Category Archives: Local business

Sherpa’s Solstice Ride: Westport To Montreal, By Bike

Over the past few years, I’ve written several stories about Sherpa.

The Post Road running, cycling and triathlon training center has been involved in some remarkable events.

In 2017, one of their coaches — Matt Pedersen — raced 238.3 miles through the Utah desert, at an elevation of 10,500 feet. It took him just over 4 days.

Jean Paul Desrosiers

Three years earlier, Sherpa owner Jean Paul Desrosiers competed in the Marathon des Sables — “the toughest footrace on earth,” according to the Discovery Channel.

He ran — no, raced — 156 miles in 5 days. That’s the equivalent of 6 marathons. He did it across 10-story-high sand dunes, in temperature reaching 130 degrees — while carrying all his food and a sleeping bag on his back.

Last weekend, Sherpa sponsored another event. It was more accessible to normal people — that is, anyone who is not Jean Paul Desrosiers or Matt Pedersen.

Still, it was no walk in the park.

In fact, it was a bike ride: 410 miles, from Westport to Montreal.

In 3 days.

The idea began a couple of years ago, when Desrosiers took part in the Coast Ride: a 400-mile cycling adventure from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.

It was a long distance. It was tough. But it was doable, and gratifying.

There is nothing like it on the East Coast. So Desrosiers drew a circle with a 400-mile radius from Westport. Montreal was at the edge.

It’s a great city. It’s in another country. It’s perfect, Desrosiers thought.

It’s about 410 miles from Westport to Montreal. — by bike. You can’t take I-87 or I-91.

A ride like this, he says, is “a great way to push yourself, without the competitiveness of a race. It’s something to tell friends and colleagues: ‘I rode my bike from Connecticut to Canada.”

He did a beta test last year. Nine local riders began. Seven finished. They loved it.

He tweaked the course a tiny bit. It wound from Route 58 north, through western Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, then across Lake Champlain into New York state, and finally Quebec.

This year, Desrosiers marketed the “Solstice Ride” more broadly. Twenty-one riders signed up. They came from Westport (Desrosiers and John Daut), the rest of Fairfield County, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Two were originally from China. There was a Brit, now living in Greenwich. Three were women. Their ages ranged from 20 to 60s. Some had done long bike trips before. Some had not.

Most of the riders had never met each other. It was quite a crew.

A rainy start to the Solstice Ride.

A ride like this is both a group effort, and an individual one. Each person must push through personal pain and issues. But they must also function together — supporting each other, working as a team, not dragging anyone down.

They left Westport last Friday, in pouring rain. One rider cramped in the first 10 miles, and turned around. But the rain stopped, they made their first-day goal, and celebrated with a bit of yoga.

“It’s not easy for strangers to ride together,” Desrosiers notes. Yet by Day 2 all had found someone they felt comfortable riding with. It was an organic process — and one they needed.

One view of the ride …

The second day was the toughest. The sun shone, but a constant 20- to 30-mile-an-hour headwind made going tough. Teamwork was crucial; everyone took turns leading the way, into the wind.

Day 2 also included 8 miles of gravel roads, in Vermont.

… and another.

Day 3 began with a long climb up the Green Mountain’s Appalachian Gap.

But after that it was nearly all downhill: 130 miles to the Canada border, and on into Montreal. It was easy for the entire group to stay together.

Nous sommes arrives!

Of the 21 who began the Solstice Ride, only 3 did not finish.

One — amazingly — was Desrosiers.

With 40 miles to go, his bike had a flat that could not be fixed. The support van was already far ahead.

Suddenly, a driver stopped. He lived nearby. But when he heard the story, he offered Desrosiers a ride all the way to the end.

The leader had not finished. But he felt just as joyful as his 20 fellow riders.

Desrosiers is already planning Solstice Ride 2020. He’s booked the return bus, from Montreal to Westport.

He’s looking at new tires too.

Music On Main Street

Annette Norton has a full-time job. She owns Savvy + Grace, the fun, funky gifts-and-more store underneath Tavern on Main.

But she spends plenty of time on a related project: bringing excitement back to all of Main Street.

Last month she brought an outdoor market to the parking lot behind her place. It rained — but the vendors and shoppers had a blast.

Madelyn Spera

Tomorrow, she’s arranged for live music out in front. Madelyn Spera is a young singer-songwriter who plays piano and guitar, acts in musical theater, and — though just a rising Staples High School freshman — has already performed at New York’s Bitter End.

