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Steam Heats Up Saugatuck Station

When it comes to naming a new business, it doesn’t get better than “Steam.”

That’s the coffee shop that opened last Friday at the Saugatuck train station (eastbound side).

Steam conjures up images of frothing milk. Locomotives that chugged through decades ago.

And, says co-owner Briana Pennell, it’s got the word “tea” smack in the middle.

Steam co-owner Briana pours a steaming hot coffee.

The name came to her as soon as she saw the town’s Request For Proposal a few months ago. Westport officials needed someone to run the concession at one or both stations.

Briana — who worked at Great Cakes while a student at Weston High, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (concentrating on baking and pastries), and went on to top restaurants like Rebeccas in Greenwich — had wanted her own place for years.

She and her step-brother, Chris Barrett, won the bid. Working in restaurants paid his way through the University of Connecticut (business major). He moved on to the Melting Pot in Darien, Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and other noted spots.

“He’s great with people,” Briana says. At the Green’s Farms station — where Steam opened last July — “he remembers everyone’s name. It’s crazy from 5 a.m. to 9, but he’s on top of everything.”

The Green’s Farms Steam has earned a reputation for great coffee, and top customer service. If you’re running for the train — hey, pay us tomorrow!

Dkey Oster entertains commuters at Steam.

Yesterday, Briana and her boyfriend — musician Dkey Oster — talked about their new venture. Briana loves the big kitchen, where she bakes sugar-free muffins, and other gluten-free and vegan “power foods.” She uses olive oil and grapeseed oil, and organic sugar.

She’s brought in local vendors like Doc’s Maple Syrup, Wave Hill Bread and Grassroots organic food.

She, Dkey and Chris are in the process of finding out what Westport commuters want. Sandwiches and soups are high on the list.

Right now, Steam is open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The hours might be extended — previous concessionaire Lili served dinners to go, a great idea. Briana also heard about Lili’s croissants, so she did a blind tasting to figure out which ones to serve. Wave Hill won, hands down.

The town — led by deputy police chief and head of railroad operations Foti Koskinas, and chief Dale Call — deserve a huge hand for their loving restoration of the 1890 building. Restorer Bill Dohme used as much original wood as possible. There’s a 19th century-style wood floor, while Chris himself restored the tables.

A handsome plaque fits perfectly with the restored interior. The 2nd line refers to the “NYNH&HRR” — the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

But this is the 21st century. Thanks to Steve Smith and Leo Cirnio, the entire building is solar-powered — from the coffee pots to the cell phone chargers — and parking spots outside are reserved for electric vehicles.  (Parking is an issue — welcome to Westport. Three spots are reserved for Steam customers, and parallel parking lines may be painted soon in front.)

Oh, yeah. A flat-screen TV shows the Green’s Farms station, so customers can know when a train is coming. And the Wi-Fi is free.

Briana, Chris and Dkey want to make the space available after hours, for art exhibits, music shows, whatever. The Electric Car Club has already held a meeting there.

Briana is excited about every part of Steam — even the grotty tunnel to the westbound platform. It’s going to be redone, she says, and the Westport Arts Center plans a cool exhibit of Westport now-and-then photos.

She says, proudly, that “since the day we opened, people keep coming in wishing us luck.”

In fact, Westport is lucky to have Briana, Chris, Dkey — and the superbly named Steam — now in 2 great locations.

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