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Hook’d: The Back Story

The controversy over Hook’d’s management of the Compo Beach and Longshore concession stands, and the golf course halfway house, is not half-baked.

I’m old enough to remember when the contract came up for approval, way back in the spring of 2020.

A few months earlier, Joey Romeo and the town had ben unable to agree on terms of the lease for the food service he’d run at Compo for over 30 years, plus the 2 Longshore operations. (Click here for the first “06880” story; click here for Joey’s statement to his customers.)

Joey Romeo, in a typical pose.

On March 31, 2020, I posted a story about the upcoming approval of a new concessionaire: Upsilon Entertainment Group of Larchmont, New York (click here to read).

The piece drew 33 comments. Readers wondered about the bid process, and the decision not to choose a local vendor. Both King’s Kitchen and Norwalk’s Sunset Grille — connected to Westport via ownership of Jr’s Deli — were interested, but not considered.

The money quote came from Jay Walshon. He wrote:

A modicum of internet “research” finds that Upsilon Entertainment Group, registered in 2017, is “Permanently Closed”. Principal is Itai Shoffman. Address is 4 Durham Rd, Larchmont, NY.

Upsilon Ventures, Principal is also Itai Shoffman, registered address 4 Durham Rd, Larchmont, NY, is also “Permanently Closed”.

Real estate usage and event management. No evidence of retail restaurant experience, restaurant history, food reviews, menu, pricing, financials, etc.

4 Durham Rd, Larchmont appears to be a family colonial home rather than being a corporate building or established business entity.

The word on the street is that this company was chosen over local ones because this Larchmont company offered the Town more money for the concession contract – perhaps even $25,000 more. Tried and true local restauranteurs with proven track records may have been turned down on this basis….

This concession is no small thing. Compo is arguably Westport’s most precious crown jewel, beloved and utilized by virtually every Westport resident, parent and their children. If we are to be hostage to this singular provider, WE should make that decision.

For so long we have incessantly heard business leaders admonish us to support local, buy local, choose local. Here we have a major opportunity to do just that and instead we look to Larchmont NY??? Really?

The shuttered beach concession. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Three weeks later, Upsilon passed muster by the Planning & Zoning Commission (acting in its land use capacity) as the concessionaire. (Click here for the full story.) I wrote:

(Parks & Recreation Department director Jen) Fava said that 3 groups were interviewed by a committee of representatives from the RTM, Parks & Rec Department, Parks & Rec Commission, and Department of Public Works.

They selected Upsilon for a variety of reasons. One was (that it offered the) highest fees (which top out at $120,000 a year or 12% of gross revenues, whichever is higher, in the final year of the 5-year contract). An opt-in clause covers 2 additional 5-year terms.

Fava said the committee was enthusiastic about Upsilon’s previous experience, which included operations at New York’s Bryant Park, Prospect Park and Hudson River Park.

The menu would include “typical beach food,” plus “healthier options like smoothies and salads.” They would offer special food nights, like Italian cuisine, and events like cheese tastings.

The company will use biodegradable packaging, and will compost materials. They committed to hire local staffs, and sell Connecticut-based products.

“They’re very professional,” the Parks & Rec director said. “They want to be partners with us, and involved in the community.”

The Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen later okayed the contract.

Westporters waited eagerly for the concession stand’s return.

There were 23 comments on that April 24, 2020 story. Added to questions about the bid process and lack of a local vendor were concerns about the menu and promises made.

Peter Blau revisited the worries about the operators themselves:

It’s worth looking at the company’s website, as well. They are not a restaurant or food service company, but a “Project development, marketing, hospitality, and production firm specializing in public-private partnerships and the use of public spaces and real estate for iconic attractions, sponsor activations, events, consumer engagement, temporary retail, and other revenue generating opportunities.”

In other words, they specialize in making deals with deep pocket entities, no doubt with a very sophisticated marketing pitch, but when it comes to making the burgers, they hire that out to someone else.

How it’s possible to get a better deal by hiring an event marketing company as the middleman between the town and the actual food service escapes me.

2020 was a tough year for any business — especially a new one. COVID had just hit, when the contract was signed. With fears about indoor dining high, the concession stand did not open; instead, a food truck late in the summer served a limited crowd of beach-goers.

Hook’d finally opened last May.

The rest is history.

Employees posed in May 2021, ready to serve. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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