Category Archives: Restaurants

Mystic Market Meets The Community

I love writing stories that welcome new businesses to Westport.

They’re often about the owners: their backgrounds, what got them here, the challenges they’ve faced — that sort of thing.

I don’t usually profile store managers.

But I also don’t usually find a manager with a back story like Dave Griswold’s.

The man who runs Mystic Market — Saugatuck’s new kitchen/eatery that’s earning raves in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow space — grew up in a military family. He went to 10 schools, before graduating from a fine arts academy.

Then he trained in ballet, and did a conservator with the American Ballet Theatre. He danced with Alice Cooper, and at Madison Square Garden for the New York Liberty.

David Griswold: ballet dancer …

After that, came … the US Army.

Griswold was a diesel mechanic in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was also in charge of morale-building, getting soldiers out of their barracks to mix and mingle. During the service he finished his degree in business management.

… and service member.

All of those experiences — arts, problem solving, team building — serve him well as he helps develop Westport’s next favorite spot.

Griswold moved to Saugatuck last March, as Mystic Market prepared its new space. He commuted to their Old Saybrook store for months. Finally — with the local store open — he can enjoy his new home town.

One of the things he likes best is the “thriving arts culture.” He wants Mystic Market to be part of it too.

They’re donating to the Artists Collective of Westport‘s May 4 studio tour. He bought 5 tickets for his team to the April 27 “Gatsby Return” party at Longshore’s Pearl restaurant.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Mystic Market’s leadership team will also be out in force on Earth Day, cleaning up the neighborhood.

“We all want to be part of the community,” Griswold says. “We want to be hands-on, giving back just as much as we want people to discover us, and be here for us.”

He also wants Mystic Market to be “the first great job for teenagers.” There’s nothing better, he says, than for students to learn the values of work, in an open, inviting space like his.

Griswold doesn’t know it, but his store’s ancestor — the Arrow restaurant — did exactly that, for generations of long-ago kids.

The iconic spot in the heart of Saugatuck pulses with new, 21st-century life. Westporters — old and young, natives and newcomers alike — should be thrilled.

 

Westport Means Business

The event was called “Westport Means Business.”

But the crowd that packed the Westport Country Playhouse barn Tuesday night enjoyed plenty of laughs — plus wine and food — as 4 women described the many highs and few lows of owning a local business.

They ranged in age from 30s to 50s. They’ve been in operation from 20 years to just 1. Yet the quartet share joy in what they do, gratitude for the opportunity to do it — and a firm belief that Westport is a great place to pursue their dreams.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt motto — “Be Bold” — set the tone for the evening.

The evening was sponsored by the Westport Library, with support from the town. Second selectman Jennifer Tooker moderated, with ease and grace.

Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily — founders of The Granola Bar — are rock stars on the entrepreneurial scene. In 6 years they’ve gone from making desserts in their kitchens to owning 6 restaurants, here and in Westchester.

Interrupting each other, finishing their partner’s sentences and laughing often, the pair talked candidly about the challenges women face, from banks to stereotypes. They even pulled the plug once before they started, then forged ahead after Dana’s husband encouraged them to follow their dream.

When a mentor suggested that their planned granola manufacturing facility include something in the “front of the house,” they did not know the term.

Today they do. Proof of their success came a couple of weeks after they opened their first restaurant. It was filled with people they didn’t recognize. Their friends and family had supported them along the way — but now they had real customers.

Julie and Dana are proud to be setting an example for their young children, as “stay around” — rather than “stay at home” — moms. As they grow their business, there will be more obstacles — family and professional — to overcome. But they’re confident, excited, and proud that their journey began in their home town.

Jamie Camche has owned JL Rocks for 3 times as long: 18 years. Opening a jewelry store was a leap of faith. But her husband has supported her. She’s developed a strong and loyal clientele.

She noted the importance of having local ties too. Jamie was on a buying trip in Europe last September, when heavy rains flooded her Post Road East store.

Thankfully her landlord Mike Greenberg was there, hoisting buckets and bailing her out. He was at the Playhouse barn on Tuesday as well, supporting Jamie.

Participants in the “Westport Means Business” event included (from left) Kitt Shapiro (West), Jamie Camche (JL Rocks), 2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker, and Dana Noorily and Julie Mountain (Granola Bar).

Kitt Shapiro is 57. Yet she calls herself “the new kid on the block.” She’s owned West — the cool Post Road East clothing store — for only a year.

She’s been a 20-year resident of Westport, though. Those ties propelled her “leap of faith” into something she’d never done before.

“I feel so committed to this town, to small businesses, to being part of the tapestry of the community,” Kitt explained. “It’s my home.

West is just around the corner from Main Street, on Post Road East.

“We all know retail has changed,” she added. “But I truly believe local retailers are not going away. People want to touch, see and feel merchandise. They want to interact with other human beings. They’ll seek out people who are kind and smile.”

When Tooker asked for questions, an audience member wondered why none of the 4 businesses were on Main Street.

“We can’t afford it,” Julie said. “But we can’t afford a lot of Main Streets.”

“A town is more than Main Street,” Kitt added.

