TV waters where the likes of Mark Cuban lie in wait?

Bobbie can’t say, of course, until the show airs.

But she can discuss the process of landing in the nationally televised “shark tank.” (For the uninitiated: The show features entrepreneurs, who pitch their products. A panel of experts — “sharks” — ask questions about production, marketing and financials. If they bite, negotiations begin.)

Bobbie says, “What ‘American Idol’ is to vocalists and Disney is to kids, ‘Shark Tank’ is to entrepreneurs.”

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie spent 3 years trying to get on the show. She sent applications and videos. It’s not easy: over 40,000 applicants vie for fewer than 100 spots.

But she made it. Last September, she flew with her husband Ed and 2 girls to Los Angeles for the taping.

The show’s staff helped Bobbie hone her pitch. They gave advice on what to wear, and the best look for her hair.

Once the cameras rolled though, everything happened at warp speed.

Still, Bobbie says, it was “extremely fun.” She enjoyed making her pitch, and the back-and-forth discussion that followed.

She targeted 2 sharks: Lori Grenier, because she is a successful, powerful woman who knows all about the right stores, packaging, and reaching consumers in creative ways. And Mark Cuban because he — like Bobbie — is from Pittsburgh. (More importantly, “everything he touches seems to turn into gold.”)

This Friday, she’ll host a viewing party for a few dozen friends and family members.

She’ll serve FunBites (along with adult food and beverages).

Then she’ll get ready for an onslaught of orders. Because — whether the sharks invest or not — national exposure in the “Shark Tank” can’t hurt any product.

Geiger’s Redevelopment: You Can Bank On It

Lost in last week’s hoopla over what Jon Stewart called  “Blizzardpocalypsegeddon” were positive reviews given by the Planning & Zoning Commission to plans to redevelop the 2-acre Geiger’s property.

Neighbors — who have worried about the future of the garden center, which looks handsome from the front but shabby in back — were also largely positive.

So what will go on the site, at the corner of the Post Road and Morningside North?

A commercial/residential complex. It includes 12 residential rental units — 2 of them classified as “affordable” — along with a retail building.

And a bank.

That last part is particularly good news. Because — as every Westporter knows — if there’s one thing this town needs, it’s banks.

Geigers

 

Black Dog, Black Duck

Do you know about Black Dog Syndrome?

It’s when black dogs are passed over for adoption, in favor of lighter ones. Black dogs are said to be put down more often in the South, a combination of superstition and residual racism.

I’d never heard of it. Nor had Amy Scarella. But after the 1994 Staples graduate began an animal rescue effort a few years ago, she did.

“Pretty twisted,” she calls it. So she made black dogs her “pet” project.

Little Black Dog Rescue is an outgrowth of her “Bark Camp” doggie play group, which morphed into a dog-walking business, which became a full-time gig.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Working with Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and the Animal Center in Newtown, Amy learned about unwanted dogs brought north for adoption. Then she saw other dogs on Facebook. One — with 150 flea bites — had been abandoned.

She arranged to transport it here. It would cost $600 to fix its leg, so she started her own rescue organization.

Soon, she was working with 1 or 2 black dogs at a time. One had a litter of 9 puppies, which she placed in Westport, Fairfield and Norwalk homes.

Little Black Dog Rescue was privately funded. Recently, it received 501(c)(3) status. Now Amy can apply for grants, and donors earn tax deductions.

She’s also planning her 1st real fundraiser. It’s at the Black Duck next Thursday (February 5, 6-8 pm). There’s an open bar, appetizers, silent auction, live music, and a slide show of doggy success stories.

Two days later (Saturday, February 7), 8 dogs will be featured at the Natural Pet Outlet in Black Rock. They’re available for pre-approval.

Storm is ready for adoption. He was left in an apartment in Bridgeport to fend for himself this winter.. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix and is gentle and quiet. He is great with other dogs and knows basic commands.

Storm is ready for adoption. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix. He is gentle, quiet, great with other dogs, and knows basic commands.

“I don’t do same-day adoptions,” Amy says. “I pride myself on matching dogs and families very well.”

She is passionate about her work. “All of these are ‘last-chance’ dogs,” she says. “If you can take a dog just for a day, you’ll see how great they are. They’re not wild; they’re sweet. And every black dog we save opens up space for another one.”

She has many helpers. Earth Animal supplies food. Greenfield Grooming cuts all the dogs, gratis. Pete Aitkin at the Duck has been “very generous.”

Amy also lauds her youth volunteers. Some are as young as 8 years.

Over the past 18 months, Amy has placed more than 70 dogs. One went to a family with 3 autistic sons. The animal was very energetic, but had not played well with other dogs.

It turned out to be a perfect fit. The 11-year-old son wrote Amy, thanking her for saving the dog and bringing him “my best friend.”

Kids love Amy's dogs.

Kids love Amy’s dogs.

