Tag Archives: Christie’s Country Store

Christie’s Closes Soon. Another Westport Institution Is Gone.

In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.

The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.

John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.

Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)

It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.

Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.

If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.

Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.

The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.

Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.

Christie’s handsome front porch.

They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights  (Saturdays too).

But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.

Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.

“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”

So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.

That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”

“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.

Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.

Really, everyone in Westport should be.

A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.

Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.

And Christie’s, for 92 of them.

Restaurant Churn? Not These!

A recent “06880” photo of the Compo Beach palm tree got an alert — and hungry — reader thinking about lobster rolls.

That reminded her of clam chowder, which made her think of Westfair Fish & Chips. She’s been a fan ever since she was a student at Staples High School, back in the mid-1980s.

The small, unassuming takeout-or-eat-in spot behind the strip mall opposite Stop & Shop has been a Westport favorite for over 30 years. And that got the “06880” reader wondering about other restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Three decades is a great achievement for many things: a career, a marriage. But it’s particularly remarkable in the constant churn that is Westport’s restaurant scene.

She and I came up with a list of places we think have been here for at least 3 decades. They include:

Gold’s. The anchor of Compo Shopping Center since it opened in the late 1950s, and the anchor 6 decades later for anyone who loves a quintessential deli.

Viva Zapata. Probably the oldest continually operating restaurant in town, especially when you consider its predecessor, at the entrance to what is now Playhouse Square.

Westport Pizzeria. Opened in 1968 on Main Street, where it stood proud and unchanging for over 45 years, “Westport Pizza” moved around the corner to the Post Road in 2014. Its special recipe thankfully remains the same.

The Black Duck. A star turn on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has not changed this waterfront favorite one bit.

(Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Dunville’s. Around the corner from the Duck on Saugatuck Avenue, another down-home place that’s the same now as when its present owners grew up here.

Sherwood Diner. Or, simply, “the diner.” It’s no longer open 24/7, but is still the go-to spot for Staples High School seniors, senior citizens, every other human being in Westport, and anyone wandering in off nearby I-95.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Sakura. As steady as she goes. It — and the gorgeous cherry blossom tree outside, which gives the restaurant its name — has been a fixture opposite McDonald’s since the fast-food franchise was Roy Rogers. And before that, Big Top.

Fortuna’s. With limited seating, this is not really a restaurant. But stop quibbling. Its winning formula has filled the stomach of Staples students, Post Road workers and everyone else since the Ford administration.

Coffee An‘. If it’s good enough for Bill Clinton, it’s good enough for the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a president or a peon. The donuts are the same — unbelievable — for all.

Little Kitchen. When it opened on Main Street, it really was a “little kitchen.” Now it’s bigger, and the granddaddy of all Asian fusion places in town.

Da Pietro’s. One of Westport’s best — and smallest — restaurants, earning praise and love since 1987.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Tavern on Main. This cozy 2nd-floor Main Street spot has not been here as long as its predecessor, Chez Pierre — but it’s getting close.

I couldn’t find out for sure when a few other long-lived (though probably less than 3 decades) restaurants opened. But these too have stood the test of time: Tengda. Tarantino’s. Finalmente. Via Sforza. Planet Pizza. Tutti’s. Positano’s (at 2 different locations).

Special mention goes to 2 fantastic delis that offer a wide variety of hot and cold food, and serve as community centers: Elvira’s  and Christie’s Country Store. 

Plus, of course, Joey’s by the Shore. It’s not a restaurant or a deli. But the beach concession occupies its own special. much-loved niche. And if it hasn’t been here for 30 years, it’s at least 29.

Finally, 2 other downtown delis have been around for decades. They’ve changed names, and — particularly with one — substantially updated the interior.

But Rye Ridge (formerly Oscar’s) and Winfield Street Coffee (previously Art’s, and definitely not on Winfield Street but right over the bridge) keep doing what their predecessors have done.

And what every other place in this story does: provide excellent food and continuity to generations of Westporters.

(Have I missed any longtime restaurants or delis? Click “Comments” — and my apologies!)

Christmakkah Is Cumin

Staples High and Bedford Middle School students know Christie’s is the place to go after school — and before. (Sometimes during, too).

Neighbors know the country store/deli is the place to go when power is out. Somehow, owner John Hooper keeps everyone fed, hydrated, warm (or cool) and happy.