She’ll be on Main Street from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Annette is working with the Youth Arts Forum — of which Madelyn is a member — to bring young talent downtown every Saturday.

Her landlord — Phil Teuscher — is very supportive. Like Annette, he understands the importance of fun — and music — on Main Street.

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowering Dishes

As debate over US immigration policy rages, the focus is on Central American refugees arriving at the Southwest border.

But many other refugees seek asylum here too. In 2017, “06880” highlighted Ratatouille and Company.

That’s the upscale, Westport-based catering company. They train women to become high-level chefs and catering wizards.

And they do it with a strong social mission. They work with women from all backgrounds, but they’re particularly proud of their refugees and immigrant women.

A quick break, before a big catering job.

Ratatouille empowers them, offering cooking, presentation and management skills, along with opportunities and encouragement.

But the women give back plenty in return. They share local recipes and inspire co-workers, clients, and anyone else fortunate enough to enjoy their mouth-watering meals.

Since that “06880” story 2 years ago, Ratatouille has trained over 30 women in culinary arts. They gain both front and back of the house experience, and learn to collaborate with fellow team members.

Concentrating on great food — and perfect presentation.

“It’s a great skill set — a lot more than dishwashers and waitresses,” says co-founder and Westporter Evelyn Isaia.

“We put on events in places these women would never have access to. And they appreciate all those opportunities.” Two women have already gone on to work for the Jean-Georges Group.

An immigrant from Vietnam is typical. Her life is hard. But she is showcasing her cooking talent. Recently, she organized a 5-course tasting menu in Greenwich.

A beautiful Ratatouille and Company delicacy.

Ratatouille caters everything from small cocktail parties to large events. The other day, they set up a tent in New Fairfield and provided wedding guests with lobster rolls, gazpacho, barbecue, tarts, puff pastry (with ratatouille!), and 3 desserts. Seven servers, and a kitchen crew of 5, worked for 11 hours.

This is no charity organization. After one year, it turned a profit.

Ratatouille chefs earn $20 to $25 an hour. With tips, a server can make $200 an evening.

But the women work hard — learning how to communicate in a kitchen, operate a business and serve. Always, they work on their cooking.

“Our clients’ eyes open wide when they see the food we put out, and the level of service,” Isaia says.

The food comes from Syria, Kazakhstan, Honduras — wherever the women come from. Menus are adaptable to each client’s needs.

Evelyn Isaia

Cooking is done in a kitchen in Bridgeport. Isaia is looking for a second kitchen in the Bronx. Ratatouille caters events throughout the tri-state area.

One woman hired Ratatouille for a cocktail party because she believed in its mission. She’ll hire them again, because “the food was inventive, delicious and generous, and the staff was well-trained and gracious.”

Another says the women are “pleasant, professional and warm, and the food is sensational.” She calls “the added plus” of helping female refugees support themselves and their families “a delicious and soul-satisfying combination.”

Women come to the company from trade schools, community colleges and non-profit organizations focused on workplace development. All are vetted and documented.

“We never discuss politics,” Isaia notes. “But we all realize this is another side to all that talk about caravans, and immigrants taking jobs from Americans.”

Pic Of The Day #790

Westport is decked out in purple, for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Week. Through Saturday, Tavern on Main features a violet gin cocktail; LaRouge by Aarti handmade chocolates is donating 10% of sales of purple hand-painted chocolates to Alzheimer’s Connecticut, and Spotted Horse will donate 20% of sales on Thursday, while featuring a specialty Purple People Eater cocktail.

(Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

Meatball Shop Serving EMS Fundraiser On Saturday

The sign promised The Meatball Shop would open this spring.

They’ll miss by a day.

But what a great “soft” opening the 8th restaurant in the New York-based chain promises.

The shop — which replaces The ‘Port in National Hall, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — hosts a preview party this Saturday (June 22, 5:30 to 8 p.m.).

Guests will enjoy a tasting menu of (duh) meatballs, plus seasonal dishes, wine and beer.

A meal to look forward to.

The Meatball Shop is certainly getting involved in the community. 100% of all ticket purchases go directly to the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services team.

The Judy Michaelis Group is organizing the event, with sponsorship from Hightower RDM Financial Group (across Wilton Road, in the Wright Street building).

