Category Archives: Saugatuck

The Way We Were — And Are (Sequel)

If you’re like most “06880” readers, you enjoyed this morning’s photographic trip down memory lane.

You admired the photos. They jogged memories — or, if you’re a newcomer (or just young), you tried to imagine the Westport of yore.

If you were Mark Potts though, you headed straight to Google Street View.

Mark — a 1974 Staples grad who co-founded, served as editor of, and is a consultant with clients like the Los Angeles TimesVariety and Silicon Valley startups — now lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

But his heart is still here. And one of his many hobbies is taking creating “then and now” images with “06880” photos. (Click here for last October’s shots.)

Today’s batch was tough, he says. A few unusual photo angles could not be duplicated (the Merritt Parkway shot, for example, was taken from the side of the road). And Mark couldn’t figure out where the Post Road import car shop was.

But the rest worked out fairly well. Enjoy his trip back in time — and back to the present.

Then and now 1 - Saugatuck

Then and now 2 - train station

Then and now 3 - train station

Then and now 4 - downtown

Then and now 5 - Merritt Parkway exit 41


The Way We Were

For some reason, people have started emailing me great photos of the Westport of yore.

I know plenty of “06880” readers like them. Longtime residents, expats, even recent arrivals appreciate seeing where what’s changed in our town — and what hasn’t. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge it.)

So, without further ado:

A dealer called simply “Foreign Cars” did business on the Post Road near the Southport line, just past Barker’s (or, as we know it today, Super Stop & Shop).

Foreign cars - 1950s - Post Road
This looks familiar: near the train station. In the 1950s, it was Frank Reber and Charlie Cole’s Imported Cars. This photo, and the one above, came from Hemmings Daily, thanks to David Pettee.

Frank Reber and Charlie Coles Imported Cars

A few years earlier, this was the scene around the corner, at the train station. There’s Black Horse Liquors on the corner. The newsstand was Baer’s.

Train station 1950s - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
Here’s the eastbound view. Both photos are courtesy of Debbie Rosenfield.

Train station 1950s eastbound - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
This 1949 view of downtown comes (as do all the photos below it) from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, via Brian Pettee. Colgan’s Pharmacy was where Tiffany sits today. Across Taylor Place was the trolley-shaped diner. Opposite that — hidden by trees — was the small park behind the old Westport Library. And that car in the middle of the intersection? It was turning onto the Post Road from Main Street, which had 2-way traffic.

Downtown 1948 - copyright Thomas J. Dodd Research Center UConn
Main Street Mobil occupied the current site of Vineyard Vines. In the distance you can see what for many years was Westport Pizzeria.

Main Street Mobil station 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
Back when the Merritt Parkway was for motoring, this was the signage (watch out for those jagged edges!).

Merritt Parkway exit 41 sign - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
And when you came off Exit 41, this is what you saw. Underneath the “Westport” arrow, the sign says “State Police 3 mi.” The barracks were located on the Post Road where Walgreens is now — opposite the diner. Pretty close to I-95 — though in 1949, the “Connecticut Turnpike” had not yet been built.

Merritt Parkway exit 41 - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn

Steam May Evaporate

An urgent email from Steam — the organic coffee bar at the eastbound Westport train station — says they need $3,000 by Tuesday to stay in business.

So they’re throwing a fundraising party tomorrow (Sunday, June 28, 8 a.m. to 3 pm.) at their place.

They’ll offer food samples, coffee cupping (with local brewer Donny Raus), tea tasting, music and yoga.

A coffee bar is a tough business. The location — the “wrong” side of the tracks, in terms of when most people buy their joe — is not easy either.

But Steam has always been very community minded. This may be our chance to give a little something back, to a hard-working local business.

Steam sign

Harvesting Mario’s

Renovation work proceeds at the former Mario’s. This afternoon, the interior looked like this:

Mario's interior

The old facade is still up. But signs in the window call the new restaurant — Harvest — “a fresh take on our lifelong commitment to satisfying meals and loyal guests. Custom cuisine from farm to fork.”