Another dog — in a shelter for 6 months — was adopted by a Weston priest at St. Francis of Assisi. (“He’s the patron saint of animals,” Amy notes with wonder.) That dog is beloved by all the pre-school children there.

Rescuing animals is not all that Amy does. She still has her dog walking business (for all colors), and she works for a clothing line.

But Little Black Dog Rescue is her labor of love. Next Thursday, we all can share her love for dogs.

At the Duck.

(Tickets for the fundraiser are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Order by PayPal, using this email address: lbdrescue@gmail.com)

 

 

 

Has Anyone Seen The Danish Pavilion?

It’s an urban suburban myth: The Philippines (or Indonesian) (or Danish) pavilion from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair ended up as a residence at the end of Compo Cove.

I’ve walked that path — from Old Mill Beach all the way to the edge of Sherwood Island — and I’ve seen that modern-looking, glass-and-wood house. It’s intriguing — but a former World’s Fair pavilion? C’mon!

Yet a recent email from alert “06880” reader/former Westporter/World’s Fair fanatic Doug Davidoff may shed some light on the legend. At the same time, it raises more than a few mysteries itself.

Doug sent along a clipping from the October 16, 1965 Bridgeport Post. It read:

The Denmark Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. (Photo/BrickFetish.com)

The Denmark Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. (Photo/BrickFetish.com)

“The prize-winning Danish pavilion at the World’s Fair has been purchased by the Laerkesen Furniture company, 1400 East State street [Post Road East], and will be relocated here on a two-acre tract adjacent to the Sherwood Island connector.”

The Bridgeport Post story described the 130-by-80-foot pine-and-plate-glass building as designed to be disassembled, then reconstructed “like a giant erector set.”

A “World’s Fair Community” website story from 2001 provides further details. Citing a New York Times account of November 22, 1964, it said the structure was planned to be called Laerkesen’s Denmark House, and would display the company’s Danish furniture and household equipment. The “Tivoli Playground” and “Little Mermaid” reconstruction were also to be included. The pavilion — built for $1.2 million — had been bought for $40,000, and would cost $465,000 to move and rebuild.

A poster touting the Denmark Pavilion.

A poster touting the Denmark Pavilion.

The story added that Laerkesen’s owner Dominick DeCecco had outgrown his original store at 1460 Post Road East (now the Pier 1 shopping center). The new location would be “on the Boston Post Road at the juncture of Route 18 in Westport.”

Of course, there is no “Route 18.” This must have referred to the Sherwood Island connector, heading to the Connecticut Turnpike (now I-95) Exit 18.

The 2001 website story challenged readers to find “Laerkesen’s Denmark House.” (The name came from DeCecco’s wife, the former Dorthe Laerkesen.)

No one could.

Perhaps the “06880” community can crowd-source this. If you remember Laerkesen’s Denmark House — where it was, what it looked like, or anything else — click “Comments” below.

And if you can provide proof that it’s the same building that now sits as a handsome home at the end of Compo Cove — well, fantastisk.

Worlds Fair postcard

 

 

 

The Two Oh Three Gives Back — On 2/03

Tory Brown grew up in Westport. But the 2009 Staples grad never appreciated her hometown until she headed to Ohio for college. She loved it there — but she longed for the water, and the flexibility of “living in the 203.”

She missed snowboarding in Vermont and the beaches of Cape Cod. She missed New York City, Compo, bagel shops and eating seafood caught the same day.

Her brother Roscoe graduated from Staples last spring. Talking with Tory, he realized he too had taken a lot for granted: paddle-boarding after school, cliff-jumping at Devil’s Den, apple-picking at Silverman’s, and feeling comfortable anywhere in town.

“Everything I’m passionate about, I owe to being raised here,” he says.

Over a year ago, the siblings had an idea. They’d create a lifestyle brand to unite all the towns that make up “the 203.” (That’s our area code. Duh.)

With shirts and windbreakers, Two Oh Three apparel says there's no place like "home."

Two Oh Three’s shirts and windbreakers say there’s no place like “home.”

Together, they created a cool-looking line of clothes — quarter zips, short- and long-sleeve tees, windbreakers and shirts — all with the “203” logo.

But that’s not what this “06880” post is about.

Part of Tory and Roscoe’s mission is to make this entire area “an even better place than it already is.” They planned beach cleanups and town beautification days during the summer.

Now, The Two Oh Three is gearing up for 2/03. (That’s February 3. Duh.)

At 6:30 p.m. they’ll gather on Jesup Green. Together with volunteers (that’s you!), they’ll deliver hand-knitted gloves to folks who need them. Afterward, they’ll walk over to the Gillespie Center to distribute donated food.

Two Oh Three’s 2/03 Community Day caps off a month of giving. Throughout January, Tory and Roscoe encouraged the brand’s fans to tag them on social media. Anyone who tweeted about picking up trash got $1 off their next order. Anyone posting 10 different acts of kindness won a limited-edition “203 Community Day” t-shirt.

