Category Archives: People

Joey Romeo: Running Concession Was “Highlight Of My Life”

On the heels of today’s announcement, Joey Romeo — owner of Joey’s by the Shore — has asked me to send this message to his countless loyal customers:

After 32 years serving the community, we were unable to come to an agreement with the town of Westport to continue operating our concessions at Compo Beach, the Longshore Pavilion, and the halfway house on the golf course.

It has been a pleasure to serve the all of our customers for all of these years. It has also been a joy to watch generations grow up in town. I have absolutely loved employing and mentoring so many students and young people. All have gone on to become productive adults.

Running Joey’s has been the highlight of my life. I will miss it, and all of you. I wish everyone the best and I look forward to seeing our beloved customers, employees, and friends around town.

Joey Romeo

Shock Waves: Joey’s Out As Beach Concessionaire

For over 30 years, one of the joys of Compo Beach has been Joey’s by the Shore.

Joey Romeo has been more than just a concessionaire. He’s developed the most extensive menu of any beach food shack anywhere (he’s also sold beach towels, chairs, hoodies and more). He’s opened on spring weekends long before the official beach season, and been there on fall weekends long after the summer crowds have gone.

Joey Romeo, in a typical pose.

He’s the friendliest guy you’ll know, with a great, hard-working staff of (this is a rarity) Westport kids. He makes sure they’re polite, efficient, and that they keep the area spotless.

So it was a shock to learn from Parks and Recreation director Jennifer Fava just moments ago that Joey’s By The Shore will no longer operate the concession at Compo Beach — or the others at the Longshore Pavilion and Longshore halfway house — effective immediately.

Fava says, “Regrettably, Mr. Romeo has advised us that he will not pay the full rent due in 2019 under his lease, nor is he willing to fulfill his remaining 3 years under the lease. We have made every effort to negotiate mutually acceptable terms, but we have not reached an agreement with him.”

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

First Selectman, Jim Marpe added, “We appreciate the many years of service Joey has provided to the community, especially at Compo Beach, providing food for our beachgoers and jobs for some of our young adults. We will be working to get a new concessionaire in place to meet the needs of our residents and users.”

I’ve reached out to Joey for comment. Anecdotally, I’ve heard (though not from Joey) that last year — in the aftermath of new, heftier fees for Westonites and other out-of-towners, and a limit on the number of daily passes sold — was a tough one for him.

I’ll follow up when I hear back. In the meantime, here’s a tip of the Compo cap to Joey Romeo, and all his staff, for their 31 years of loyal, loving service to Westport.

Rotary Clubs Reach Out To Ukraine

For months, Americans have been flooded with news about Ukraine.

For most of us, it’s a foreign country. We can’t quite figure out its politics, its place in the world, or all the political and business figures with similar-sounding names who seem to be doing nefarious things.

Ken Bernhard is not confused.

Ken Bernhard

The longtime Westporter — an attorney who spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader; served as 3rd selectman from 1987-89; was on the Zoning Board of Appeals; has been on boards from the Library and Chamber of Commerce to Earthplace, Levitt Pavilion and Aspetuck Land Trust; helped found the Syria Fund for refugee aid, is involved with an orphanage in Haiti, collects shoes for thousands of children worldwide and raises guide dogs — has a connection to that Crimean nation too.

Three years ago, he taught law in the port city of Berdyansk. With that nation in the news now, he wanted to see what his Westport Sunrise Rotary Club — and its sister organization, the Westport Rotary — could do to foster the rule of law and due process.

“We wanted to give evidence that we support democratic values,” he explains.

Through a professor friend in Berdyansk, he found that the law university hoped to construct a moot courtroom where students could learn courtroom skills.

Both clubs quickly agreed to finance construction.

Nothing is easy there. But as soon as banking requirements are fulfilled, and the necessary documents are translated and executed, the project can begin.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Ukraine. But this is one unimpeachable fact: Halfway around the world, Westport is helping democracy thrive.

Ken Bernhard (left) with students in Berdyansk, Ukraine. They hold a Connecticut state flag.

Remembering Michael Brockman

Michael Brockman — a longtime Westporter, with unique interests and talents — died recently. He was 74 years old.

In the Army, he was a nuclear weapons specialist. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1975.

Michael Brockman

Michael worked as road test editor at Motor Trend Magazine. He began racing professionally in 1979, and competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans.