The new spot opens in September.

Mario's exterior

The Last Lobster

Workers on Riverside Avenue are busy turning the former Mansion Clam House into Parker Steaks. That’s bad news for seafood lovers — but good news for diners who miss the mainstay of Mario’s, now closed around the corner.

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

Maxine Bleiweis, Sam Gault: “1st Citizens Of Westport”

One is leaving. Another is staying. And 5 more have fantastic futures ahead.

1st CitizenThis Tuesday (June 9, Westport Inn, 6:30 p.m.), the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce presents First Citizen Awards to Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis (she’s leaving, after turning it into an amazingly lively and innovative place) and Sam Gault (5th-generation president of the company that bears his family’s name; driving force behind Saugatuck’s wonderful rebirth — he’s staying).

The Chamber will also honor 5 “Young Entrepreneurs”: Staples seniors Harry Epstein, Nick Massoud and Scott Pecoriello, and Weston High’s Rebecca Marks and Michael Sitver. They’ll be cited for their efforts in creating “new and intriguing business ventures.”

Scott developed a subscription weather service, a weather app and a general interest blogging platform. Nick owns Top Hat Tutors, employing 22 tutors in a variety of subjects. Michael blogs about emerging technologies, and is a website consultant to businesses.

That makes sense — the Chamber of Commerce is all about supporting local businesses.

So — this also makes sense — Tuesday’s keynote speaker is Ron DeFeo. He’s CEO of Terex Corporation. It’s a local business (in the sense that it’s headquartered here). But it’s also a  $7.1 billion manufacturer of heavy equipment, with over 15,900 employees and 50 manufacturing facilities on 5 continents.

The library. Saugatuck. Construction cranes.

That’s a paragraph that may never have been written before, in the history of the world. But it’s all on tap here this Tuesday — plus catering by Garelick & Herbs.

(For tickets and more information, click here.)

Sam Gault and Maxine Bleiweis.

Sam Gault and Maxine Bleiweis.

“Saugatuck Cures”: The Movie

Saugatuck Cures

I don’t know what’s weirder about “Saugatuck Cures,” a family-friendly comedy set for release on June 30:

  • The name, which won’t resonate with 99.9999999% of American moviegoers (and does not exactly roll off the tongue).
  • The plot: “Drew and his best friend Brett set out on a road trip to pose as ex-gay ministers using exuberant high jinks to scam churchgoers, all in order to raise money for his mother’s experimental cancer treatment.”
  • The only pre-release review I saw (“dynamic … whole-hearted” — Edge). When was the last time you heard a movie described as “whole-hearted”?
  • The fact that it was filmed on location in Saugatuck. Okay, not our Saugatuck. This is the one in Michigan. But still.

There is one Westport connection — kind of. The TV evangelist in “Saugatuck Cures” is played by a guy named Kurtis Bedford.

Bonus fun fact: The film’s budget was $200,000 — the caterer’s rounding error for major films. 

(Hat tip: Dan Lasley)


But wait! That’s not the only Saugatuck Westport/Michigan connection.

Alert “06880” reader Kate Davis finally got around to watching “Still Alice.” In the movie, the daughter of Julianne Moore — a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s — performs at the “Saugatuck Theater.”

Intrigued, Kate googled it — and found a link to a “Red Barn Saugatuck” in Michigan.

Is that a Midwest way of remembering that before the Nisticos’ current restaurant by Exit 41, they owned the Arrow down at Exit 17?

Concours, Of Course

Today’s 1st-ever “Concours d’Caffeine” was a roaring success.

No. there were not a lot of loud engines.

Just plenty of cars — antiques, classics, limited editions, expensive, and very cool ones.

You did not have to be an automotive buff to admire the buffed, shining vehicles. All you needed was an admiring eye, and a cup of coffee as you strolled around the train station.

The Concours was sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, with help from Bill Scheffler, John Shuck, Tim Walsh and Frank Taylor.

Let’s hope it becomes an annual tradition. Maybe one day my 2000 Camry will fit right in.