The official opening is a few days later. If you can’t wait — and/or if you want to support Westport’s great EMS program — click here for tickets.

Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

Friday Flashback #146

Today’s Friday Flashback is barely a decade old.

But when Ashley Skatoff moved to Westport in 2008, Rogers Septic Tanks caught her eye. It was an actual service company — one of the few left on the Post Road.

One day, she pulled in and asked to take some pictures. Sure, the man (whose name she does not recall) said. He was proud — and a wonderful subject.

Ashley says, “I loved the spot and the images, because they were larger than Rogers and larger than Westport. There is so much humanity on that plot of land, and I thought it came through in pictures from that day. This could be anywhere in the United States.”

“I believe the earth has good energy there – it was like a different dimension – and whatever goes there next will inherit that energy and pass it on through the next humanity that spends time on it.”

What’s next is — possibly — 32 housing units. The 1- and 2-bedroom development is in the permit approval phase with town boards.

“I am sad to see this treasure fading away,” Ashley says.”He really enjoyed that I could appreciate the gem — enough to stop — and gave me a tour.

“That day he said he hoped a restaurant got the space, and would be able to salvage the building and the part of it that would still be cool. He had vision.”

(Photos/Ashley Skatoff)

Unsung Heroes #102

When Carmine Cenatiempo was a teenager, he worked in the John’s Best kitchen. Sandra Calise — about the same age — was a waitress.

As a young kid, he came to the US from Ischia. That’s where her grandparents are from.

No longer teenagers, they got married at Cobb’s Mill.

Carmine and Sandra then …

Thirty years ago this July 1, they bought Calise’s Market.

It was a longtime family business. The previous owners — Sandra’s grandparents — ran it as a grocery and butcher shop.

Carmine and Sandra made it more of a deli. Always a popular spot on the Post Road — just east of Sakura and Cumberland Farms — they ensured it’s a consistently good, always friendly place to eat (and linger).

Sandra does not work there. After graduating from Sacred Heart University, she’s at Settlers & Traders, her father’s real estate company.

But Carmine is always there (except when he’s making a delivery — to a Staples sports team, or any of his many other catering clients).

Carmine and Sandra never say no. Their generosity supports everything, from youth sports and the Weston Fire Department to Pink Aid.

… and now.

Carmine loves his deli, his customers and his family. He and his wife have 3 kids: Francesca (a student at St. Catherine’s in Bridgeport), CJ (who was born at home, before the Weston EMS could arrive) and Charlotte (a soccer player at Gettysburg College).

Carmine works 7 days a week. He never takes a vacation. But he visited Charlotte this spring, when she studied abroad in Rome. With CJ, they visited Ischia — Carmine’s first time back in 40 years.

If you’ve ever been to Calise’s, you know Carmine’s kindness, grace and smile. He and Sandra are humble and loving. They would never ask for anything for themselves.

So a grateful friend — Jean Lepore — is asking instead: Can “06880” give a shoutout to Carmine, Sandra and Calise’s Deli, on their 30th anniversary as owners?

We’re more than honored to do that. In fact — for 3 decades of service, generosity and kindness to our community — Carmine and Sandra are our Unsung Heroes of the week!

Double Tragedy For Stiles Market

Stiles is a popular local market. Recently, the family that owns it — and that treats all of Westport like family — suffered 2 devastating blows.

Last month, Michael Spitaleri — one of the owners, and son of Joe, the butcher — died unexpectedly. He was 49.

Michael Spitaleri and family.

He commuted here every day, from Long Island. Customers — who became friends — have grieved with his family.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with funeral and other costs.

Stiles also operates a New York City market. On Sunday, that store — on 53rd Street and 9th Avenue — was destroyed when the building collapsed on it.

Stiles’ many Westport fans are thinking of both stores, and everyone associated with them, at this tough time.

Photo Challenge #232

Sylvan Road is well named.

Last week’s Photo Challenge — courtesy of Tom Lowrie — showed a pastoral scene. The flowers, bushes and rock gardens are on a main road. But where?

They’re on Sylvan Road South, near Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. Marion Kelly, Amy Schneider and Darcy Sledge were quick with the answer. Though I gotta say, last Sunday was gorgeous. They shoulda been outside gardening. (Click here for the photo.)

This week’s Photo Challenge also has a nature’s feel to it. Kinda, anyway.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.