Category Archives: Local business

Serendipitous Co-Working Space Opens On Post Road West

Once upon a time, Westport was a commuter town.

Men — and a tiny handful of women — took the train every day to New York. Every night, they took it back here. The rhythms of our town were tied to the rhythms of the rails.

Times change. Today, it is believed that more people commute into Westport than out of it. Westporters work everywhere: New York, Westchester, Stamford.

The nature of work itself has changed too. It’s more collaborative. Office buildings have adapted.

Just look at 55 Post Road West.

Once the home to a large marketing company, it’s undergone a top-to-bottom renovation. This week, it reopens as the newest Serendipity Labs location.

Serendipity Labs, at 55 Post Road West.

The company offers 23,000 square feet of co-working and flexible workspace — private offices, customizable team rooms and suites, plus meeting and event space — in 3 dozen cities across the country.

So why Westport?

“Why not Westport?” answers Serendipity vice president of marketing Paula Gomprecht.

“It’s a great market for us. Westport is a hub of business. It’s a well-educated community that understands our value.”

It’s a “natural extension” too. The Stamford site has been very successful. A number of people from Westport went all the way there to work.

The Post Road West building is perfect, Gomprecht says. It’s close to restaurants, delis and stores. Downtown is just a few steps away.

Most Serendipty co-working spaces are in cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles. But they’re branching out to “underserved secondary markets” like Rye, New York; Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Alpharetta, Georgia.

“Our customers come from the suburbs,” Gomprecht explains. “They want to work closer to home.”

Those customers include individuals, as well as members of corporations. They use Serendipity Labs if they’re entering a new market, or working somewhere on a short-term project. Companies that are growing — or contracting — like the flexibility too.

Serendipity Labs is like having your own office — without all the hassle.

On Post Road West, Serendipity offers various configurations of office space: single, 2-person, and team rooms of 3 to 10 people. Flexible walls can create larger suites, for up to 20. There are meeting rooms, and a studio that seats 75.

High-speed, secure internet connections are Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, even Department of Defense compliant.

Fees begin at $49 a month. A dedicated desk with locked cabinet starts at $540 per month. Team rooms begin at $2,200 a month. Office members gain free access to all other Serendipity Labs locations.

Serendipity wants to be a good neighbor. They offer meeting space gratis to community organizations for fundraisers and networking events.

And local artists can display their work on the walls. The company will even host an opening.

The first members moved in earlier this moth. A grand opening is set for Wednesday, February 12 (3:30 p.m.).

(For more information, click here.)

Mystic Market: Meet Chef Ashley

Most soup/salad/sandwich/prepared food shops don’t have executive chefs.

Then again, most of those places are not Mystic Market.

The Saugatuck spot — in the former Blu Parrot/ Jasmine/Arrow restaurant building, opposite the railroad station parking lot — just hired someone new for that position.

Ashley Boucaud brings an intriguing resume to her new gig. She grew up in both Manhattan and Trinidad & Tobago. When she started her photojournalism major at New York University, she was not interested in cooking. It was “a chore,” she says.

But during college she began cooking for friends. Then she hosted dinner parties.

Ashley’s friends loved her food, and encouraged her to do more.

She did. After a chance meeting with a student at Johnson & Wales University, she applied to — and was accepted at — the famed culinary school.

Four years in Providence turned into 8. Ashley loved the city’s robust food scene, and worked at restaurants there like Amsterdam and Parkside.

Jobs at Stamford’s Westin Hotel and UBS came next. In 2005 she started a private business. Ashley spent the past 14 years catering dinners and private parties.

Recently, Cecily Gans — Ashley’s former Johnson & Wales roommate, now a highly respected culinary arts instructor at Staples High School — told her that Mystic Market needed a new executive chef.

Cecily Gans (left) and Ashley Boucaud.

Ashley realized quickly that the entire team shared her passion for food. And Mystic Market’s mission — “cooking for good people” — is exactly what she’d been doing all along.

