Tag Archives: Bill Taibe

Meals Go Straight To First Responders

Last night, Nicole Straight sat home feeling anxious.

Her daughter — suddenly home from college — was working a volunteer shift at EMS.

Food Rescue US — the app that uses volunteer drivers to move food that would otherwise be thrown away by restaurants to shelters, kitchens and pantries, and which Nicole runs locally — had gotten slammed. Longtime generous donors were suddenly shutting down.

As she chatted with a friend — an ER nurse at Norwalk Hospital — Nicole had an idea. What if she could get meals from a local restaurant, and bring them to first responders?

She called Bill Taibe — owner of The Whelk, Jesup Hall and Kawa Ni, who had just announced an end to in-house dining. He was happy to help.

Nicole told him to make whatever he wanted, and pack it individually. She’d bring it to Westport EMS.

Bill calculated the cost at $15 a meal. Nicole posted that information on Facebook. She hoped to get enough donations so she would not have to cover 50 meals — $750 — herself.

Since last night, almost $6,000 has poured in.

Old Post Tavern in Fairfield asked if they could help. An ICU nurse from Norwalk Hospital said her crew would love a meal.

Nicole’s daughter contacted the crew chief from Norwalk EMS. Tomorrow, they and the ICU unit will get 70 meals, courtesy of Old Post Tavern.

Nicole is also setting up meals for Trumbull EMS, Bridgeport Hospital’s ER and ICU, and Bridgeport’s Harding High School Adversity to Prosperity program, which keeps at-risk youth off the streets and involved in sports.

She is looking for first responders who’d like a meal, and restaurants who would like to help (and be paid, of course).

Meanwhile, Nicole is setting up a GoFundMe page, so other communities can also support both restaurants and first responders.

Until then, people can Venmo @nicole-straight. She’ll buy meals from local restaurants — and bring them to first responders around Fairfield County — as long as she can.

Crew chief Rob Pocius accepts a special delivery at Westport EMS.

Restaurants Take Drastic Steps; Savvy + Grace Closes Temporarily

First it was schools. Then the library, Town Hall and Y. Last night, it was the beaches and Compo playground.

Now, COVID-19 is rippling through our restaurants.

Yesterday, Bill Taibe closed his 3 restaurants — The Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall — for in-house dining.

Takeout meals are available through curbside pick-up. If you can’t leave the house — or don’t want to — they’ll deliver. It may take some time how to do it, Taube says, “but we’ll figure it out. Everybody’s got to eat!

“We feel this is necessary in order to do our part to help stop the spread of this virus,” says the owner of 3 of Westport’s most popular dining spots.

“If there’s ever a time to tip, this is it,” he adds.

For the time being, the doors to The Whelk will be closed. (Photo courtesy of Our Town Crier)

While not closing, other restaurants are taking their own measures during the pandemic.

Pearl at Longshore — which recently hired a new chef, reworked the menu and remodeled the interior — has removed some tables, creating more distance between diners. They offer 10% off on takeout orders, and will bring it outside for pickup.

Pearl at Longshore has made changes….

In addition to also removing tables, offering curbside pick-up and delivery (within 3 miles), Rizzuto’s has removed items like flowers and salt and pepper shakers from all tables. They’re printing menus on lightweight paper for single use. too.

… and so has Rizzuto’s …

The Boathouse has added curbside pick-up, and will soon offer delivery.

… and the Boathouse, at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.

They — and every other restaurant in town — have strengthened existing health policies, and implemented new ones, such as washing hands upon arrival at work; before and after serving or removing food and beverages; before resetting tables, and after every customer interaction, including credit card processing. They’ve also expanded and enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

Restaurants also encourage patrons to buy gift cards. They provide much-needed cash now — particularly for small, great places like Jeera Thai — and can be used whenever you feel comfortable going inside.