Clearly, 203 is batting 1.000.

(For more information — or to get involved — click on the “203 Community Day” website.)

203 logo

 

 

Are You Open?

An “06880” reader wants to know what’s open. If you own, work at or know a business, organization or service — a bank? store? restaurant? the post office? — with its parking lot plowed and lights on, please click “Comments” below.

open sign

Customer Service (Blizzard Edition)

Someone must have told companies that — before a major weather-related calamity — they should email their customers: “We might not be here for you. But we’ll try.”

CL&POur inboxes were stuffed yesterday. CL&P told us they were already bringing in extra line crews. My condo’s management firm said they expected lots of calls, so be patient (and watch out for snow and ice).

Cablevision offered this stop-the-presses piece of advice: “If you lose electrical power to your home, your Optimum services will not work.”

Meanwhile, Frontier — which in just a few short months has accomplished the nearly impossible task of making customers wish they had AT&T back — advised, “Make sure you have food supplies, water, flashlights and a battery powered radio in case you are unable to leave your home.”

Sage advice. Except the email arrived at 9:08 p.m. — long after the snow started, and 8 minutes after Governor Malloy’s travel ban went into effect.

This works in a power outage -- though you'd have to teach your kids how to use it.

This works in a power outage — though you’d have to teach your kids how to use it.

To give Frontier credit, they did offer information that many folks (including non-Frontier customers) might not know: Customers with cordless phones who still have a traditional cordless phone can plug it directly into a wall jack.

Corded phones do not require electricity. They’ll still operate during a power outage.

Of course, by 9:08 p.m. it was too late to buy a corded phone if you didn’t already own one.

But Frontier is Usain Bolt compared to CVS. At 10:03 p.m. last night, they breathlessly emailed me: “Dan, Snow is On The Way! Don’t wait! Get storm essentials & an emergency checklist.”

It was a little late for that. But in a pinch, I could call them on my corded phone.

 

 

Eggs-actly!

Alert “06880” Joe Massoud reports one more reason it’s good to have Bagel Maven back in business:

“Alex was there this morning, happily selling not only bagels and coffee, but also dozens of eggs to customers who told him they were sold out at local supermarkets. A true friend and neighbor!”

Bagel Maven logo

Mersene Moves On To A New “Stage”

Mersene — like Pele or Madonna, she uses just 1 name — is the beloved owner of a funky, 1-of-a-kind shop across from the train station.

There, in 2 overflowing rooms, the incredibly ingenious, amazingly energetic and phenomenally generous Mississippi native whips up gorgeous gift boxes. (Can you tell I love this woman?)

Filled with ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine, the gifts look so lovely recipients hate opening them.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

But Railroad Place is a tough spot to draw in gift box customers. This is Mersene’s 2nd store; 2 years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded her out of Bridge Square.

The 3rd time is the charm for this charming woman. Next month, Mersene moves on to the next stage in her creative career. Working out of her home and barn, she’ll focus on staging.

Parties, events, rooms, tablescapes — whatever you need to showcase warmth and love, Mersene will provide it.

And she’ll do it with her winning Southern smile and style.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or events, or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Mersene is idolized by her customers. Sitting in her overflowing store the other day, our conversation was interrupted by a stream of women singing her praises.

Jill Jaysen called her “a treasure.” Another said she is “a true artist.” A 3rd teared up after learning that Mersene is closing her store.

“I don’t want to lose anyone,” Mersene says. She wants to make sure her customers — “friends,” she corrects me — know that she’ll still help provide unique things for their own friends, relatives and clients.

She’ll still do gift baskets, of course, for individuals and corporations. But she’ll focus more on, say, staging birthday parties: putting together just the right mix of china, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, cake and entertainment.

Another example: Mersene will take a room you feel is “tired,” move some things around, bring in a couple of new pieces, and — voilà! — she’s injected tremendous new energy and life.

Mersene’s style combines elegance with simplicity. For a client’s baby shower, she recommended only some orchids, a cheese platter and a 3-tier tray with petits fours.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

She brings that same creative eye to every staging challenge. She pours the same love and attention into a table or living room as a big charity gala.

As she prepares to close her Indulge by Mersene store, her many fans are sad — but looking forward to her new focus.

“I’ll follow her anywhere,” one says.

Fortunately, Mersene is not going far.

(The 22 Railroad Place store closes at the end of February. For more information on her staging and gift boxes, click here; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

Locusts Attack Trader Joe’s

Alert “06880” reader Ed Paul headed to Trader Joe’s late today.

The pickings were slim.

Trader Joes collage - Ed Paul

Ed says, “it seems that everyone in town will be making omelettes, baking cakes and eating bread over the next few days. Thankfully, there’s still a little milk left to wash down the rest of the food.”