Category Archives: Media

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.)

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.)

Stay-At-Home Moms Gets Up And Go

Plenty of Westport moms work outside the home.

Plenty of others don’t.

For women who move to here with young children — sometimes leaving the workplace — meeting others in their situation can be hard.

Nearly 2 years ago, newcomer Nathalie Jacob tackled the problem. With Sonam Sethi and Samreen Malik — who had similar ideas — they created a Facebook group. “Westport Stay-at-Home Moms” brings mothers of babies and toddlers together.

There certainly is a need. Nearly 400 members meet for play dates, trips, Moms Night Outs, potlucks at the beach and more.

A recent outing, with moms and kids …

The newest event is Play2Give. These are play dates at which the mothers help their children do activities for charity. For the holidays, moms and toddlers picked out food at a supermarket, and packed it up for donations.

“What we have in common is that we all have children of a similar age,” Nathalie says. “We’re enjoying this amazing new stage in our lives as parents of babies and toddlers.”

“Many of our own parents live far away. Through this group, we’ve made friends who feel like family.”

… and another …

Members mirror the diversity that is part of Westport, but not always seen. They come from more than 30 nations — the UK, Italy, Serbia, Australia, Greece, India, Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Guyana, South Korea, Paraguay, Jamaica, you name it — which adds great energy and variety to activities.

Moms in nearby towns are welcome. So are working mothers — and fathers. They’ve even formed a sub-group. “Yo DAD” gets together once a month.

A pleasant surprise: “Not just the moms, but our husbands and kids have become close as well,” Nathalie says. “It feels like an extended family, where our kids have a ton of ‘cousins and aunties.’

“We celebrate holidays together, watch each other’s kids in emergencies, and even travel together. We all feel at home, because we have created a family in Westport.”

… and moms alone, at Via Sforza.

Anyone can design or host a play date or event, anywhere they choose — “their home, a playground, the aquarium, wherever,” Nathalie explains.

“We all vote on big decisions, like the group’s rules. Everyone always has a say and a voice.”

Feedback is great. One woman says the group helped out of a shell of loneliness. Another says she has met her closest friends, who help her feel “connected, support and loved. A third called it “life-changing — no exaggeration. I met the most amazing moms, with equally amazing toddlers.”

Moving to the suburbs can be tough. Moving without the tether of outside work can make it even tougher.

Say what you will about Facebook. For hundreds of women, its Westport Stay-at-Home Moms group makes the move work.

Faith Hope Consolo Did Not Grow Up Here

Tomorrow’s print edition of the New York Times will carry a long, intriguing story about Faith Hope Consolo.

Faith Hope Consolo (Photo/Beatrice de Gea for the New York Times)

Contrary to years of self-description, the glamorous real estate broker did not follow her real estate executive father into the business. Her mother was not a child psychiatrist. Consolo did not attend Miss Porter’s School for Girls, nor did she earn a degree from Parsons Paris.

And she most definitely did not grow up in Westport.

Consolo fabricated nearly every fact about her life, beginning with her age (she was 73 when she died in late 2018, not 69) and her birth in Cleveland (not Shaker Heights, Ohio).

But these 2 paragraphs attracted the attention of alert “06880” reader Heather Grahame, who definitely did grow up here:

She also claimed that she moved to the tony suburb of Westport, Conn., as a young girl, but she really grew up on a dead-end street in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

Ms. Consolo’s longtime friends and colleagues never knew the truth, including Joseph Aquino, Ms. Consolo’s business partner for 26 years. “I remember once we were together in Westport, and I was all excited for her to show me the house where she grew up,” Mr. Aquino said. “But she got really vague and seemed sad, so I just dropped it, figuring she didn’t want to talk about it.”

I posted a story about her death a year ago, on “06880.” I asked anyone with a memory of her to share it. There were comments — but only one person thought she remembered her. Another woman mentioned their time together in Brooklyn.

Faith Hope Consolo, as a young girl in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

This weekend’s Times piece is a sad story about an allegedly glamorous figure — one who felt she had to obscure her past, in order to be accepted by Manhattan’s elite.

But just think: Of all the places she could have pretended to have grown up, she chose Westport, Connecticut.

Real-life realtors here must be very impressed.

(Click here to read the full New York Times story.)

Ten Minutes With Brian Kelsey

The history of late night TV talk show hosts is — well, pretty similar.

From Jack Paar and Johnny Carson through Jay Leno, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, guys* sit behind a desk. There’s a comfortable chair or sofa, an interesting backdrop, and (hopefully) interesting guests.

Zach Galifianakis broke the mold a bit. “Between Two Ferns” is a cult classic, available online.

If you liked his deliberately goofy approach — think early days of public access TV — you’ll love “Ten Minutes With.”

It too is on YouTube — not network TV. The set makes even the two ferns look lavish (guests sit in a lawn chair).

And it’s produced right here in Westport.