He went on to work as a film actor and stuntman in “Harry & Son,” “Fat Man And Little Boy” and “Road to Perdition,” among others.

After moving to Connecticut, Michael lived and worked here until his death. He was, most recently, the owner of Mazda of Milford.

Michael’s friend for 30 years, Ian Warburg, writes:

“Brock” was a legendary character. He came to live here because of his best friend and partner in crime, Paul Newman. He stayed because of his marriage to Westport native, Jennifer O’Reilly, and their children, Keleigh and Spencer. Spencer is now a noted race car driver too.

Brock was a class act through and through. A true southern gentleman with a warm heart, an easy smile and always a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Cooler than cool, this humble Florida boy packed his life with fun and adventure that took him to every corner of the globe, and had him raising jars and rubbing elbows with some of the most notable and interesting people of our times.

Michael Brockman (right) and friend.

His stories, and the telling of them, were legendary. Just ask Jack Nicholson. Or everyone who knew him, and was lucky enough to have called him their friend.

He lived a life most men might well have dreamed of, “working” as a professional race car driver, a writer for Motor Trend, an actor, a stuntman, camp counselor at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, and a businessman, owning and operating Connecticut Volvo and Mazda dealerships for the better part of the last 25 years of his life.

He was a great friend to his friends, and a loving husband to his former wife, Jennifer, with whom he enjoyed a warm and caring relationship that extended beyond their run as a married couple.

More than anything he delighted in his role as the father to Keleigh and Spencer, something we often talked about over a cold Budweiser. He revolved around them with absolute joy, celebrating and supporting their dreams and wishes.

With Keleigh he shared his love of acting, and joined her as a cast member of “Blue Bloods” from time to time.

With Spencer he delighted in celebrating his “gift” for making race cars go fast — very, very fast — besting racers with more money and newer technology, and watching him stand on the podium almost every time he raced.

Michael and Spencer Brockman.

And with both he shared his love of so much, including sushi, enjoying weekly feasts as fixtures at the sushi bar at Sakura.

Brock and I got together late summer with another pal, Ian O’Malley, for what would wind up being our last beer at the Black Duck. We had a heck of a good time, raised a little hell, and traded stories and laughs, toasting to the next time we’d be together.  Turns out, it won’t be at the Duck.

Until we meet again, my friend: This Bud’s for you! Cheers.

(A celebration of Michael’s life is set for Sunday, December 8, from 2 to 6 p.m. at his dealership, 915 Boston Post Road in Milford. If you plan to attend, please email brockmaninfo@gmail.com. In lieu of flowers, friends may consider a contribution in Michael’s memory to the Boggy Creek Gang Camp, 30500 Brantley Branch Rd., Eustis, FL, 32736.)

Liz Fry: Westport’s New Guinness World Record Holder

Last Thursday was Guinness World Record Day.

If you’re like me, you probably celebrated by being blissfully unaware.

If you’re Liz Fry though, it was a big deal. She was honored for 2 Guinness world records — and, for her amazing achievements, was featured on the book’s website.

The 1976 Staples High School graduate — who is as low-key as she is accomplished, so I would never have heard about this from her — was cited as both the oldest female to swim the Ocean Seven, and the oldest person of any gender to do it.

The Ocean Seven is no walk in the park. It’s a stupefying long-distance swim challenge, in some of the most difficult bodies of water in the world: the North Channel, Cook Strait, Molokai Channel, English Channel, Catalina Channel,  Tsugaru Channel and Strait of Gibraltar.

Liz is 60 years old. In 5 years she can collect Social Security. But the checks will have to be delivered by boat.

According to the Guinness website:

Accomplishing one channel is no easy feat – aside from predators in the open ocean and varying water temperatures, one who tackles all seven channels must be prepared to swim for up to 12 hours or more at a time…. It’s as dangerous as it is courageous.

Plenty of planning goes into marathon swimming. There’s training, travel, a support crew, and understanding currents and sea creatures. Jellyfish can be as dangerous as sharks.

Liz’s sister Peggy — a 1975 Staples grad now living in Seattle — often serves as crew captain (and confidante). She makes sure Liz has everything she needs: feeding pack, medication, you name it.

Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Their father — a Brit who inspired her originally, with his tales of swimming the English Channel — was there when Liz climbed ashore, after that very brutal swim.