(NOTE:  Click or hover on any photo to enlarge.)

Little GTO, you're really lookin' fine...

Little GTO, you’re really lookin’ fine…

Like Jaguars today, this 1948 model must have been the envy of many other drivers.

Like Jaguars today, this 1948 model must have been the envy of many other drivers.

This 1915 Trumbull was built in Bridgeport. There were 20 on the Lusitania when it was sunk by the Germans that year. Also on board: Isaac Trumbull, who was traveling to Europe to close a deal. His company went down with the ship.

This 1915 Trumbull was built in Bridgeport. There were 20 on the Lusitania when it was sunk by the Germans. Also on board: Isaac Trumbull, who was traveling to Europe to close a deal. His company went down with the ship.

George Dragone -- of Dragone Classic Motorcars -- loves this 1928 Packard. He says it represents a transition from "boxy, unexciting" cars that preceded it, to "beautifully styled ones"that followed.

George Dragone — of Dragone Classic Motorcars — loves this 1928 Packard. He says it represents a transition from “boxy, unexciting” cars that preceded it, to “beautifully styled ones” that followed.

Only in Westport do 8-year-olds like Max Manchester have their own Escalades.

Only in Westport do 8-year-olds like Max Manchester have their own Escalades.

Two symbols of American automotive power: a Chevrolet (front) and Ford (Mustang Mach 1).

Two symbols of American automotive power: a Chevy and Ford (Mustang Mach 1).

Among the attendees at Concours d'Caffeine: Jim Motovalli, a 1970 Staples graduate and noted car journalist (New York Times, NPR's Car Talk, etc.).

Among the attendees at Concours d’Caffeine: Jim Motovalli, a 1970 Staples graduate and noted New York Times and NPR car journalist.

Most classic cars don't have stickers. The owner of this one has a good sense of humor.

Most classic cars don’t have stickers. The owner of this one has a good sense of humor.

Why can't the railroad station always look like this?

Why can’t the railroad station always look like this?


Concours d’Caffeine Cruises Into Saugatuck Sunday

Two weeks ago, the train station was filled with electric vehicles. A road rally highlighted what proponents hope is the automotive wave of the future.

This Sunday (May 17, 8-11 a.m.), the station’s parking lots will again be filled with cars and their admirers. This time though, the focus is on the past.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a “Concours d’Caffeine.” It’s a morning to admire cars, in a relaxed, non-traffic-filled setting.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

A Toquet touring car from 1905.

But the press release announcing the event buried the lead. Near the end, it said that Railroad Place will feature an exhibit of “Connecticut’s significant role” in US automotive history — “as well as the role Saugatuck played” in it.

In 1905, Saugatuck-based Toquet Motor Car and Construction Company built 5-seater touring cars. Who knew Westport once coulda been Detroit?

A dozen classic vehicles designed or manufactured in Connecticut will be on display. They include “the classic Pope Hartford, the exciting Bridgeport Locomobiles, classic Trumbulls (and) the more recent Fitch Phoenix and Sprint.”

Plus — here’s another buried gem — “the Cunningham C3, designed by Briggs Cunningham, a race car driver and sportsman from Westport.”

Briggs Cunningham's 1953 C-3 Cabriolet.

Briggs Cunningham’s 1953 C-3 Cabriolet. (Photo/Dan Savinelli)

Briggs Cunningham was, of course, much more than that. He skippered the victorious yacht Columbia in the 1958 America’s Cup race; he invented an eponymous device (the Cunningham) to increase the speed of racing sailboats — and he competed in the 24-hour race at Le Mans. To read more about him, click here.

But wait! There’s another buried lead! Also on display is a 720-horse Trans Am Camaro driven by Westport’s famous race car driver/actor/salad dressing purveyor, Paul Newman.

Paul Newman's race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Paul Newman’s race car will be displayed on Railroad Place.

Next to it will be a Volvo wagon (with a 405-horse Corvette engine). Newman built it himself, so he could grab groceries unnoticed (but with plenty of power).