In Brian Kelsey’s garage.

Though he’s mined fellow Westporters as guests — CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and actress Stephanie Szostak — he also snagged singer Gino Vanelli (“I Just Wanna Stop”), en route from a show in Fairfield to the airport.

Stephanie Szostak and Brian Kelsey, on “Ten Minutes With.”

Sure, “Two Ferns” got President Obama. Just give “Ten Minutes” time.

Despite the home-grown nature of the show — Kelsey built the set himself, wrote and recorded the theme music, runs 7 cameras and adds all the sound effects — he is no Trevor Noah wannabe.

Kelsey has spent his career both in front of and behind cameras and mics. He’s done New York radio; has a thriving YouTube channel, focusing on do-it-yourself home renovations; hosted Martha Stewart’s Sirius show; did voice-overs, and works full-time as video senior editor/producer for a financial services firm.

He had the equipment. He had the background. He had the garage (and lawn chair). He built the set (a plain desk with a rotary phone; behind it, a generic city photo).

Brian Kelsey, on set. Yes, that’s his washing machine on the left.

All he needed was guests — and selling them on the idea.

This being Westport, he has contacts up the wazoo. And the format is perfect.

Guests drive over to his Cross Highway home. His assistant. Pete Scifo, lifts up the garage door. Kelsey offers a coffee (or beer). They chat for — literally — 10 minutes. Then Camerota is on to her next CNN spot, Szostak films her next movie, Vanelli does his next gig, whatever. It could not be simpler.

The banter is like most talk shows: some fluff, some substance. Kelsey probes into each guest’s work and life.

A regular feature: Kelsey reads rejection letters he’s gotten from potential guests (usually, their agents).

The garage door, leading to the “Ten Minutes With” set.

YouTube is driven by algorithms. So when a guest links to “Ten Minutes With” on their own social media, views spike — and YouTube recommends it to more people.

Next up: NBC news anchor (and Westporter) Craig Melvin.

Kelsey — who is also a drummer — has a soft spot for musicians. Among the guests he’d like to snag: Michael Bolton, Nile Rodgers and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads.

So if any of you guys are reading this: Call Brian Kelsey.

The lawn chair in his garage is waiting.

*Notice a gender pattern?

(Click here for the Ten Minutes With homepage.)

David Hidalgo: The Sequel

David Hidalgo — the Bridgeport carpenter handyman beloved by many Westport families, whose battle against leukemia was reported by “06880” earlier this month — continues to fight.

Family and friends — including those from Westport — are working hard to get his relatives to come to the US, from David’s native Costa Rica. They may be a match for a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant. But his mother has already been denied a humanitarian visa, and under current immigration policies his siblings may face similar difficulties.

As News12 reports, Senator Richard Blumenthal has gotten involved. That story (click here to see) includes an interview with Weestporter Julie Mombello, and “06880” reader Sally Wanamaker.

Westporters and other area residents were very generous, ensuring David’s family had as nice a Christmas as possible. But he’s still out of work, and expenses continue to mount. Click here to help, via a GoFundMe page.

David Hidalgo, and his family, at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Remembering Don Imus

Don Imus — sharp-tongued radio host, and longtime Beachside Avenue resident — died this morning in Texas. He was 79.

I had one semi-encounter with “Imus in the Morning.” It started with something I wrote for my Westport News “Woog’s World” column. I have a vague recollection that it was something about him and his Greens Farms estate — I think just a passing comment.

Whatever it was, it hit a nerve.

That morning, he ripped me to pieces on his show. “I don’t know who this Dan Woooooooog is,” he started, before calling me, my writing and my journalistic ethics into question.

Don Imus

I did not hear his rant. I never listened to him. His type of humor was not mine.

This was in the pre-cellphone days, so I did not receive dozens of “notifications.” But everyone I knew who heard it told me about it.

A couple of hours later, I flew to Pittsburgh for a soccer coaches’ convention. I checked into my hotel, and gave my name.

“Whoa! You’re Dan Wooooooog?” the guy behind me in line said.

“I heard all about you on Imus this morning.”

Thanks, Don, for those 15 minutes of fame.

(Do you have an Imus story? Click comments below. Hat tip: Jack Backiel.)

Mo Rocca, Jeff Pegues Team Up As Library’s Newsmakers

Last year, Jeff Pegues arrived early for a book signing.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate — who rose through the broadcast ranks and is now CBS News justice/homeland security correspondent — had published his second book,  Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy.

He sat in his car at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, watching dozens of people arrive. It was a bigger crowd than in many major cities.

“I was humbled, and struck by how many Westporters are interested in information beyond the headlines,” Pegues says.

“That’s not always the case. And it troubles me.”

When the Westport Library — which had sponsored his talk off-site, during its renovation project — wrote a thank-you note, he started thinking what more he could do.

He’s a fan of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which sponsors a long-running, provocative speakers’ series.

