Category Archives: Local business

Chef’s Table Returns To Westport! Cross Highway Rejoices.

When Christie’s Country Store closed in December, a shiver went through the Cross Highway neighborhood.

The breakfast/sandwich/grill/grocery place had been around since 1926. It served nearby residents, Staples and Bedford students, and plenty of landscapers and workers nearby or passing through.

But it was a non-conforming use, in a residential area. Now it was shut. These things don’t usually end well.

Fortunately, this one does.

Chef’s Table is moving in. Rich Herzfeld will pick up right where John Hooper left off.

It’s a homecoming of sorts. Herzfeld — the Culinary Institute of America-trained baker/chef, who honed his trade under Jean Yves Le Bris at La Gourmandise in Norwalk — set off on his own in 1995. He opened his first Chef’s Table at 44 Church Lane.

It was, Rich recalls, “like a small Hay Day.” High-end prepared foods and fresh salads drew a devoted downtown crowd. Two years later, Herzfeld added soups.

In 2001 he opened a 2nd Chef’s Table, on the Post Road in Fairfield. Two years later he added a 3rd, in the former Arcudi’s pizza restaurant next to  Carvel.

The 2007 market crash hit the 2 Westport locations hard. Suddenly, Rich says, everyone was brown-bagging lunch, or eating fast food. Corporate catering dried up.

The Fairfield site — with a broader demographic — did fine.

Rich sold the Church Lane spot to the Wild Pear. Arcudi’s returned to its original spot.

Wild Pear took over from Chef’s Table, on Church Lane. It closed in 2013. After extensive renovations, it is now the site of Aux Delices.

The 2 locations changed hands again. Today, both — coincidentally — are Aux Delices.

Meanwhile, Rich had asked commercial realtor (and Staples High School graduate) Tom Febbraio to keep an eye out for any place here that was already set up for a Chef’s Table-type operation.

Last year, John Hooper’s Christie’s lease was up. Tom told Rich. He was not only interested — he’d loved it for a long time.

“I knew Christie’s well,” Rich says. “It’s a great location. It has history. And the space is perfect for us.”

He’ll sell his signature soups, salads and sandwiches. A few years ago he got back into baking, so there will be plenty of croissants and baguettes.

Rich Herzfeld, with his delicious sourdough bread.

There’s a pizza oven in back — something the Fairfield Chef’s Table lacks — so Rich will make sourdough pizzas too. (The crust is great, he promises — “it takes 3 days to make!”)

The Fairfield location — not far from Fairfield University, Fairfield Ludlowe High and 2 middle schools — is “student-centric,” Rich says. His new Cross Highway spot is even closer, to Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools.

“I have a 21-year-old and a 14-year-old,” Rich notes. “I know what kids want.”

He plans to sell old-fashioned candy, ice cream — and items like milk, sugar and toilet paper, for neighbors who just need one or two quick items. And he would love to resurrect the Frosty Bear ice cream gazebo.

“We’ll be listening closely to what neighbors and customers want,” Rich says. “We’ll try to make it happen.”

Though Chef’s Table will operate from around 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Rich predicts his bread-and-butter will be breakfasts and lunches. He’s especially excited to serve breakfasts — “good food, providing great energy” to folks working in the area.

Christie’s — with its handsome front porch — has always been a welcoming, neighborhood place.

The Cross Highway store will be overseen by Rich’s son David. Now 29, and the breakfast guru at the Fairfield spot, he grew up at Chef’s Table on Church Lane. When he was just 9, David was baking cookies — and selling them at a table there.

Rich hopes to open by April 1. (No fooling!)

And the name?

It will be “Chef’s Table at Christie’s Country Store.”

Rich knows the 93-year history of the spot he’s moving into. He loves the legacy.

He can’t wait to begin writing the next chapter.

(Hat tip: Suzannah Rogers)

Progress Report: The Old Bertucci’s Site

Last August 1, I reported that work was proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y  — yes, that was the technical term I used — at the former Bertucci’s property, on the Post Road near the Sherwood Island connector.

Now it’s exactly 6 months later. It’s still not finished. But the end is in sight.