Third selectman Melissa Kane agreed. Getting the word out about options beyond that small, chain-dominated stretch of downtown is important to retailers and town officials alike, she said.

“We have not done a great job of that,” she admitted. “We need a professional initiative.” Kane said the town is working with a national wayfaring firm, developing signage and strategies to help residents as well as visitors realize the wealth of small, local businesses surrounding Main Street — and where to park, and walk to find them.

Julie praised Westport officials from departments like Fire and Health, for making life easy for entrepreneurs. Westport is the easiest to work with, of their 6 locations (Westchester is the toughest).

“The first health inspection could have been the scariest experience of our life. It wasn’t,” she said.

In her opening remarks Tooker noted that the town, library, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce are all spreading the news: Westport is a great place to live, raise a family — and grow and launch a business.

Or, as Julie Mountain, Dana Noorily, Jamie Camche and Kitt Shapiro reiterated: Westport is open for — and to — business.

 

Leslie Orofino Shines

What do Lady Gaga, Peggy Lee and Leslie Orofino have in common?

All are tremendously talented, very fierce women.

And on April 12 and 26 actress/singer Leslie brings her show “Shine” to BJ Ryan’s Magnolia Room in Norwalk, highlighting the music and lives of Lady and Peggy.

As well as 2 other fabulous entertainers, Alberta Hunter and Dorothy Fields.

Leslie Orofino

The 4 women had very different styles. Leslie romps through them all: Broadway, blues, jazz, contemporary. You name it, she sings it.

“Shine” was inspired by Leslie’s mother, Mary McGuire. She recently died — after 96 wonderful years — but always told Leslie and her 3 siblings: “When things get tough … women get stronger!”

And how. In World War II, Leslie’s father spent months as a German prisoner. Mary wrote to him — every day. When he finally came home, they enjoyed 60 years of love.

Leslie is drawn to these remarkable women’s lives and music because they too overcame major obstacles. Lady Gaga faced mental illness; Peggy Lee, physical and mental abuse; Alberta Hunter, racism, and Dorothy Fields, Broadway sexism.

All found strength. All became stars who shined.

On April 12 and 26, Leslie Orofino shines her brilliant light on them.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

Friday Flashback #136

A few years ago, Patrick Laffaye remodeled his bathroom.

Behind the shower wall — stuffed behind a soap dish, next to empty cans of Reingold beer — he found this:

Big Top drew everyone from doctors and lawyers to teenagers and motorcyclists. They sat together at a long table, or outside when the weather was good, enjoying some of the best burgers in Westport history.

Big Top is now McDonald’s. If that doesn’t say something about the decline of America, nothing does.

Patrick’s house was built in 1964 — in the midst of Big Top’s heyday.

He doesn’t live there anymore. But, he notes, his new house is closer to Big Top.

Westport’s New Liquor Store: Have You Heard About The Grapevine?

Bia Hittman’s parents first met at Crossroads. Back in the 1970s, it was a lively restaurant with a young crowd.

The other day, Bia’s mom and dad celebrated their 41st anniversary. Crossroads is gone. So is its most recent replacement: 323 restaurant.

But Bia’s parents are still drawn to the area. In the small shopping center across Canal Street, Bia and her husband Seth are hard at work. They’re opening The Grapevine — a modern and very cool liquor store — in the space known to generations of Westporters as a different Crossroads: Ace Hardware.

Crossroads Ace Hardware closed last year.

Bia grew up in Trumbull. But her parents brought her to Westport often. They ate at Onion Alley, shopped at Henry Lehr. She tasted her first matzo ball soup at Oscar’s.

Seth is from Nyack, New York. He’s a tech entrepreneur and investor. They lived in Manhattan, with 2 kids and 2 dogs.

But, she says, it was “Westport or bust” for her. “It was always my dream to live here.” The restaurants, shopping, beach, great schools — all drew her in.

Four years ago, the Hittmans moved here. He commutes a couple of days to New York. But almost immediately, they began looking for a way to become part of the community.

Bia Hittman, in her new store.

They thought about real estate. Then they had another idea: a liquor store.

They searched for an opportunity. A few months ago, she says, “the stars aligned.”

Ace Hardware closed. The owners of Parkway Liquors — on the other side of Coffee An’ — were looking to sell.

The Hittmans bought Parkways’ liquor permit. Then they went to work.

The Grapevine’s open, inviting interior — and new ceiling.

They dropped Ace’s loft, and got rid of the side stairs. They added a cathedral ceiling, with handsome trusses. They put in new flooring, and painted brightly. The Grapevine — the clever name — is now the only bi-level liquor store in the state, Bia says.

The entrance has been moved to the north side. There’s plenty of parking there — and the new orientation will be great for a Grapevine innovation: curbside service. Orders can be placed online; when you drive over, it’s ready.

The 3,000-square foot store is open and inviting. The Hittmans are focusing on craft and gluten-free beers, and organic and gluten-free wines. They’re vetting their vineyards, ensuring that “organic” is not just a word on the label.