PS: It’s not just restaurants. Customers can call Calise’s Market (203-227-3257). They’ll put together hot foods, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, homemade pizzas, drinks, snacks, milk, water, bread, eggs, butter, dry goods — whatever you want  — all for curbside service or delivery.

Sandra Calise-Cenatiempo reports they just stocked up on pasta, sauces and many canned goods. Tomorrow (Monday) they’ll start making dishes that can be frozen.

If you own a restaurant — or store — and would like “06880” readers to know what you’re doing, click “Comments” below.


But restaurants are not the only small businesses reeling from COVID-19.

Savvy + Grace — the great, locally own downtown unique gifts-and-more store — will close for a while. But only the doors.

Owner Annette Norton — Main Street’s biggest booster — says:

As a small business owner I have been grappling with how to handle this.

I am responsible for the rent, vendor bills, expenses, yet with all of the information I am collection, it pales in comparison with our community’s health. Therefore, I have decided to close until further notice.

I will be inside, alone, processing all of our new merchandise for spring. Which, by the way, allows me to offer curbside delivery and call-ins, or direct message me on Instagram for shipping: @savvyandgracewestport. You can also call the store: 203-221-0077.

My store has always been, and always will be, about putting my customers first. This too shall pass.

I just want to do what is responsible, given the information available. It has been my pleasure to serve this community, and I am committed to seeing this through.

See you soon. Stay healthy!

Savvy + Grace, a jewel on Main Street. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Westport Means Business

Those are not just words. “Westport Means Business” is the name of an ongoing series of events bringing together local business owners — and those who hope to be — to share, learn from and support each other.

“Westport Means Business” is about connections, not competition.

Last year’s inaugural session included Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily, founders of The Granola Bar; Jamie Camche, longtime owner of JL Rocks jewelry store, and Kitt Shapiro, whose 2-year-old West is already an established downtown presence.

The next event is tomorrow (Thursday, January 9, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum; networking begins at 6:30 p.m.).

Panelists include Bill Taibe, executive chef and owner of The Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall; JoyRide’s CEO and co-owner Becky Cerroni and co-founder and chief brand officer Amy Hochhauser, and Maria Pooya, founder and CEO of Greenwich Medical Spa.

All are local residents. All own multiple-location businesses. All are very different. But their focus on community, generosity and success crosses all boundaries.

Last year’s topic — “Jumping Off” — explored the moment the women decided to start their own businesses. This year it’s “Lessons Learned”: sharing advice on what to do — and not do.

Jen Tooker — Westport’s 2nd selectman, whose portfolio includes speaking with local business owners — will once again moderate. As she did last year, she will encourage panelists to tell their stories.

And suggest what our town can do better, to help local businesses.

Tooker says that feedback she’s heard falls in 3 general areas. One is that we have a successful and vibrant local business community. But owners want ways to meet, learn from, challenge, support and cross-promote each other.

Another is that among our many talented residents, many men and women are looking to start second, third, even fourth careers. How can we capitalize on this talent pool, and connect them with others who have already started businesses?

A third area is that Connecticut has a reputation of being anti-business. How can we turn this narrative around, and highlight our diverse, vibrant business community?

“I’m inspired by every local business owner I meet,” Tooker says. “I can’t wait to continue celebrating our business community. We’re partnering with the Westport Library on this, and are working together with the herculean efforts of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association. Just as we want Westport to be a great place to live and raise a family, it can also be a great place to start and grow a business.”

“Westport Means Business” plans 3 panels this year, and monthly podcasts.

Thursday’s event is free, and open to all. Pre-registration is not mandatory, but click here for a link so that organizers can get a sense of numbers.

Menu Moments: What To Eat At Kawa Ni

Kawa Ni (Japanese for “on the river”) is an Asian-inspired establishment. They serve a wide array of drinks and food in a cozy interior. It’s a casual setting for an after-work get-together with co-workers, or a destination for friends and family.