Ignazio’s Pizza will — as noted previously — occupy part of the former Bertucci’s floor. This will be the 2nd location for the thin-crust restaurant. The original is in DUMBO — it is literally down underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

An art and design firm will take up another part of that floor. That leaves about 2,100 square feet still available — which is why the “Building For Lease/Space Available” signs has Westporters wondering if Ignazio’s was just pie in the sky.

The view from the parking lot.

Not to worry. Steve Straus — of Fred Straus Inc., the Yonkers-based family real investment company — says that exterior work is done. When Ignazio’s finishes their interior work, they’ll open.

And, Straus says, there are “very good prospects” for the remaining first floor space.

Upstairs, there’s another 2,840 square feet of office space to rent.

Straus is proud of his company’s new landscaping, sidewalk, rain garden, facade, parking lot and lighting on the spot that many Westporters will long remember as Bertucci’s. (Older generations recall Tanglewoods. Real old-timers know it as the Clam Box.)

Straus says that the redevelopment of the property coincides with the construction of the office/retail/residential complex across the street, at the Post Road/Long Lots junction. He believes it will create a “village” environment in that part of town.

As for what’s going on clear across town, in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow property by the train station parking lot: Mystic Market announced they were moving in — back in November 2017.

When they’ll actually open is anyone’s guess.

8-30g Affordable Housing: More Proposals On The Way

For Westport, this has been a winter without much snow.

But a blizzard of 8-30g proposals continues to swirl all over town.

8-30g is the official name of Connecticut’s affordable housing statute. It mandates that municipalities make 10 percent of their housing stock “affordable” (according to a state formula). Though Westport has a variety of such units, many were built before 1990 — the date upon which the standards are based.

Which means that developers now eye all kinds of property. Incorporating 8-30g housing helps ease the legal path toward approval.

This week, a plan was submitted for 5 residential buildings on the Roger’s Septic Tank site at 1480 Post Road East. It includes 18 1-bedroom apartments, 14 more with 2 bedrooms — and would be 30% affordable housing, as defined by 8-30g. (Click here for the complete application.)

Roger’s Septic Tanks, Post Road East

The property — between the Rio Bravo/Julian’s Pizza strip mall, and a gas station — is a throwback to the days before the Post Road was greened and cleaned. Roger’s was there for decades; before that, it was Bob’s Welding.

Several years ago, a private agreement was reached between the owner of the commercial site and homeowners on Cottage Lane — which runs behind — stipulating that no housing could be built on the property. The agreement did not involve the town. A legal battle is sure to ensue.

Meanwhile, a couple of hundred yards east, there’s talk that several properties are being gathered together for at least one 8-30g proposal. These includes Redi-Cut Carpet, Innovation Luggage and Pane e Bene restaurant; houses behind it on George Street; the now-shuttered Sono Baking Company and adjacent A&J’s Farm Market, and the Westport Tennis Club behind it.

Those properties are not all contiguous, so there could be more than one proposal. No applications have yet been filed.

The former A&J Farm Market.

Next month, another proposal — much more concrete, in the works for far longer, and at the opposite end of Westport — comes (again) before the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Felix Charney will be back with yet another plan to construct 187 units on Hiawatha Lane. The narrow road is accessible by West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 exit 17 and the railroad station parking lot. The developer hopes to create a “medium density housing opportunity zone” there.

The P&Z is up to its eyeballs in 8-30g issues. Still on the docket: 20-26 South Morningside Drive (where discussions continue about the historic Walter and Naiad Einsel property), and on-again, off-again 81-unit Lincoln Street/Cross Street/Post Road West development (it’s back on).

The fate of 20-26 Morningside Drive South — on Walter and Naiad Einsel’s former property — remains in doubt. (Photo/Anna DeVito)

But wait! There’s more!

This week, a legal challenge was filed after the commission turned down an application for 122 Wilton Road. That’s the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — at the Kings Highway North intersection, adjacent to the Taylortown Salt Marsh and wetlands. A developer wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex there.

“Complex” is the right word, for all these proposals.

Though it’s easy to see why developers look at the 8-30g statute, and see a cash register.

And why they’re filing a blizzard of applications and lawsuits now. As of April — thanks to recent construction like 1177 Post Road East, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School — Westport may qualify for a 4-year moratorium on affordable housing proposals.

Like shoppers stocking up on bread and milk before a snowstorm, developers race to beat the clock.

