Category Archives: Saugatuck

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/CTBites.com)

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

“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.”

Image

And This Was BEFORE Going Into The Bar

Black Duck parking

Mersene: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For over 60 years, Silver’s was Westport’s best-known go-to store for gifts.

For the last 3 or 4 years, Indulge by Mersene was Saugatuck’s less-known, but equally beloved, spot for funky, 1-of-a-kind gifts.

This winter, Silver’s closed. Mersene planned to shut her doors too. Westporters had no idea where they could now find a friendly owner with the knack for suggesting the absolutely perfect present.

Mersene's special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

Mersene’s special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

To the delight of her rabid — and quickly growing — fans, Mersene is still open. The  incredibly ingenious, phenomenally generous Mississippi native has downsized, moving from 2 overflowing rooms to 1. But she’s still across from the railroad station. She’s still as energetic and creative as ever.

Now, as spring brings Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduations — to go along with timeless events like weddings, bridal and baby showers, and Sweet 16s  — she is excited to fill Westport’s niche as the destination for how-did-you-ever-think-of-that?! gifts. (And — her specialty — gift baskets.)

She’s still on Railroad Place, because her customers could not stand the thought of her closing. They helped her figure out how to stay. And they’ve helped her add another wonderful niche: corporate gifts.

The other day, Mersene was busy filling baskets for a major Stamford corporation’s Administrative Professionals Day celebration. She was also preparing a Kentucky Derby-themed event for another big company.

As she selected wrapped items together with an ease Martha Stewart could only dream of, she mentioned other projects. For Mother’s Day, she’s designed special trays. They’ll include flowers, the Sunday paper, breakfast from Commuter Coffee Company — everything a mom could love.

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

(Here’s something else a mom — or anyone else — could love: pillows that say “06880.” Or “Westport.” Or monogrammed and/or custom-colored with anything else you can think of, from “Nantucket” to your alma mater.)

“It’s all about the packaging,” Mersene says, of her talent for pairing the exact right gifts with the perfect basket.

Anyone who steps into her shop for the first time recognizes that talent. She is the Lionel Messi of gifts — with even more grace than the famed soccer star. What other store owner happily delivers — and makes house calls?

Mersene’s renaissance has been aided by loyal customers, who help her manage the business side. She’s still not expensive — “I price things to sell,” she says — and she’ll still tell someone, “No, don’t buy that. I’m getting a better item next week.”

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Which is why the “reinvention” of Indulge by Mersene is such good news.

Many people already know her. When a Los Angeles architect visited his sister here, he asked her for “the coolest place in Westport.” She took him to the little shop near the railroad station. He stayed for over an hour, fascinated.

And he still hadn’t seen half of Mersene’s presents, or how beautifully she presents them.

(Mersene ships her gifts — and delivers in the area. She also stages homes and galas. To learn more, click here; like “Indulge by Mersene” on Facebook; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

Searching For St. Anthony

It’s one thing to lose a fountain.

It’s another thing entirely to lose a saint.

St. Anthony — the symbol of Saugatuck and, ironically, the patron saint of finding things or lost people — is gone.

For decades St. Anthony’s Hall was the social heart of that strong Italian neighborhood. Located at 37 Franklin Street — the once-vibrant one-way road connecting Charles Street with Saugatuck Avenue, now overshadowed by I-95 high above — the meeting place of the St. Anthony’s Society was the go-to place for weddings, anniversaries, and all kinds of other gatherings.

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street. (Photos/Google Maps)

The former St. Anthony Hall on Franklin Street. (Photos/Google Maps)

And for decades, a statue of St. Anthony watched over Saugatuck, from an honored alcove above the front door.

St. Anthony, in the alcove.

St. Anthony, in the alcove.

The photos above are from last August.

But now, St. Anthony is gone.

Robert Mitchell noticed the missing saint the other day. He leads walking tours of Saugatuck for the Westport Historical Society (the next one is Saturday, April 18).

He was surprised to see it gone. So were many other Westporters.

Thanks to Cathy Romano, who works at Assumption Church — more on that later — I learned that Chris Anderson bought the former St. Anthony’s Hall building last July, for $1.2 million.