Liz — who is not a professional swimmer (with an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s from Fordham, whe works with global markets on tax initiatives) — hopes that her Guinness record book honors will push other swimmers to achieve their own titles.

Record are made to be broken, of course. But Liz might go on breaking them too.

“I might be 60 years old when I have completed the Ocean Seven marathon, but I feel like I’m swimming like a 40-year-old,” she says.

“It just shows how 60 really is the new 40, or there’s no reason you ever have to stop doing what you love.”

Liz Fry (farthest from the Zodiac) in New Zealand action..

Liz trains often at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the summer, off Compo Beach. She may be remarkable, but there’s absolutely no reason to swim in Long Island Sound during the winter.

The next time you see her, tell her congratulations.

And if you happen to have a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records handy, ask Liz to autograph it.

(For the full story on the Guinness Book of World Records website, click here. Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)

Stars Shine For Staples Players

As remarkable as Staples Players is, they’re still a high school drama troupe. When they put on a show, the many “good luck” and “break a leg” wishes usually come from classmates, teachers, parents and other Westporters.

“Mamma Mia!” was not the usual show.

Before the curtain rose last Friday, the cast and crew enjoyed special well wishes.

Dozens of members of “Mamma Mia!”‘s Broadway and national tour starred in a pump-up video, produced solely for Staples Players.

The actors are all friends of Players choreographers Chris Myers and Rachel MacIsaac. Both were part of the national tour; Chris went on to the Broadway production as well.

The video — which the cast and crew saw right before opening night — is not some quickie, off-the-cuff job. It took tons of time to track down so many national tour and Broadway “Mamma Mia!” members.

They’re all over the globe now, doing all kinds of things. But all took time to tape themselves.

In the 14-minute video they tell stories, give advice and recount their own experiences. It’s clear they are all excited that Players is joining the “Mamma Mia!” family.

Watch the video here.

And if you want tickets to this weekend’s performances, there may be a few available at the door, 30 minutes before showtime.

(“Mamma Mia! runs this Thursday, November 21 at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, November 23 at 3 p.m. For more information, click here.)

Curtain Call For “A Christmas Story”

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” plays at Curtain Call in Stamford, now through December 14.

But many ties to Westport make this a true hometown show.

The story starts with the Kweskin Theater, Curtain Call’s home. Al Pia was its founding artistic director — and for many years, the highly esteemed director of Staples Players as well.

One of Pia’s high school actors was Ben Frimmer. He’s now the director of “A Christmas Story” — and director of Coleytown Company, the well-regarded middle school troupe.

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)

A couple of decades ago, Justin Paul acted for Frimmer at Coleytown. After graduating from Staples in 2003, and then the University of Michigan, Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, rocketed to stardom. They’ve won Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards for works like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Another work — “A Christmas Story: The Musical” — enjoyed a Broadway run. With great music and splashy production numbers, it quickly became a holiday classic.

And, in Stamford, a Westport holiday classic. Frimmer has cast several current and former students in the production: Matthew Bukzin, Cooper Gusick, Gavin Jamali, Julie Lloyd, Imogen Medoff, Sarah Peterson and Ari Sklar.

Westport youngsters in “A Christmas Story: The musical.” Front row (from left): Gavin Jamali, Cooper Gusick Ari Sklar. Rear: Matthew Bukzin, Imogen Medoff,.Jamali.

Frimmer’s own son Ari plays Ralphie Parker.

Ari Frimmer, as Ralphie.

Even Curtain Call executive director and producer for “A Christmas Story” has a local connection. Lou Ursone was mentored by Pia.

Plenty of Westporters will be heading to Stamford to see this production. But they’ll feel as if they never left home.

(“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is performed Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 2. In addition, there are Thursday evening performances on December 5 and 12, and Saturday matinees on December 7 and 14. For tickets and more information, click here or call 203-461-6358, ext. 36.)

Brad Tursi Scores Again

Old Dominion has a new honor.

But it’s the same as the old one.

Earlier this week, the 5-man band was named Vocal Group of the Year, at the 53rd annual Country Music Association awards.

Old Dominion won it last year too. Both times the ceremony was held in Nashville, where the band is based.

Nashville — nearly 1,000 miles from Westport — is the adopted hometown of Old Dominion lead guitarist Brad Tursi.