The Concours d’Caffeine is the brainchild of Bill Scheffler, John Shuck, Tim Walsh and Frank Taylor. They organized its predecessor, the Concours d’Elegance, held at the Fairfield County Hunt Club.

CdC-logo-rgbEveryone is invited to bring their own cars. When the event is over, many participants will set out on a rally around Fairfield County, ending in Redding.

Gentlemen, start your (non-electric) engines!

(To learn more about the Concours d’Caffeine, click here.)

Despite Closing, There’s Plenty Cooking At Mario’s

When Mario’s closed last month, hundreds of loyal customers lost a lot: A favorite restaurant. A meeting place. Tradition.

Over 50 employees lost something much harder to replace: Their jobs.

The story of how that happened is coming out now. It’s not pretty.

A former employee emailed me some details. Others who worked at Mario’s agreed with what the worker said.

Mario's, the day after closing. (Photo/Gene Borio)

Mario’s, the day after closing. (Photo/Gene Borio)

According to the email, on April 16 — 12 days after the restaurant served its last meal — a handful of employees were invited to meet new owner Vincente Siguenza to talk about employment. The meeting was set for 9 to 11 a.m.

“The place was cold and dark, with no heat,” the email says. Siguenza did not appear. The former employees thought it might have been a test of their interest.

He finally arrived at 11. “He casually walked into the side room, where everyone was sitting anxiously. It was almost like the first day of school, meeting your new teacher,” the email says.

The meeting lasted 15 minutes. “He stated (while looking at his phone the entire time) he did not know what they were going to do in regards to staying closed or reopening. In so many words, he stated that if they go forward with Harvest” — the new restaurant in the old place — “no Mario’s employees would be hired.”

Dinner was packed, before Mario's closed.

Dinner was packed, before Mario’s closed.

Siguenza told employees to leave their resumes. Only one person had one. “In this business, with the longevity most of us have, it’s word of mouth,” the email writer notes. “One person stood up and said, ’35 years at Mario’s is my resume.'”

Two longtime employees “stormed out,” the email writer says. Siguenza “had the rest stand in line like cattle to sign our names and contact info on the back of the one resume.” Two days later, the writer says, the resume still sat there.

“Many of these employees supported their entire family on their earnings from Mario’s,” the email says.

After that meeting, the writer adds, “the remaining employees huddled outside on the sidewalk, and hugged and cried.”

Three employees have since found work at 323 Restaurant. The others have not been so fortunate.

I called Siguenza this afternoon, to get his side of the story. He began by saying, “I’m not ready to open up. I’m still looking at getting the building into compliance.” He had been hoping to reopen — with the name Mario’s — around Mother’s Day. After 5 or 6 months, Mario’s will transition into Harvest Wine Bar –similar to Siguenza’s restaurant of the same name in Greenwich. Harvest offers modern American custom cuisine with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences, plus an extensive wine list.

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich. (Photo collage/

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant in Greenwich. (Photo collage/

“I have no employees yet,” he said.

I asked directly: “Will you hire any former employees?”

“I don’t know if I can hire any of them,” he said. Then he paused.

“Probably not.”

Why not?

“No specific reason,” he said. “I have to put the new staff through training at my other restaurants.”

I asked again: If he’s reopening as Mario’s, why not hire Mario’s staff?

“It’s not that I don’t want them. I’d never say that,” Siguenza said.

“But this is Mario’s in name only. It’s not the same service or menu or wine list. It’s completely different. The only thing remaining is the name.”

He added, “The kitchen staff before was used to one style of cooking. This is completely different. They need a new type of training.”

Mario's matchesSo why is he reopening as Mario’s — but not Mario’s, really — and then closing after a few months to renovate, before reopening once again as Harvest?

“It will take a while to get all the approvals” for Harvest from Planning & Zoning, the Building Department and others, he said. He plans to work on the paperwork now, while operating as Mario’s. Once his permits are in hand, he’ll begin renovations.

Former employees plan a rally — with, they hope, “many loyal customers” — on opening day of the “New Mario’s.”