As executive chef she creates menus, oversees the staff, and ensures quality.

Since beginning there, Ashley has brought a bit of her West Indian background to Westport. “Big on seasoning,” she added fresh herbs and spices to recipes. She introduced vegan dishes with a bit of curry. New soups like Korean beef have sold out.

She’s particularly proud of “Chef Ashley’s braised short ribs.”

“I’m happy to come to work,” she says. “The hours are long. But I love it here. We have an amazing staff, and a great team.”

Ashley Boucaud (4th from right), and her Mystic Market team. Westport general manager David Griswold Jr. is at far left.

Looking ahead, Ashley hopes to expand the catering menu.

She’s also impressed with the many nationalities she’s met in Westport. “This is a diverse town,” she says. “I learn a lot from everyone. I want to bring what I learn to Mystic Market.”

(Mystic Market is now open at 7 a.m. Hot foods have proven very popular.)

 

Evan Sheiber’s Joyful Life

Evan Sheiber was born with hypo-plastic right heart syndrome. That means he has a single ventricle — half a heart.

He’s not yet 4 years old. But last March the young Westporter underwent his 3rd open heart surgery.

It’s not a cure. Children born with this syndrome eventually require a heart transplant. The goal is to avoid the operation until absolutely necessary.

Evan Sheiber

After Evan’s open heart surgery, he has more energy. He keeps up with his identical twin James. He climbs, plays on the playground, and runs away from his parents at bedtime.

Yet he slows down more quickly, breathes more heavily, and has foot and leg pain.

Evan’s mother Britt notes other challenges too. A simple cold sent him to the emergency room. The flu can be devastating. She is always alert to danger.

Thirty years ago, most babies born with half a heart did not survive. But as far as medicine has come, there is much more to learn.

Britt has helped Dr. Rahul Rathod, director of the Single Ventricle Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, raise money for research and a registry.

With strong support from Westport, she has raised over $150,000.

Now Britt is preparing for JoyRide’s 4th annual Cycle for Heart event, on Sunday, February 9 (11 a.m.). There’s a raffle too, with donations from businesses like Rizzuto’s, Granola Bar, Organic Market, Saugatuck Sweets, SolidCore and SheLaLa.

To join the JoyRide event — or contribute without spinning — click here.

Click here to learn more about the FORCE Fund (formerly known as Evan’s Heart Fund), which directly impacts the lives of everyone like Evan living with a single ventricle.

 

A New Look For Chocolates By Aarti

Over the past 5 years, Aarti Khosla has built up a wonderful, popular business.

But the name — Le Rouge Chocolates by Aarti — was a mouthful.

So the new year — and new decades — brings a new look.

The new name could not be more delicious: Le Rouge Aartisan Chocolates.

Get it?!

Aarti began using chocolate to showcase the rich diversity of Indian desserts. She worked in a rented commercial kitchen, and sold through farmer’s markets, chocolate shows and holiday boutiques.

Aarti Khosla, with her creations.

After introducing European ganache cakes, she opened the small shop at 190 Main Street — a few steps from Joe’s Pizza, and underneath Ron Provenzano’s barber shop.

“I feel humbled and very fortunate to be accepted, appreciated and embraced by the community,” Aarti says.

“It has been a blessing to meet so many people from all walks of life, and make innumerable friends along the way.”

Her bold black and white polka dot brand is well known. But, she says, it does not fully communicate the building blocks behind Le Rouge Chocolates: her Indian heritage, passion for world travel, and love of French food artistry.

Randy Herbertson of the Church Lane design firm TVB helped her capture the essence of her inspirations.

The new logo’s lotus flower and dome are nods to India. The elaborate scrollwork is inspired by Paris’ iron balconies.

The skyline combines those of India and Paris. She came up with the tagline: “Paris to Punjab.”

Using royal blue with red “elevates the packaging to look royal — just like my hand-painted chocolate gems,” Aarti says.