Pic Of The Day #648

Everybody loves the Westport Farmers’ Market. The winter version is held each Saturday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Lane South. (Photo/Lisa Lewin for Westport Farmers’ Market)

VanGo Paints A Pretty Transportation Picture

Once upon a time, parents (aka “mothers”) hauled their kids all across town, to all their different activities, all the time.

Then came Uber. It’s a great, easy-to-use driving service. The downside is: You’re never really sure who is driving your kids.

Enter VanGo.

The app is — well, an uber-Uber. Aimed specifically at the pre-teen and teenage market, it addresses the sketchy-driver question head-on.

Drivers are nannies, teachers, babysitters — and especially mothers. In fact, 85% of all drivers are moms.

Each is carefully vetted. They must have at least 3 years of childcare experience. They’re fingerprinted, and their driving records checked. They must supply references. Their vehicles are inspected too.

VanGo is the brainchild of Marta Jamrozik. (The app’s great name was her husband’s idea.)

Marta Jamrozik

Marta lives in Norwalk; her parents are Westporters. A former management consultant with a Fortune 500 company and a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree, she’s intimately familiar with the pressures of suburban parenting — including how to get your kid from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F, then home for dinner.

While dads do their share of driving, Marta knows the burden falls disproportionately on women. By easing it for them — and hiring so many women as drivers — she calls VanGo “a feminist company.”

Since the June launch, the app has been downloaded over 1,000 times. Many of those users are Westporters.

“There are so many working parents” here, Marta notes. They use VanGo not just to manage their schedules — to stay later at work, for example — but to manage their personal lives too. A parent who is not chauffeuring can squeeze in a yoga or fitness workout, she notes.

VanGo is not just an after school service, Marta says. Parents also use it during those stressful mornings, when driving a child to school may clash with an early train or meeting.

A VanGo screenshot.

More features: Parents can schedule “recurring rides” (say, ballet every Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m.) with ease. They can book in advance. And they can track each ride from start to finish, via GPS.

Feedback has been strong. A single mother of a pre-teen son was frustrated with Uber. “They often get our address wrong, do not wait, and are really not geared toward younger riders,” she says.

VanGo’s drivers wait. Her son often has the same drivers. And when she speaks with them, “they’re parents themselves — so they get it.”

It is a little more expensive than Uber. But, this mother says, “the peace of mind is worth it to me.”

Slide over, Uber. There’s a new driver in town.

Remembering Charlene Girden

You may not know the name Charlene Margot Girden.

But you probably knew her.

She befriended everyone she met: the hair salon staff and its patrons, restaurant owners, dry cleaners, merchants — you name it.

Charlene grew up in East Norwalk, but her roots in Westport were strong and deep.

Her grandmother lived on Compo Beach. Charlene spent her childhood there with families like the Lanes and Cunninghams.

Her father, Norman Tobin, founded Saugatuck Grain and Supply in 1911, and owned nearly the entire block of Railroad Place. She learned at a young age how to collect rents, talk to tenants and be a good landlord.

She also set up deliveries — and delivered oil — with and for her father.

Charlene Girden

Norman died in 1992. Sophie — his wife of 62 years — took over the reins. When she died 12 years later, Charlene became president and CEO of Saugatuck Grain, Hanes Realty and several other companies.

Some of her favorite spots were Vincent Palumbo Salon, Mitchell’s, Party Hardy, Westport Hardware, Stiles Market, Final Touch Cleaners, Posh, Tutti’s, Tarantino’s and Pane e Bene. Like “Cheers,” at all those places everyone knew her name.

She supported many charities, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Actors Fund and the Metropolitan Golf Association Caddy Scholarship. (She learned to play at Longshore in the late 1940s, and was an avid golfer for the rest of her life. She also loved tennis.)

Charlene died last week, at 83. As word spread, her children were flooded with phone calls, emails, texts and notes about her. Everyone, it seemed, had a story.

Charlene was predeceased by her husband of 53 years, Eugene Girden. She is survived by her daughter Lisa Girden-Barkan, her son Steve Girden, and her grandchildren Lindsay Girden, Alex Girden and Emelie Wittenberg.

Contributions in her name can be made to the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

Noya: Fine Jewelry Meets Fine Art

Noya Fine Jewelry is one of those hidden Westport gems. (Pun intended.)

