Category Archives: Local business

Little Beet Grows In Westport

Ongoing construction has made the Fresh Market shopping center a bit grotty.

But it won’t last forever. And when the work is done, a new fast-casual eatery will join current tenants like Colonial Druggists, Dan’s Liquors and Orangetheory Fitness.

The Little Beet opens this summer.

According to its website, the 5-year-old chain offers “wholesome, healthy food that not only tastes great, but makes you feel great.” Food is “carefully sourced … from farmers and purveyors we trust, guaranteeing all of our food is gluten-free and better for you.”

There are a dozen Little Beets already, in New York, Westchester, Long Island, Washington DC, Virginia and Florida.

The menu includes make-your-own rice and quinoa-based meals, poké and other bowls, vegetable sides, and breakfast sandwiches, parfaits and oatmeal.

The Little Beet Grain Bowls

A little bit of the Little Beet menu.

And if you don’t like it, there’s Dunkin’ Donuts across the street.

FUN FACT: The Fresh Market shopping center is actually called The Village Center. That’s as little known as the official name of the Sherwood Island Connector: State Route 476.

(Hat tip: Neil Markman)

Fairway’s Woes Began In Westport

Fairway is a beloved institution in New York.

But yesterday the 14-store supermarket chain filed for bankruptcy. According to the New York Times, a Westport company is to blame. The newspaper says: 

The origins of Fairway’s struggles date to 2007, when the company sold an 80 percent stake to Sterling Investment Partners, a private equity firm based in Westport, Conn., for $150 million, including $71 million in debt on the company’s balance sheet. Under Sterling, the company expanded into new markets, opening stores in New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island.

Sterling Investment Partners’ office is in this Riverside Avenue building.

That expansion plan became more aggressive after 2013, when the company had an initial public offering of stock at $13 per share. At the time, Fairway executives extolled the company’s unmatched sales of $1,754 per square foot.

But Fairway’s success in New York — which was largely driven by its two stores on the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, both high-income locations — could not be replicated elsewhere.

“This is another insidious example of private equity killing a business,” said (Mark) Cohen, the (director of retail studies at Columbia Business School). “These guys caused them to open stores that maybe were completely ill-advised.”

The rapid growth brought new challenges for a company that had never managed a regional chain, which required a reliable roster of suppliers and complicated logistics to stock stores with perishables, the main revenue driver at Fairway, before they spoiled….

The expansion failed to generate enough sales to pay down Fairway’s debt. Searching for new revenue, it slowly implemented a new pricing model: Long known for value, Fairway raised prices.

Despite filing for bankruptcy in 2016, there were no real changes — no renogotiated store leases or union contracts, no evaluation of stores. In addition, legal fees at more than $1,000 per hour mounted. Sterling then “walked away from Fairway,” The Times said, adding:

M. William Macey Jr., managing partner and founder of Sterling Investment Partners, said in a statement that the private equity group invested in Fairway “to provide liquidity sought by the family owners, and to support their and management’s objective to expand Fairway’s platform.”

Sterling, he said, assisted Fairway “through a consensual reorganization supported by the company’s management, owners and creditors in which all employees, including union employees, were retained, all vendors were fully paid, all stores remained open and the company was left well capitalized under its new owners.”

Sterling “had no involvement” with Fairway after its 2016 reorganization, Mr. Macey said.

(For the full New York Times story, click here.)

Cold Fusion Comes To Westport

About 3 years ago, Eric Emmert and his wife Kelly got the entrepreneurial itch.

He was commuting from Westport to New York, where he traded high-yield bonds. She worked in sales and marketing.

They looked at various options, including a medical supply company. Meh.

Then they found a gelato business. Bingo!

“Everyone loves the ice cream guy,” Eric notes.

Eric and Kelly Emmert, and their gelato.

At the end of 2016, the couple bought Cold Fusion. The Massachusetts-based firm makes and distributes gelato and sorbet — all by hand, using all-natural, locally sourced ingredients. There’s a line of vegan sorbets, and every item is kosher-certified.

The website explains: “The result of all of this love and dedication is a silky, cool, uplifting fusion of flavor.” (Eric’s favorite: salted caramel chunk.)

A Cold Fusion sampling.

“Gelato is healthier than ice cream,” Eric says. “There’s less fat and fewer calories. And the taste lingers more.”

Sure, it’s a great, fun product. But the couple did not sit around smacking their lips. They restructured Cold Fusion, and grew it.

Working with a new distributor, they’re marketing Cold Fusion up and down the East Coast. You can find it here at Mystic Market and Rizzuto’s; it’s also sold at Walrus + Carpenter restaurant in Bridgeport, and other restaurants around Hartford and Providence. There’s a retail store in Newport, Rhode Island.

The factory is in Massachusetts. Eric and Kelly hope to move the facility closer to home. “I’ve looked at half the vacant spaces in town,” he says.

In their 13 years in Westport, raising 2 daughters here, both have sunk roots into the community. Eric has coached basketball and softball, and been an age-group commissioner. Kelly has coached basketball and volleyball, been a Girl Scout leader, and a member of the Westport Young Woman’s League.

The owners donate Cold Fusion products to local functions, like Homes with Hope’s White Party, the Staples High School PTA holiday lunch and Kings Highway Elementary School’s 5th grade moving-up ceremony.