Chris has lived in Westport for 14 years. His wife is Italian. As he began renovating 37 Franklin Street for his business — In-Store Experience, a design and advertising firm — he planned to save the statue.

37 Franklin Street, after renovations.

37 Franklin Street, after renovations.

But when the contractor went to remove it, Chris said, “it disintegrated.” It was too old, and had just sat there — in the alcove — since God knows when.

The contractor knew what the statue meant to Chris. He gave him a replica of it.

And Chris knows what the statue — and all of St. Anthony’s Hall — meant to Saugatuck.

He plans to display a plaque honoring the site in his lobby. He’d like photos too. But he doesn’t know how to get them.

That’s where “06880” comes in. If you’ve got pictures — or any other memorabilia — from St. Anthony’s Hall, or the annual Feast, email canderson@instoreexperience.com.

I can’t speak for Chris. But it can’t hurt to send anything from the entire area, right?

This photo of Franklin Street might be good for the new lobby. It shows the original Arrow restaurant. The restaurant got its name from the "arrow" shape of the Saugatuck Avenue/Franklin Street intersection.

This photo of the original Arrow Restaurant might work in the new lobby. The name came from the “arrow” shape of the Franklin Street/Saugatuck Avenue intersection.

PS: About Assumption.

One of the great traditions of St. Anthony’s Hall was an annual feast. Before it died out in the 1950s — around the time the highway came through — there were games, food, and a parade during which a statue of St. Anthony was carried down the street.*

You can still see that statue. It was donated to Assumption Church. Today it sits proudly inside the church.

(Hat tip: Loretta Hallock)

*In 1984, the Feast of St. Anthony was resurrected as Festival Italiano. It thrived for 27 years, until 2011.

St. Anthony's statue, just inside the back entrance of Assumption Church.

St. Anthony’s statue, just inside the back entrance of Assumption Church.

And So It Goes

The post-Mario’s era begins:

(Photo/Gene Borio)

(Photo/Gene Borio)

Final Message From Mario’s: Final Day Is Saturday

Mario’s owner Lori Kosut writes:

Our last night will be this Saturday.

It’s bittersweet for our family, but it’s time to turn the page. We are so grateful to our loyal staff and customers, and of course “06880” readers. Thanks for your support!

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

You Can Still Get Your Steaks At Mario’s

With all the hubbub over the closing of Mario’s, owner-for-at-least-a-little-while-longer Lori Kosut wants her thousands of loyal customers to know: The popular Saugatuck restaurant is definitely still open for business. Not one item on the menu has changed.

When there is a solid date of transfer, “06880” will have all the details.

So, mangia!

Except for Easter. They’re closed this Sunday.

The sun is setting on Mario's. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

The sun is setting on Mario’s. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

More Winners Ahead In Railroad Parking Game

Last week, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a change to the railroad parking permit process. From now on, anyone added to the wait list will pay a $35 fee (one time — not annually, as reported in the Westport News).

Of that fee, $15 is kept by the town. The other $20 goes to the company managing the online system.

Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman wondered why the vendor gets more than we do.

Foti Koskinas — the deputy police chief who also serves as director of railroad operations — was happy to explain.

The town’s portion will go toward capital repairs needed at Westport’s 2 stations. Each is projected at more than $1 million — for infrastructure, drainage and the like.

The $20 collected by the online provider goes to programming, maintaining and updating the database.

train station parkingKoskinas stressed that the fee will be assessed only to newcomers joining the wait list. The 1650 folks already on it — now maintained on an Excel spreadsheet — will not be charged. They’ll be processed at no cost.

Koskinas says Westport will be the only town in the area where residents can access the list, see exactly where they stand, and add or remove names. Those on the wait list will also receive 2 or 3 email notifications each year, showing how far they’ve moved up.

Yes, “each year.” The current wait is close to half a decade.

But the process will be much smoother now, Koskinas says — and quicker. Now, when notices are sent out that a permit is ready, the response rate is low.

That will end soon. It’s your — or someone’s — $35 at work.