Though a Japanese-style restaurant, chef/owner Bill Taibe, and his brother and fellow chef Jeff Taibe, draw inspiration from other Asian cuisines (notably Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean).

As a nod to the Japanese-style pub called “izakaya,” Kawa Ni specializes in many small plates, a few one-dish entree portions with rice or noodles, and an impressive variety of sake, other alcoholic beverages and teas. Westport-based nutritionist, Heather Bauer serves up her top healthy picks below.

Bill Taibe (right) and his Kawa Ni staff.

Heather’s Tips

Kawa Ni does not do special requests (except for edamame), so plan your day around dinner; eat clean at breakfast and lunch. Be sure to drink your daily water allotment by 3 p.m., to help your body handle the extra sodium at dinner.

Kimchi — a traditional Korean food made from fermented cabbage — is served as a condiment or on the side. Since it’s fermented, this food helps improve gut bacteria, lowers cholesterol, boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, and has antibacterial properties.

Pickled kelp is another highly nutritious Asian food rich in vitamins K and A, iodine, calcium, iron and more.

Appetizers

  • Share edamame (request butter on side) and shishito
  • Choose one appetizer (green papaya salad) for yourself.

Entrees

  • Hamachi ochazuke
    • Sliced raw fish over chilled yuzu dashi (no carbs)
  • Kani crab salad
    • While this hass a mayo base, it’s not a carb. Plus it’s so good!
  • Hamachi sashimi appetizer.

Add side veggies to an entree:

  • Tsukemono (pickled vegetables, kimchi)
  • Shaved broccoli miso goma
  • Pickled kelp.

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

Food For Thought: Farmers’ Market Helps Veterans, Chefs Grow

Farmers’ markets are cool. They usually have fresh produce. Shopping there boosts local economies. It’s hassle-free and homey.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is that — and much, much more. It’s dynamic, constantly evolving, and a true community event.

One element contributing to all that is programming. There are demonstrations, projects, and ongoing partnerships.

One of the most creative and meaningful is called Farmers to Veterans to Community. The program gives military vets affiliated with Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport a chance to prepare farm-fresh food under the guidance of WFM’s vast chef network.

Homes for the Brave helps homeless men and women, and their families, attain housing and learn life skills.

Through the Farmers’ Market, veterans learn about the health benefits of local food — and job opportunities with area restaurants. It’s a win-win-win — for vets, farmers and restaurateurs.

Of course, it helps the entire community — and economy — too.

FVC began 2 months ago, with 6 women. Chef Jennifer Balin — a Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives, just over the Norwalk line — and chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall pioneered the program. They shop at the indoor farmers’ market, then bring ingredients to the kitchen at the women’s home. They demonstrate cooking techniques. Then, at dinner, they share recipes, and discuss life skills and employment opportunities. One job may already be in the works.

Chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall explains his technique.

More dinners are planned for February. Chefs Geoff Lazlo, Bill Taibeand Matt Storch, along with food blogger Liz Rueven, will participate.

Westport Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall is justly proud of her creative programming. But, she admits, Farmers to Veterans to Community is special.

“This puts to work — literally — our values of giving back ot the community, by helping those who have given so much of themselves,” she says.

What a wonderful recipe for success!

(The winter Westport Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, 7 Sylvan Lane. For more information click here, or email director@westportfarmersmarket.com)

Chef Jennifer Balin’s delicious table, at Homes for the Brave.

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Steve Ruchefsky’s Gang Of 50

For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.

That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.

Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.

It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.

“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.

At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”

He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.

The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)

Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”

Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.

Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.

Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.

Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.

Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.

Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.

“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”

Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.

Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.

Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.

That’s one story. It’s a great one.

Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.

Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.

The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”

Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.

Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.

“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”

A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.

Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).

Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.

Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”

“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.

One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”

But what a gang!

Jesup Hall Reinvigorates Downtown Dining

Westport’s dining scene takes another giant step forward next week.

And it does so with a gentle nod to the past.