Now Nicole Gerber knows Christie’s is the place to go for cumin.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

She lives on Woody Lane. Christie’s is around the corner — and it’s become her second kitchen.

“I’m in there all the time,” she says.

She’s throwing a large “Christmakkah” dinner party for 25 people today. John is catering.

On Tuesday, she was at the store talking with him. He was in the midst of pulling together a very last-minute request for 15 sandwiches to feed the hungry vendors at the Westport Front Porch Holiday Market at around-the-corner Wakeman Town Farm. (“He happily stepped into the kitchen and made those sandwiches himself, because the kitchen staff was busy with the lunch rush,” Nicole reports.) She told him about her brisket recipe, and went home.

Nicole Gerber at work.

Much closer to her party — while measuring the ingredients — she ran out of cumin.

“The thought of schlepping all the way out to Stop & Shop for one item was unappealing,” she says.

Christie’s was a long shot — it’s a country store, not a supermarket — but she called. John said, “Come on over! I have cumin. How much do you need?”

Two minutes later, he handed Nicole 2 containers filled with the spice.

She asked John how much she owed.

John smiled. “Nothing!” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Nicole Gerber’s cumin.

Nicole has long loved everyone at Christie’s. The staff knows her name, and her kids’ names. They know her “usual” lunch order.

But that cumin story really takes the cake.

Frosty Bear’s Final Scoop

John Hooper — owner of Christie’s Country Store, which leases its gazebo to Frosty Bear ice cream — says:

I am saddened to inform you that Frosty Bear will not open this season. John Martin — aka Frosty — has hit some tough times, and must contract his operations.

I think it’s been a 7-year run. John came to me in 2009 when, as a graphic artist, he was having problems finding jobs. He rented the gazebo and, at the same time, worked for an hourly wage at the cafe in the Darien library. He would rush to us at 2 p.m. in order to open every day.

In time he bought the rights to the cafe, and opened a small ice cream shop in Monroe. His 2 daughters helped out in all locations.

frosty-bear

Frosty Bear at Christie’s Country Store, on Cross Highway.

Selling ice cream is not easy, and many more well-capitalized folks have entered the business selling ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Early last summer, John got tough news that his oldest daughter Lauren, who had just graduated from UConn, was diagnosed with MS. A month later, Alyson was having trouble scooping hard ice cream. She, a UConn student, was diagnosed with the disease as well.

Our customers may have noticed that he had trouble staffing the gazebo this year, and this is why. It got a little worse when his wife Ann, broke her ankle. The challenges have just become too great for him to stay open.

We are so sad to see him go. But you can find John at the Darien Library on the Post Road, and at 695 Main Street, (Rt 25), in Monroe.

Tween Time At Christie’s

It’s a typical day at Christie’s Country Store.

There’s a brief lull after the big lunchtime crowd (construction workers, work-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads).

Soon, Staples students cruise in: those with last period free, then those who don’t. For juniors parking at Wakeman, it’s a quick drive around the corner.

They’re followed by middle schoolers. Some walk over from Bedford; others are dropped off by Bedford and Coleytown buses.

Christie’s owner John Hooper loves all his customers. But he’s got a soft spot for the middle school tweens.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie's -- near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

Four middle schoolers hang out at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

He loves it even when 50 5th graders cram his Cross Highway place. They snack, they socialize, they act like kids. (Though John and his staff are tough on them about cleaning up after themselves, and behaving appropriately.)

Parents get a break by letting their kids hang out there. They know they’ll be safe and supervised. Joe — the afternoon manager (“he runs the afternoon program,” John jokes) knows everyone’s names, and what goes on in their lives. The middle schoolers love him.

In his 7 years as Christie’s owner, John has watched many children grow into young adults. After graduating from Staples (and college), they come back to say hi. And buy beer. (21 and over, of course!)

Say what you will about Westport — this is still, at its heart, a small town.

Of course, Christie’s is not the only place here where parents know their kids will be safe, and looked after lovingly. Elvira’s — in a very different neighborhood — is another.

If you’ve got a Christie’s or Elvira’s story — or want to give a shout-out to another neighborhood kids’ hangout — click “Comments” below. Let’s spread the “06880” spirit!

christies-3

 

Renee Hooper’s Specialty Foods Hit The Spot

The white oak is Connecticut’s state tree. It is handsome and strong.