The Riverside Avenue boutique offers a stunning selection of rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets (and much more).

Jewelry is a form of art, of course, and owner Renee Serfaty takes that “artist” role to heart. She and her business partner Natalie Toraty try to bring the worlds of jewelry and art together, by hosting events with local businesses and artists.

Natalie Toraty and Renee Serfaty.

“We’re constantly amazed how many of our customers are artists, in one form or another,” Renee says. “And we’re amazed by their talent. Fortunately, our store is the perfect space for displaying art.”

So now — and running through June — Noya offers a monthly local artist series.

The initial exhibit — featuring young Westport artists — runs through February 1. Leah, Leora, Millie and Tessa Chapman; Cristian Montoulieu; Benjamin Serfaty, and Raphael and Roberto Toraty display their photography, ink drawings, sculptures and paintings.

The adult showcase kicks off February 5, featuring artist Daniela Balzano. Future artists include Sarah Chapman, Angelika Buettner and Debra Condren.

Perhaps Noya will have to add “Fine Art” to its “Fine Jewelry & Accessories” name.

(Noya Fine Jewelry & Accessories invites the public to an open house on Friday, February 1 from 4-7 p.m.)

“Meditative Painting,” by Sarah Chapman.

Remembering Leo Keehan

Leo Keehan died on Tuesday, at 89. He was a lifelong Westporter, a 1947 Staples High School graduate — and a man with an intriguing connection to our town’s transportation history.

Leo Keehan

Leo owned 3 businesses here. One — Teddy’s Taxi — was located for years on the eastbound side of the Saugatuck train station.

It shared space with the local Avis rental agency — which he also owned.

Noticing growth in the number of trips to New York airports, he added a limo service: Teddy’s Limousine.

Leo’s son Kyle says, “Leo had many amazing and sometimes scandalous stories about famous people who rode in his fleet of vehicles. He had ‘Taxicab Confessions’  before HBO came up with the idea.”

In the 1970s, Westport was selected by the state government as an ideal town for an experimental local transportation system. In the first phase, Mercedes “minnybuses” followed fixed routes to and from the station, taking commuters to the train each morning and bringing them home at night.

In between, the buses ran routes connecting downtown with outer neighborhoods.

Inexpensive passes allowed Westporters to ride minnybuses without limits. Parents quickly realized the buses were cheap babysitters. They put their kids on, and waved goodbye, occupying them happily for hours.

The second phase — “maxi taxis” — was a van service. Several customers sharedrides to points around town. 

A Minnybus at Jesup Green.

Leo was recruited as president. Both programs ran successfully, until funding ran out.

Leo sold his businesses in his early 50s. Retirement lasted only a year. The family that purchased Teddy’s wanted his expertise to grow the business. Twenty-five years later he retired permanently from Teddy’s’ — a job he truly enjoyed.

A young Leo Keehan

Leo was a Korean War veteran, stationed in Germany. After returning to Westport he began working in the auto parts industry. He married Beverly Breault, daughter of Gilbert and Breault — original owners of Ye Olde Bridge Grill.

Leo lived at Compo Beach for more than 45 years. He loved the water, and sailing.

The Keehan family has been Westport residents for over a century. His sons  Kyle and Scott both live in town, and hope to keep their family here for another 100 years.

A celebration of Leo’s life will be held on Friday (January 25, 10 a.m., St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, 1719 Post Road, Fairfield). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Pic Of The Day #639

A dog enjoys a Pupachino at the Starbucks near Carvel. It’s whipped cream in a cup (dry), or with a splash of aqua (wet). According to JP Vellotti — who was next in line, and snapped this photo — they’re free. For dogs. 

Mobil Self-Serve’s Sam Is Back!

When ExxonMobil closed its Westport location near Barnes & Noble in September, Sam Hiba promised his many customers he’d keep in touch.

Four months later, there’s good news. Sam — the popular, generous owner who brightened everyone’s day, while working tirelessly to support his 5 children and on behalf of refugees from his native Syria — is now a partner in the Global station right off I-95 westbound Exit 14 in Norwalk.

Global is Sam’s new gas station.

The address is 224 Connecticut Avenue.

You might want to take the back roads there, though. 95 may be gridlocked — jam-packed with all of Sam’s fans.

Sam Hiba, at the Mobil Self-Serve.