Jesup Hall opens Tuesday, in the old Town Hall.

If you don’t know where that is: It’s the building with one restaurant already: Rothbard Ale + Larder.

And if you don’t know where that is — it’s the building next to Restoration Hardware. Opposite Patagonia.

The facade still says

The facade still says “Town Hall” (sort of). Starting next week though, 90 Post Road East will be known as Jesup Hall.

Though it served as Town Hall (and, for many years, police headquarters) from its construction in 1907 through the 1970s, the Revivalist structure with a stone facade is often ignored.

Now — thanks to talented restaurateur Bill Taibe — it will once again be smack in the middle of downtown action.

Taibe — who owned Le Farm in Colonial Green, then opened The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck — had been eyeing the Charles Street property that most recently housed the Blu Parrot (before that, Jasmine and the Arrow).

But the deal did not work. When he heard the historic town hall was available, he knew it was perfect.

“It’s got great bones,” Taibe said last night, at a preview opening. “It’s in downtown Westport. With Bedford Square opening up across the street, there’s a lot going on here. This is a fantastic place to be.”

Interior designer Kate Hauser — who worked with Taibe on the Whelk and Kawa Ni — has created a warm, welcoming environment in a very interesting space. With a long bar on one side, communal tables in the middle, and smaller tables (including a circular one) on the other side, Taibe envisions Jesup Hall as an all-day destination. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, plus — a first for him — Sunday brunch.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Owner Bill Taibe, at a corner table. Patagonia can be seen through the windows, across the Post Road.

Chef Dan Sabia — most recently at the Bedford Post Inn, who has worked with Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — specializes in large cuts of meat, and loves vegetables. The fennel, kale salad, cauliflower and lamb served last night were especially noteworthy.

As with all of Taibe’s restaurants, local sourcing is important. “It will be seasonal, honest food,” Taibe says.

Taibe opened his first Westport restaurant — Le Farm — 7 years ago. “I really feel part of the town,” he says. “I adore it. It’s been so good to me.”

He felt a responsibility to the building, he says. But calling his new restaurant Town Hall — as some people suggested — did not feel right. Then he thought about nearby Jesup Green. He researched the family. So Jesup Hall it was.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall. Last night, it was used for a buffet dinner.

One of the communal tables at Jesup Hall.

Taibe makes sure all his employees know where they are — and who Morris Jesup was. He’s the grandson of Ebenezer Jesup, who owned the property we now call Jesup Green (and a nearby wharf). Morris funded the Westport Library (its original location, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, was dedicated in 1908, just a couple of months after he died).

He also helped found the Young Men’s Christian Association — the national Y organization — and was a major contributor to the Arctic expeditions of Robert Peary, the Tuskegee Institute and the American Museum of Natural History (which he also served as president).

The space has some challenges. There are two entrances — but one is set back from the Post Road; the other is in back, off the parking lot.

That’s fine. In the summer, the front patio will be filled with tables, making for a lively outdoor scene.

Jesup Hall may even share some outdoor space with Rothbard. “I love those guys,” Taibe says, of the downstairs restaurant, which serves Central European and German fare. “They’ve been so supportive the entire time we were building our space.”

Other downtown restaurant announcements are coming soon. But right now, the 2 words to keep in mind are: Jesup Hall.

(Hat tip: Dorothy Curran)

Ryan Fibiger Crafts Quite A Business

Less than 5 years ago, owner Ryan Fibiger was carrying a whole pig from his van to his new shop: Saugatuck Craft Butchery.

A startled passerby called the cops.

The officer who arrived heard Fibiger describe his new venture: a shop dedicated to “better sourcing and better butchery.” The world deserves a sustainable alternative to factory farming, he said, and he planned to lead the charge through innovative ideas and traditional practices.

The policeman was fascinated. He stayed, looked around, and became one more convert to the better-butcher-store cause.