Condensing “Chocolates by Aarti” to “Aartisan Chocolates” was the brainchild of her good friend Joelle Berger.

She also took the suggestion of photographer/marketing guru Dave Matlow to incorporate the word that represents her core business — “chocolate” — in the new logo and website.

The new website — http://www.lerougechocolates.com — will be ready soon. A launch party — also celebrating Valentine’s Day month — is set for Saturday, February 8 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

In the meantime, as Aarti transitions to Artisan Chocolates, she’s open for business.

Some things never change.

The new color scheme, and Aarti’s always-wonderful chocolates.

Earth Animal Helps Fight Hunger

Earth Animal‘s gourmet kitchen for dogs was filled with humans yesterday.

Earth Animal’s gourmet dog kitchen.

They were celebrating the popular Post Road store’s 12th annual contribution to the CT Food Bank.

Every holiday season, Earth Animal donates 1% of all proceeds back to people, animals and the earth.

The check was $25,390 — the company’s largest donation ever.

They’re definitely barking up the right tree.

Giving Back, The 203 Way

When it comes to state pride, Connecticut is not exactly Texas.

We don’t go around demanding, “Don’t mess with Connecticut.” There’s no special hand signal to cheer for UConn. We don’t look nostalgically back on the days when we were an independent republic.*

That was not news to Roscoe and Tory Brown. Back in 2014, when the siblings — both Staples High School graduates — launched 203, the apparel and accessories company celebrating the Zip Code area code — they knew there were not a lot of ways to celebrate “our state, our home.”

But as they traveled around Connecticut, selling their t-shirts, hoodies, hats and other gear through pop-up shops at community events, they realized Nutmeggers** were actually enthusiastic about this place.

Roscoe and Tory Brown, and some of their merchandise.

Roscoe and Tory also noticed at those events that people and organizations were continually giving back, to charities and local non-profits.

So they launched an annual “203 Community Day.” Each year, it’s held the week of February 3rd. (2/03 — get it?!)

This year, Roscoe and Tory are helping ease a post-holiday problem. Every January, donations to homeless shelters drop drastically. Socks and underwear are desperately needed, yet always in scarce supply.

So “The Two-Oh-Three” has teamed up with Half Full Brewery. This Friday (January 31, 4 to 10 p.m., 43 Homestead Avenue, Stamford), they’ll collect new, unopened packages of socks and underwear there. The goal is 600 pairs. They’ll present them to shelters on 2/03.

But it’s not just a drop-off. Roscoe and Tory invite donors to stick around at the brewery for food, beverages, music and fun.

As an added incentive, every donor gets a free, special edition “Two-Oh-Three” beer.

What? You didn’t know Connecticut had its own beer?

Take that, Texas!

(Can’t make it to Half Full Brewery in Stamford? You can drop off donations at Two-Oh-Three’s office: 1869 Post Road East, Westport. If they’re not there, just put them in the box by the door.)

*Because we weren’t.

**  Our official name. It’s not quite as crisp as “Texans.”

With shirts and windbreakers, Two Oh Three apparel says there’s no place like “home.”

 

Regan’s Good Westport Poetry

Regan Good never expected to work at Bridgewater.

Her father was noted civil rights journalist Paul Good. Her mother Ruth was a poet. A graduate of Barnard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop — and before that, a Staples Players actor and Orphenians singer, in the high school’s class of 1985 — Regan was always passionate about words.

After “the starving years” as a freelance writer, editor and fact-checker — plus a stint in publishing at St. Martin’s Press — Regan joined a Manhattan hedge fund. They were hiring artists, to “flesh out their culture.” She worked in recruitment.

That led to Bridgewater.

Regan Good

She calls her experience “a Randian nightmare.” She made $750 a day — “which a poet can’t pass up” — but, she says, “I can’t even tell you what I did there.”