Brad Tursi

He got his start right here. At Staples High School, the 1997 graduate was known primarily as a soccer star. His 1996 team reached the state finals.

He always loved music though, and since college has made his mark on the country scene. Besides his current group, Tursi has written songs for other country artists.

Old Dominion is for real. They were named Sirius XM Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2015. Through albums, EPs and constant touring, they’ve developed a strong, loyal fan base.

Their third album — titled “Old Dominion” — was released last month. It debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.

Their new single — “One Man Band” — is climbing up the Billboard Hot 100. Old Dominion performed that song at the CMA Awards.

Unlike Nashville, Westport may not be a hotbed of country music.

But we sure are proud of one man, in that one band.

(Hat tip: Jeff Lea)

LoveSac: Popular Furniture Store Coming To Westport

Some engineering majors go into aerospace. Others design bridges, buildings, cars, medical devices or motherboards.

Jessie Schwartz creates beanbag chairs and couches.

Very, very cool ones.

That was not exactly her plan, of course. At Staples High School, the 2004 graduate was involved in many different activities: ski team captain, Players, Inklings newspaper.

She majored in physics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, then added a bachelor’s in engineering and master’s in engineering management, both from Dartmouth.

Schwartz spent 6 years with Accenture, doing strategy consulting. With Estee Lauder, she worked with a variety of brands.

After marriage, she wanted to cut down her brutal travel schedule. Schwartz and her husband bought a foreclosed house in Weston. She quit Accenture; they spent 3 months making the abandoned home livable.

When it was time to re-enter the workforce, she looked for project manager positions. She found LoveSac through LinkedIn. Now based in Stamford, it was launched in 1995 by Shawn D. Nelson, who hand-make beanbag chairs for fellow students at the University of Utah.

The company took off after patenting a modular furniture system called “sactionals” (ho ho). The pieces combine into couches — and, importantly, are very easy to ship.

Jessie Schwartz and friend, with LoveSac “sactionals.”

Most of LoveSac’s business is done that way. Customers learn about the chairs and sofas online, or in over 70 mall “showrooms.” Like Apple, LoveSac sells a lot of goods using a very small retail footprint.

Last year however, they opened a stand-alone location in the Flatiron district. A second store followed last month in Greenwich.

Opening tomorrow (Friday, November 15): LoveSac in Westport. They’re next door to Restoration Hardware, on the Post Road downtown.

Schwartz can’t speak to the why and how of the beanbag company coming to her hometown. She works on the product end.

However, she says, “I’m very excited. Now all my family and friends can see our brand, and understand why I love my job.”

(The grand opening is set for today through Sunday, November 17. Included in the festivities: a chance to win a free couch.)

Michael Friedman Enters The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

You saw them in a pop-up gallery on Church Lane.

You know the photographer: Michael Friedman. The Staples High School Class of 1961 graduate had a long career in music. He managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

Nearly 3 years ago, he discovered an astonishing series of photos he’d taken almost 50 years earlier.

Mick Jagger (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The Stones. Janis Joplin. The Band. Johnny  Winter. Gordon Lightfoot. James Cotton. Ian and Sylvia. Rita Coolidge. Tom Rush. Professor Longhair. Paul Butterfield — all were artists Friedman worked with in the 1960s.

Friedman spent several months printing, restoring and mounting the photos. Each was up close, and personal.

Michael Friedman in the Church Lane pop-up gallery. His photo shows Levon Helm, legendary drummer for The Band.

After the Westport show, the photos headed to the California Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.

Now they’re in Cleveland — at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The exhibit includes the guitar that Janis Joplin played on “Me and Bobby McGee” in concert. Friedman’s photos of her with the instrument — which she used onstage only twice, and only for that song — are the only ones known.

Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” guitar, with his photo of her.

It took more than a year for the exhibit to come together. His wife Donna Vita provided invaluable help.

Now it’s up, and attracting great attention. After the ribbon-cutting, Friedman was interviewed live by chief curator Karen Herman, at the Hall.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame interview.

Friedman’s exhibit runs for 6 months. Yet when it ends, it’s not over.

His entire collection of over 100 images will be archived, in perpetuity.

Which makes sense. As Neil Young sings, “Hey hey, my my/Rock and roll can never die.”

(Click here to see many of the photos on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)