White Oak is also the name of the nearly 3-year-old gourmet and specialty foods company created by Renee DuMarr Hooper. Mixing her passions — fresh food and local farmers — she has cooked up a flavorful, all-natural line of fruit spreads, mustards, grilling and finishing sauces, salad dressings and marinades that is drawing raves, and winning awards, throughout the Northeast.

Christie's Country Store, where Renee and John Hooper make magic happen.

Christie’s Country Store, where Renee and John Hooper make magic happen.

White Oak Farm and Table is based at Christie’s Country Store. Her husband John Hooper owns it, and the combination — a neighborhood market/ gathering spot offering high-quality, locally grown and produced food — is a grand slam.

Renee — who spent years as a Manhattan clothing designer — started cooking fruit spreads in the back of Christie’s. She got tired of “seeing water and sugar listed as the first ingredients” on every label.

She and John created recipes together. Renee’s 1st jams — blueberry basil, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry and mixed berry — drew raves from customers.

Barbecue sauces were next. The rest is history.

John and Renee Hooper, in a cozy Christie's corner with a few of their White Oak products

John and Renee Hooper, in a cozy Christie’s corner with a few of their White Oak products

Production has moved out of Christie’s — it now takes place in New Haven and Maine — but the “secret sauce” remains. Small batches. The best, farmers market-type ingredients. Surprising combinations. Renee’s “borderline obsessiveness” about remaining “stubbornly artisinal” and all-natural.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Specialty Food Association held its 13th annual competition. Nearly 200 items were entered, in 36 categories. White Oak products won 4 awards. Grabbing gold were Marple Hall ketchup (“Connecticut Grown” category), Champagne Dill Wasabi mustard (“Savory Condiment”) and Black Olive tapenade (“Tapenade”). Tuscan Vegetable sauce placed 3rd in “Connecticut Grown.”

And Yankee Magazine named Wild Blueberry Basil the Best Fruit Spread in all of New England.

White Oak foods — did I mention the Cajun Peach grilling sauce, artichoke Parmesan salad dressing or savory Sun-Dried Tomato tapinade? — are sold far beyond Christie’s. They’re at 37 Whole Foods stores in the Northeast; Mrs. Green’s; the Chelsea Market, and specialty stores all the way into Canada.

Recently, Renee shipped an order to Taiwan.

White Oak Farm

Next up: White Oak represents Connecticut’s natural foods at a Congressional luncheon, with 350 guests.

“I’d rather you eat a little bit of something awesome than a lot of something mediocre,” Renee says.

When you bite into, spread or taste a White Oak product, though you may eat a lot of something awesome.

Unsung Heroes Take A Break

After a long night — and morning — of work, snowplow operators need 2 things: good coffee, and a warm fire.

They find both at Christie’s Country Store.

Snow plows at Christies

Your road may not be plowed out yet.

But you know Cross Highway is clear!

Butterfly Wings Build A Playground — And More

Last month, the Board of Education accepted a very generous gift. The New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association is donating a $117,000 playground to Long Lots Elementary School.

As “06880” reported, the firefighters are paying forward — to communities struck by Hurricane Sandy, and near Newtown — the kindness they were shown after in New Jersey after the storm. Seven years earlier, following Hurricane Katrina, the same firefighters had built playgrounds along the Gulf Coast.

Westport was chosen by relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Dylan Hockley, because of a family connection here.

Butterfly magnet Long Lots playgroundWestport firefighters and Public Works, Gault Energy, Kowalsky Brothers and AJ Penna Construction are all donating time, labor and materials to prepare the site for the new playground. Sunrise Rotary is contributing funds.

The groundbreaking on June 7 will be a community event. Jake Hockley — Dylan’s brother — will be the “foreman,” and cut a ceremonial ribbon. 26 butterflies — one for every student and educator killed in Newtown — will be released into the air.

In addition to being beautiful, the butterflies symbolize the Butterfly Effect: Something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings can cause change halfway around the world. Dylan’s parents, Nicole and Ian, call Dylan their butterfly. He — and the 25 others who died — can be a catalyst for change, they say.

But the effort does not end there.

Butterfly Effect t-shirtThe Long Lots PTA has created “Butterfly Effect” t-shirts (left and below) and car magnets (above). Part of the money raised will go to Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play. That’s the umbrella organization coordinating the construction of 26 playgrounds in the tri-state area, of which Long Lots is one.

The rest will go to Dylan’s Wings of Change, a memorial fund created in his memory to provide support for children — like him — with autism, and other special needs.