Regan lasted a year and a half, at the largest hedge fund in the world

But living in Brooklyn, and commuting back to her home town, sparked a new appreciation of Westport for Regan. She sat in her office at Nyala Farm, looked across the former dairy meadow, and saw the house where her father once lived.

“My mind went back, mourning for the ’70s,” she says.

Regan has not lived in Westport for 25 years. She seldom returns now. But she still feels connected. She still considers it “my town. It’s where I came to consciousness. It’s where I began to think thoughts. It’s a place with primordial feelings for me — the physical and intellectual place I grew up in.”

As her mind flashed back to places like the flooded marsh on Old Road, where she skated in winter — and as she thought about her father, mother and brother, all of whom have died — Regan wrote poetry.

Now they’ve been published. “The Needle” is a collection of Regan’s work. There are poems about Brooklyn, Maine and Iowa.

But Regan keeps coming back — literally and figuratively — to Westport.

She writes about the Saugatuck River, Nyala, making jelly, and worms and wasps. She writes about Bridgewater. One poem is dedicated to her childhood friend, Paige Griglun.

Nyala Farm holds special meaning for Regan Good. (Photo/David Squires)

You don’t have to be from Westport (or Brooklyn, Maine or Iowa) to be moved by Regan’s work. Her poems are vivid, accessible and universal.

But, at the core of many, is the town where Regan grew up, and which nurtured her sense of self and the world.

“My mind keeps going there,” she says. “I just follow it.”

Some of her favorite poems include “To the Saugatuck River and Its Source at Sugar Hollow,” “The Dairy Still Stands,” and “Reverse Commute Through Grand Central: All Doors Open at Westport, Connecticut.”

The Saugatuck River looms large in Regan Good’s life. (Photo/John Kantor)

Her poems have drawn great praise. Poet Tom Thompson says:

“The Needle” comes barreling out of time in an utterly original and necessary way. The poems inhabit a landscape that is recognizably our own but at the same time ancient, burning with celestial fire and hunger. intoxicating and grounded in the stuff of the earth, with echoes of Stevens and Yeats, “The Needle” is extraordinary.

Of course, a poet — even one who worked at Bridgewater — cannot subsist on poetry alone.

Regan teaches writing at Barnard, Pratt and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

And she’s just finished a memoir about Westport.

It’s called “The Good Family.” Get it?

Regan Good truly does have a way with words.

(To order a copy of “The Needle,” click here.)

Christine Utter Designs, And Paints

Three years ago, Christine Utter opened The Skillful Shopper.

The Westporter called her small spot on the Post Road near the Double L Market a “recycling, go-green boutique.” By giving new life to old chairs, tables, lamps and handbags, she saved her customers money — and did a tiny bit to reduce their carbon footprint.

But running a small business — particularly while paying Westport rents — is hard.

Christine Utter, in her Skillful Shopper store.

The Skillful Shopper has moved online. But Christine found a partner, with a shop at 239 Westport Avenue, just over the Norwalk line. They’ve just opened a new venture there: The Design + Paint Studio.

Christine and Daniella Toth offer custom painting services. Furniture, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, walls, floors — you name it, they paint it (using eco-friendly Annie Sloan Chalk Paint).

They also offer design and decorating services and workshops, color consultations, repairs, and estate liquidations and management.

Annie Sloan (left) and Daniella Toth.

Christine moved to Westport from North Stamford in 2003. She was looking for a community in which most children did not go off to private school. She was attracted too by our town’s diversity, “artsy” vibe, and proximity to water.

Her daughter graduated from Staples last year. And even though Christine’s store is no longer in Westport, she’s retained her ties to the community.

The Design + Paint Studio repainted a pine coffee table for Project Return, gratis. They’ve reached out to the Gillespie Center to paint there. They invite other non-profits to contact them for similar volunteer work: thedesignandpaintstudio@yahoo.com.

(The Design + Paint Studio hosts a “Feng Shui Your Bedroom for Love” event at 7 p.m. on February 11.)

Inside the studio.

 

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.)