Tag Archives: Commuter Coffee

Another Closing: Commuter Coffee

Commuter Coffee — for over 4 decades, a quick stop across from the train station — serves its last breakfast (and coffee) today.

Owner Fred Whelan was too busy with his final customers to speak with “06880.” But an employee said another restaurant may eventually fill the Railroad Place space.

Commuter Coffee was started by Thomas Papan — Whelan’s father — in 1976.

(Hat tip: Ben Sturner)

Joe Valiante: Taxing Volunteer Work

The Staples High School 1961 yearbook listed 2 goals for senior Joe Valiante. He wanted to be an accountant. And he wanted a hole-in-one.

He got the ace.

He also took accounting courses at the University of Miami. But he left before earning his degree.

So the native Westporter spent 5 years working for Connecticut National Bank.

Joe Valiante's shirt honors 2 of his passions: the Fire Department and golf.

Joe Valiante’s shirt honors 2 of his passions: the Fire Department and golf.

In 1968 he joined the Westport Fire Department. For 35 years he worked his way up, from firefighter to lieutenant, then captain and assistant chief. He also earned an associate’s degree in fire science from Norwalk State Technical College.

Valiante fought some of Westport’s biggest fires: Klaff’s. Westport Hardware. Sherwood Square (twice). The bowling alley.

Before retiring, he saw an ad for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Serving low- and middle-income people, it seemed like the perfect way to use his accounting talents.

Valiante underwent rigorous training. (He re-trains every year.) He signed a waiver, saying he would accept nothing for his work — no money, no gifts.

Then he went to work.

Each year — 6 days a week, from February 1 through April 15 — Valiante prepares returns. On Wednesdays he’s at the Senior Center. He splits the other days between the Fairfield and Norwalk libraries, and Norwalk Senior Center.

The Westport Senior Center offers an excellent free tax program.

The Westport Senior Center offers an excellent free tax program.

This year, he did 728 returns. That’s the most of any volunteer, for the past 10 years.

Some of his clients are elderly. Some are low-income. At the libraries, he sees anyone.

He also does pro bono work for the staff at Commuter Coffee. He did the wait staff at Mario’s too, until it closed.

Many of the men and women at the senior centers and libraries are repeat clients. Each year, they request Valiante by name.

It’s an enormous amount of work — with absolutely no pay. “Thank you is enough,” he says.

So why does he do it?

“I want to give something back,” Valiante says. “I enjoy it. I’ll go anywhere to help.”

Tax forms can be daunting for anyone.

Tax forms can be daunting for anyone.

“Besides, the people are so appreciative. And these are people who really need help. An accounting firm would charge them at least $300.”

So why is “06880” profiling a tax specialist in July?

Because Valiante is still doing returns. “There are a lot of extensions,” he explains.

Does he get an extension? You know — the cobbler’s children, and all.


“My taxes are done by the end of February,” Valiante says proudly.

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.