They’re also selling Sandy Ground bracelets ($5, at Elvira’s, Christie’s Country Store and Wishlist).

Long Lots — and Westport — received a wonderful gift. The New Jersey firefighters and Hockley family say they’re just paying it forward.

Now we’ve got a chance to do the same.

(T-shirts for $10, and “Butterfly Effect” magnets for $5, are for sale at Christie’s Country Store on Saturday, May 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, and at a table near the Westport Y at the Memorial Day parade. Requests can also be sent to goodygirls@mac.com. If you’d just like to donate to the cause, send a check payable to “Long Lots PTA” to Lauren Goodman, Long Lots Elementary School, 13 Hyde Lane, Westport, CT 06880).

Butterfly 2

Christie’s Checks In

John Hooper — owner of Christie’s Country Store, the de facto community center on Cross Highway — reports:

I got up yesterday and wondered how I would get to the store. Irene had blocked most of the way down Congress Street and Cross Highway.

Sandy was a little kinder. At the top of the street she snapped the telephone pole workers replaced after Irene. But the rest was relatively smooth sailing.

I got there by 6:45. The generator was humming. I turned on the the ovens and coffee, and texted all my employees.

By 7:15, people started coming. Word must have gotten out because they didn’t stop.

Everyone was patient and grateful we were open. Eventually my wife and 10- year-old made it in to help. I was running from the grill to the cash register to the icebox (yes, we have ice).

At one point I looked up to see a customer and his girlfriend behind the counter making coffee. They didn’t leave their station for 2 hours!

It seemed like coffee, egg sandwiches and the cell phone charging station were the biggest hits.

Everyone was pleasant and understanding if things took a while. The last customer left about 7:30 p.m.

We are open now, with enough staff for normal breakfast and lunch. We hope to make a few dinner dishes for those who would like hot plates. We still have ice (a 2-bag limit, please). And yes, we even have a few D batteries as well.

Sunday Diners With Alex

Gold’s Delicatessen serves a tongue sandwich.

Christie’s Country Store sells 100% natural jam — the 1st ingredient listed is fruit.

Coffee An’ is so good, President Clinton ordered donuts from there.

Those are some of the on-target observations of Alex D’Adamo, gleaned from regular Sunday morning breakfasts with his dad.

A few years ago a 3rd grader — which Alex is — might have told those things to a couple of friends. A particularly creative kid might have written them down.

Alex created a blog.

Alex and Gold's owner Jim Eckl.

Now — with a bit of help from his father, James — he publishes Sunday Diners. Once a week, Alex’s relatives, his teacher — and random strangers, searching for things like “father-son breakfasts Fairfield County” — read Alex’s comments about the places he goes.

As well as his numerical ratings of “Food,” “Service,” “Looks” and “Bathroom.” (That’s very important. “If there’s toilet paper all over the floor, that’s gross,” Alex says. “If the bathrooms are clean, the kitchen is too.”)

Here are some of his recent comments on Gold’s:

Even though Gold’s is mainly known for their lunches like Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and Hebrew National hot dogs they also make great breakfasts.  Except, they don’t serve eggs or pancakes, because, the kitchen at Gold’s is too small for that.  But that’s OK, because they say they have the best lox in the state, and that’s what I came to try today….

Before I even had my Nova, Karen the server gave me some pickles which were also really good — I’ve never had pickles at breakfast, but I had to try them.

After a bit of history of Christie’s, and before an interview with owners John and Renee Hooper, Alex wrote:

Today I had the Egg, Bacon & Cheese Sandwich on a toasted poppy- seed bagel — one thing I noticed was that the Egg Sand- wiches were very popular, it seemed like every person coming in the store was ordering one — one guy actually came in and bought not one…not two… not three… four or five… BUT six of them!  I wonder if he ate them all himself!  I also had some home fries which were tasty and hot.

Alex has always loved breakfasts with his dad. He remembers his 1st: at Commuter Coffee in Westport. That’s still a favorite.

“When I was little, I loved to watch the trains go by,” the 3rd grader recalls. “And Tommy (the owner) was always very nice to me.”

Sunday Diners’ 1st anniversary is coming up. Alex hopes to continue discovering great new places for breakfast for a long time to come.

And, on a return visit to Gold’s, he might even try that tongue sandwich.

(Click here to read Alex’s Sunday Diners blog.)

Alex, savoring breakfast.