Jeff Pegues

Pegues lives in Washington, DC. But his hometown — and hometown library — retain strong holds on him.

Would the library be interested in a series of interview/conversations with intriguing newsmakers? he wondered.

Would we ever! replied executive director Bill Harmer.

With a generous donation from Christian J. and Eva W. Trefz, the Newsmakers Series kicks off on Saturday, January 25 (7 p.m.). The first guest is Mo Rocca, noted CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.

It takes place in the soaring Forum — which, thanks to a previous $1 million gift, already bears the Trefz name.

Quarterly events are planned. Pegues will help bring intellectuals, foreign policy experts, politicians, actors, artists, athletes and other newsmakers to Westport — and will moderate each. His job is to help the audience “understand who they really are.”

Pegues is enthusiastic about the project.

“The library is a destination for ideas,” he notes. “And it’s important for newsmakers to come to a town with so many influential people.”

As a journalist, he notes, he often asks questions like “how did you get here?” What, for example, motivated the child of a single mom in Akron to not only become a basketball superstar, but to speak out about topics most athletes would not touch?

LeBron James would be a perfect candidate for a Trefz Newsmaker evening, Pegues says.

Mo Rocca

Rocca — the first interviewee — has “a unique take on people,” Pegues says. “He has an incredible ability to mix news judgment with a comedic touch.”

Rocca’s resume includes 4 seasons each with “The Daily Show” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show”; the “Mobituaries” podcast and book (an irreverent but well-researched appreciation of intriguing things past), and current gigs on both “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”

He’s won 2 Emmy Awards — one fewer than Pegues.

“Westporters should have access to people like Mo,” Pegues says. “They want clarity and insights.”

He looks forward to helping provide it — in a place that is particularly meaningful to him.

“Westport is a huge part of my upbringing,” Pegues says. “My parents moved here in the late 1970s for 2 reasons: the minnybus, and the library.”

The townwide transportation system — whose hub was Jesup Green — is long gone.

In 1986, the library moved to its new location, next to the green. A few months ago, it reopened in a transformed, 21st-century way.

Next month, Jeff Pegues helps the Westport Library become even more special and vibrant than it already is.

(General admission tickets for the 1st Trefz Newsmakers Series on January 25 are $35, and include a copy of Mo Rocca’s “Mobituaries” book. VIP tickets are $100, and include a private reception with Rocca, and preferred seating in the Forum. Click here for tickets.)

The Year In Pictures: Tyler Hicks/Lynsey Addario Edition

Every year, the New York Times produces an end-of-the-year retrospective: “The Year in Pictures.”

The 2019 project was the most ambitious yet. Last Sunday’s photos were part of a stand-alone special section. It included interviews with the photographers, taking readers behind the scenes (and the lens).

Editors culled through over 500,000 photos. Just 116 made the cut.

Three are from Staples High School graduates. And one — by Tyler Hicks — is the first image shown, for the very first month.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)

The 1988 Staples alum photographed Saleh Raken, a boy of about 10 years old, who was playing near his home in Yemen when a land mine blew off his lower leg.

Hicks explained:

On this assignment, I saw more of the humanitarian impact of the war than I had on any of my previous trips there, particularly in northern Yemen, where I took this photograph of a young boy who had lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion. There were also many other children and adults alike who had lost limbs or who continue to lose limbs every day in Yemen.

In this case, it’s very difficult when you walk into a clinic and a hospital and there are so many people suffering. You ask yourself: Whom should I photograph? You want to document every case, but that would be impossible.

This boy in particular had a very innocent face and reminded me a lot of any kids that I would see in my own community. And yet he was changed for life by something that he’s absolutely not involved in, and so I chose to focus on him and allow this boy to represent, in this case, all of the other children in the clinic.

Oftentimes, it is more effective for a photograph to be specific than it is to try to include a large group. It allows viewers to identify with somebody and interpret that subject and that photograph in their own ways.

Two other photos were taken by 1991 Staples grad Lynsey Addario. A shot from February showed Marine recruits at the beginning of a grueling 54-hour training exercise.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Her second image was of Marieke Vervoort, a Belgian Paralympic athlete with a degenerative spinal disease that caused excruciating pain. This fall, she chose do end her life via euthanasia. Addario’s photos about Vervoort’s life and death appeared in a special Times report earlier this month.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

To see all 116 photos, click here.

Candlelight Concert: The Video

Couldn’t get tickets to this year’s 79th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert? Couldn’t get there, because you live far away?

Couldn’t listen to the WWPT-FM broadcast or livestream? Couldn’t figure out how to access the Soundcloud audio either?

No problem! Jim Honeycutt — longtime Staples media teacher, now retired but still a music department fan and Santa’s-elf-like helper — shot and produced a video of the entire event.

So sit down and relax. Grab a glass or mug of your favorite holiday cheer. Then click below, to enjoy another marvelous performance by our town’s very talented choral, orchestra and band members.