Ryan Fibiger, at work.

Ryan Fibiger, hard at work.

A lot has changed since that November 2011 day. The store grew, moved across Riverside Avenue and expanded. Fibiger and partner Paul Nessel merged with Fleishers Craft Butchery, and took on the new name.

Perhaps most importantly, they educated customers about humane treatment of animals, hundreds of types of meat cuts, and the incredibly flavorful joys of cooking the craft butchery way.

Along the way, Fibiger’s store became first a pioneer, then a mainstay of the new Saugatuck Center — and a destination for food lovers throughout Fairfield County.

Including, improbably, plenty of former vegetarians.

fleishers-logoThe story begins when Fibiger realized he hated his work as a banker/consultant, and had to get out. He found a Kingston, New York company — Fleishers — that was  committed to the art of butchery as a means for improving and growing a strong food community.

He apprenticed for 6 months, then opened his own store. It was a small operation — just he, Nessel and a couple of employees — but it was fresh, different, and a key to the nascent redevelopment project on the Saugatuck River plaza.

Customers saw — in addition to the owner hauling a pig on his shoulder — whole lambs on the counter. All the butchering was done out in the open, in full view of the store.

Some people were horrified. But those who stuck around learned about a lost art.

“Westport really embraced us,” Fibiger says. “We grew up in this community.”

Westporters grew up too.

“Most people are disconnected from where their food comes from,” Fibiger notes. “They’re disconnected from meat itself. They see it in a nice package on the grocery shelf. They recognize a few cuts. But there are hundreds of them.”

Fleishers' high-quality meat...

Fleishers’ high-quality meat…

“Whole animal butchery” is based on an old European model. Older customers tell Fibiger, “I haven’t seen that in 50 years.”

Fleishers — the Westport shop is now part of 5 in the small chain — sources from “real farms,” not feed lots.

...comes from humanely raised livestock.

…comes from humanely raised livestock.

As the store grew, so did the area around it. The Whelk opened across the plaza; Saugatuck Craft developed a partnership with owner Bill Taibe.

At first, the Saugatuck location was a risk. No one was certain the new development would succeed.

But now it’s hot. And, Fibiger notes, “I don’t think Main Street would have been right for us. It’s not where people shop for food.”

Food shoppers appreciate more than just Fleishers’ high-quality meat, and all-out-in-the-open butchering practices.

Every employee has an intimate knowledge of farms. They visit, talk to farmers, and see livestock being raised.

Fibiger is passionate about his store, his process, his accessible price points, his “insane transparency,” his meat and his customers.

But he has a special spot in his heart for kids.

In just 5 years, they’ve gone from being shielded by their parents from watching butchering, to being brought behind the counter to watch every step. They’re the future — of eating well, while supporting sustainable agriculture and humane practices — and Fibiger does his part to make sure they understand all that entails.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Fleishers is educating youngsters about where their food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it all fits in to the world.

Something else has happened too. “Whether it’s medical or personal reasons, vegetarians are starting to eat meat again,” the owner says.

“They love coming to us. We talk about the humane treatment of animals. There are a lot of ‘ethical vegetarians’ out there. We share their values.”

Fibiger is proud that they trust him. He’s thrilled to celebrate his 5th year anniversary in Saugatuck. But like any good businessman, he’s always looking to improve.

Fleishers’ interior was recently updated. New products and cases were added. The restaurant is gaining momentum, as former chef Emily Mingrone — adored by the community — has returned. She plans exciting menu changes and dinner events this fall.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

Chef Emily Mingrone.

And Fibiger just started working with a Pennsylvania lamb farm whose only other customers are 3-Michelin-star restaurants.

“We’re glad to be here,” Ryan Fibiger says, referring both to Saugatuck and “the romance of Westport.” He adds,  “We’re really glad that so many people understand and embrace what we do.”

Fleishers Craft Butchery is here for the long haul — and the whole hog.