Gelato is now Eric’s full-time business. Kelly continues in her corporate job, but adds her marketing acumen to Cold Fusion.

The Emmerts are so excited for future growth, they can almost taste it.

Something they might not be able to say if they’d bought that medical supply company, instead of this one 3 years ago.

Congrats, Gaetano’s!

Countless Westporters — including scores of Staples students — know that Gaetano’s is a great deli.

Now the rest of America knows it too.

The Post Road East place — it’s in a basic mini-strip mall diagonally across from Stop & Shop — has just been named the Best Deli in Connecticut, by the Food Network.

The Westport location shares the honor with 2 other Gaetano’s, in Stratford and Monroe.

The Food Network says:

Here’s a NYC insider tip: Manhattan’s Little Italy may draw the tourists, but locals head instead to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

It was there that the owners of Gaetano’s Deli got their start. Guy Catalano and Milanno Ukehaxhaj worked together at the famous Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue before bringing their own Italian-style delicatessen to Stratford, Connecticut, more than 2 decades ago.

The pair have since expanded their operation into 3 locations to keep up with local demand for Gaetano’s mix of Italian grocery items (including housemade mozzarella) and stuffed breads crammed with pepperoni and cheese, eggplant parm and the like.

The Food Network used this photo to illustrate Gaetano’s great menu.

The selection of panini alone takes up nearly an entire page of the menu, with more than 20 different ways to fill the grilled sandwiches. Each one starts with Italian bread picked up daily from Addeo’s Bakery in the Bronx, which is then piled high with classic deli meats.

Options include bresaola (cured filet mignon), Oldani salami and plenty of Boar’s Head varieties.

If you haven’t tried Gaetano’s yet, that should whet your appetite.

If you need even more, here’s a link to their mouth-watering menu.

Tell ’em the Food Network sent you.

(Click here for the full Food Network story, with all 50 Best Deli in the State selections. Hat tip: Frank Rosen.)

Unsung Hero #132

It might sound strange to call Bill Mitchell an Unsung Hero.

The public face of Mitchells of Westport — son of founders Ed and Norma, brother of Jack, father and uncle of the 3rd generation to lead 8 upscale men’s and women’s stores, on the East and West Coasts — his generosity is boundless.

He and the entire Mitchell family open their stores, their checkbooks and their hearts to a breathtaking variety of organizations and causes. Very quietly too, they help countless individuals, in any kind of need.

They’ve been honored often (though not enough) for all they do. But this Saturday (January 25, 6:30 p.m.), a special event will be particularly meaningful.

The Conservative Synagogue of Westport holds a “funraiser” — and Bill Mitchell is the guest of honor.

Bill Mitchell

The reason dates back 25 years. Founders were trying to get permission to build a synagogue on Hillspoint Road. Though near the Post Road, the zoning was residential. Some neighbors opposed the plan.

Unsolicited, Bill stood up at several meetings. He’s not Jewish — his family has long been associated with the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and he’s a longtime supporter of various Catholic charities — but he talked about the importance of the synagogue.

After he spoke, the Planning & Zoning Commission passed the proposal. Unanimously.

Bill’s support of The Conservative Synagogue did not stop there. On the High Holidays, he opens Mitchells’ parking lot to congregants.

He and Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn have become great friends. It’s a good bet that when the rabbi offers “mazel tov” on Saturday, Bill will not be at a loss for words.

In Hebrew.

Papyrus Folds

Main Street’s latest casualty is Papyrus.

An “Everything Must Go” sign hangs in the store window. As first reported on WestportNow, all stores in the chain are being liquidated.

Papyrus sold greeting cards, wrapping paper, planners, ornaments, wooden music boxes, snow globes and the like.

No date has been set for the closing.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

Pic Of The Day #1008

In front of a Post Road West art gallery: a banana duct-taped to a utility pole. Art? Or a snack “hidden” by a hungry runner? Something else? (Photo/Kirsten Woods)

Friday Flashback #176

The Post Road sure has changed in the century or so since this photo was taken.

Yet 100 years or so later, much of it still looks familiar.

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In this west-looking view — provided by alert reader/amateur historian Mary Gai — we see the road median, beginning about where the new retail/ residential/office complex is at the foot of Long Lots Road.

Further along on the right is the current site of New Country Toyota, and other buildings that still remain.

At the crest of the hill, on the south (left) is Sakura’s predecessor. Cumberland Farms, Calise’s, a lumber store, small shopping center, Citgo and more have taken over the rest of that side — but the topography is the same. It’s easy to visualize what the Post Road (State Street/US 1) looked like then.

It’s much harder to imagine the almost total lack of traffic.

Unsung Heroes #131

The other day, Saugatuck Rowing Club marketing director Diana Kuen noticed there are a lot of kids in the youth program — but very few teachers.

She figured one reason might be cost.

That’s an easy solve. So now the Riverside Avenue facility — which includes a state-of-the-art fitness center — offers half-price off memberships.

But Kuen did not stop there. She realized there are other town employees to honor too. So the Saugatuck Rowing Club offer is extended to Westport police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.

Best of all: This is not a one-shot, take-advantage-of-the-January-slump kind of deal. It’s good all the time, all year long.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club wins plenty of trophies on the water. Now they’re winners on land too.

Saugatuck Rowing Club (Drone photo/Ward French)