The Grapevine’s staff will provide advice on building and stocking your wine cellar. “We’ll do everything from soup to nuts,” Bia says (invoking, perhaps, her parents’ days at Crossroads).

She, Seth and partner Joe Annunziata — a longtime veteran of the wine business — look forward to partnering with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association on events.

They are excited about their location. “People drive by coming into and out of Westport,” Bia says. “We’re the entrance and exit.”

The former side of Ace Crossroads is now the main entrance to The Grapevine.

The Grapevine’s soft opening early this month will be followed by a grand opening the first weekend in May.

Meanwhile, the little shopping center’s newest tenant is getting to know the neighbors.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and kind,” Bia says. “Especially Coffee An’.”

Which raises the question: What wine goes best with a glazed donut?

Pic Of The Day #715

Once upon a time there were 9 Manero’s restaurants, in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Florida. The Westport location — where Rizzuto’s is now — was one of the most popular. For decades it drew steak lovers from far and wide.

Today there are only 2 left. One is in Palm City, Florida. Longtime Westporters (from left in photo below) Loretta Santella Hallock, her husband Bob, and their good friends Wanda Tedesco and Chip Platow, had dinner there the other day. Loretta, Wanda and Chip all graduated from Staples High School in 1962.

They remember Manero’s fondly. “The fantastic prime rib and classic Gorgonzola are still on the menu,” Loretta reports. “They were delicious.”

Relishing The Best Burgers In Town

The burgers have been eaten. Over 1,000 votes have been cast.

Now, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce announces the winners of its Great Westport Burger Contest.

The envelope please…

Best Classic Burger: Viva Zapata

Best Cheeseburger: Match Burger Lobster

Best Gourmet Burger: Match Burger Lobster

Match Burger Lobster was one of two double winners. From left: Matthew Mandell, director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce; restaurant owner Matt Storch, and Ira Bloom of Berchem Moses, contest sponsor.

Best Veggie Burger: Little Barn

Best Non-beef Burger (fish, turkey, lamb…): Little Barn

Best Fast Food Burger: Shake Shack

Best Slider: Dunville’s

Honorable Mention: Rothbard and Parker Mansion

Vegans: Eat your hearts out!

—————-

In more Westport Weston Chamber news, the 5th Supper & Soul event takes place on Saturday (April 6).

One $75 ticket buys 3 great entertainment elements: a 3-course dinner at 6 p.m., a concert with Head for the Hills, and happy hour prices for drinks after the show.

Participating restaurants are 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse, Tavern on Main and Wafu. All are located within a couple of blocks of Seabury Center, where the concert takes place.

Head for the Hills has been together for 15 years. They mix rock, folk, R&B and bluegrass. Mandell says, “If you like Mumford & Sons, you’ll love this band.” (Check out the video below — you’ll agree!)

Click here for tickets. A limited number of concert-only tickets are available too.

Coming Soon To Saugatuck: More Pizza

Exactly one year ago yesterday, Julian’s closed its Saugatuck location.

Two months from now, the Riverside Avenue spot will reopen — again as a pizza-and-more place.

The new owner is familiar: Parker Mansion, the restaurant next door.

Manager Kevin Conte told “06880” yesterday that the 2 operations will be separate.

At the 2016 Slice of Saugatuck, the line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

The new place — still unnamed – will serve beer and wine, and frozen yogurt and/or Italian ice cream.

While primarily takeout, tables will be set up in front, and possibly on the side.

Conte also plans tables in back, by the dock area. Diners from the pizza restaurant — and Parker Mansion — can eat back there, enjoying the beautiful river view.

He hopes to open June 1.

(Hat tip: Pete Romano)

Chef’s Table Now Serving Cross Highway

Christie’s Country Store closed in December.

But less than 4 months later, the 6-decade Cross Highway tradition continues.

Chef’s Table opened today. That’s good news for residents of the Cross Highway neighborhood. As well as workers and delivery people in that area. Plus of course students at nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools.

Owner Rich Herzfeld and son Dave — who will manage the eat-in/takeout breakfast-sandwich-grill-soup-pizza-and more place — greeted a steady stream of happy customers, starting early this morning.

David and Rich Herzfeld, earlier today.

In February, Rich told “0688o” he hoped to open by April 1.

He made good on that goal. (No fooling!)

Staples High School students enjoy the new spot.

That’s a great omen for Chef’s Table, which began in Westport (both locations closed after the 2007 recession), and now includes a very popular spot in Fairfield.

And for everyone else hungry for — as Chef’s Table’s t-shirts say — “Fine Food Fast.”

Christie’s still lives. In honor of the 93-year-old tradition, the sign says “Chef’s Table at Christie’s Country Store.”

Sayonara, Matsu Sushi

Alert “06880” reader Molly Alger writes:

We had dinner at Matsu Sushi tonight, as we do every few weeks. We were devastated to learn that this was their last night in business after 17 years.

Here is a photo of the owner’s wife (middle), and the exquisite tray they gave us. They tried to give us serving dishes and other things as well. I am so sorry to see this great restaurant close. 😢😢😢

Behind the scenes at Matsu Sushi. (Photo/Molly Alger)