Tag Archives: Jennifer Balin

Sugar & Olives & Co-Working

One side of Sugar & Olives — Jennifer Balin’s fun, funky space just over the Norwalk line, across from Bowtie Royale 6 — is a restaurant. The other side is an event space, for receptions, celebrations, and bar and bat mitzvahs.

People don’t celebrate on weekday mornings or afternoons. They work then.

Of course, they work differently than they used to. They work at home — surrounded by kids, dogs, house cleaners and leaf blowers. Or they work at Starbucks — surrounded by conversations, constant movement, and baristas calling out wrong names.

Now there’s another option.

Balin — a longtime Westporter who raised 4 kids while also running Sugar & Olives — has turned her event area into a co-working space.

With big tables, high-speed internet, lots of fast table-top charging stations and floor outlets, a laser printer, desk lamps, a tall standing desk, free coffee and tea — plus discounts at the restaurant  — it offers the kind of quiet yet creative atmosphere you can’t get at home.

Or Starbucks.

The co-working space at Sugar & Olives.

Westport author Jane Green is a strong advocate. She encouraged Balin to post the idea on Facebook. Dozens of residents responded.

They’re writers, financial folks, marketers, non-profit workers and more. They pay $300 for a monthly pass, or $200 for a 10-pack. (Special plans are available for Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society members. And, Balin says, some companies pick up the co-working tab for employees. She’s got an invoice you can use for reimbursement.)

The vibe, Balin says, is “relaxing, inspirational and chill.” Phone calls are fine — just go to the restaurant side. (That’s called the “conference room,” for meetings and Skyping.)

The co-working space is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — though Balin can be flexible.

Oh, yeah: There’s a free social networking breakfasting every Wednesday.

Beat that, Starbucks!

(For more information on Sugar & Olives’ co-working program, click here.)

Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives: The Sequel

A month ago, “06880” described the amazing journey of Josh Kangere.

After 7 years in a Kenyan refugee camp, the refugee from Congo arrived in New York moments before President Trump’s suspension of America’s resettlement program.

Despite years of vetting, Josh endured many more hours of questioning before he could travel to his new apartment — and life — in Bridgeport.

The Wall Street Journal reported his story. Immediately, Jennifer Balin — the Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives — offered him a cleaning and dishwashing job at her restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space, just over the Norwalk line.

Josh — who in his native country worked as a hospital nurse, documenting rape cases for criminal prosecution — quickly said yes.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Now the WSJ has followed up. A video posted yesterday shows Josh working — with a smile — at his job. It also shows him taking the hour-long bus trip between work and home; eating simple foods at the restaurant, and talking about his new life here.

Jennifer is interviewed too. Describing her job offer as “a way to do something for someone that’s meaningful,” she notes the uncertainty of Josh’s future.

He might be at the restaurant “forever,” she says. “Or maybe he’ll open a clinic, with his medical training, and be a great asset to our country.”

Whatever happens, Jennifer has already been a great asset to Josh.

And to us all.

To see the full, inspiring video, click below:

 

Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives

In 2010, Josh Kangere fled the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent  the next 7 years in Kenya.

It took nearly all that time to be vetted as a refugee for admittance to the United States. When he finally got clearance, it was almost too late.

Josh arrived in New York moments before President Trump suspended the American refugee resettlement program. Still, he underwent hours of intense questioning before being allowed in.

international-institute-of-connecticutWith the help of the International Institute of Connecticut, and local volunteers — including many from Westport — he now lives in a Bridgeport apartment, with 3 other refugees. He pays $350 a month.

One of Josh’s first priorities —  along with learning better English, and adapting to a very different country — was finding a job. In Congo, he’d worked as a hospital nurse. Much of his work involved documenting rape cases for legal prosecution.

He did not have the language skills or accreditation to work in the medical field here. (His main languages are Swahili and French; his English is workable.)

Josh had just started his job search when the Wall Street Journal published a story about him.

Jennifer saw it. A longtime Westporter, she’d been looking for cleaning and dish-washing help at Sugar & Olives, the restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.

She hired him immediately.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Josh takes the bus from Bridgeport. It’s a long, unfamiliar trek, to do work that is below his skills, but he is happy to be there.

“I cannot be a man without a job,” he says. “Any job. I am ready to work.”

Jennifer — who feeds Josh dinner in part so he can save money, in part to introduce him to American food — knows she may be criticized for hiring someone who had been in this country for just a few days, instead of a local resident.

“Do you know how hard it is to find someone who cares about a job like this, and is willing to work hard?” she asks. “This is like looking for a nanny. The fit has to be right. If you don’t have a fire under your feet, you don’t belong in a restaurant. I need someone who isn’t just in this for the paycheck.”

Jennifer has welcomed Josh into the Sugar & Olives family — and her own. Her son August Laska — a Staples grad — has studied Swahili at Middlebury College. They’ve chatted a bit by phone. (Josh is also fluent in French.)

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.

Jennifer believes that “the beauty of America is giving everyone an equal chance at success — and that includes immigrants. We can only learn from each other. Keeping our borders open and safe is a positive thing.”

“I’m blessed,” says Josh, who hopes to return some day to the medical field.

He says Jennifer has “a love I’ve never seen. To help people she does not know, that is special.”

Everywhere in this area, he adds, “I meet good people. They want to help me. I’m so happy with everything.

“I hope with the grace of God, in the future my life will be good. God bless the American people.”

Sugar & Olives Opens Its Own Farmers’ Market

Sugar & Olives may be Westport’s best-kept culinary secret.

Okay, it’s just over the Norwalk line on Lois Street, off Route 1. But it’s owned by Westporter Jennifer Balin, and it’s attracted a loyal (if quiet) corps of local food aficionados.

Now, the funky dining room/cocktail bar/coffee bar/cooking classroom/caterer is adding a farmers’ market.

Sugar & Olives

Called “Farms and a Market,” it runs Fridays through February. It’s indoor, and is open rain (or snow) or shine. Food trucks also serve up goodies outside.

The farmers practice non-GMO, and maintain organic standards if they’re not certified. Offerings include locally produced milk, eggs, cheese, honey, flour, grains, produce, meat and other provisions.

Sounds like the only things you can’t get at the Sugar & Olives farmers’ market is, well, sugar and olives.

 

 

 

Sugar — And Olives

Sugar and olives don’t often mix.

Except on Lois Street in Norwalk.

There — in an industrial zone across from Al’s Auto Body, and just down the street from (of all things) McDonald’s — Jennifer Balin runs a green, healthy, unadvertised yet wildly popular organic, sustainable breakfast-lunch spot/private dining room/dessert place/lounge/cooking school.

Called “Sugar & Olives.”

The Westport resident came by her hybrid business serendipitously.  A tennis-playing stay-at-home mom with 4 kids, she found life “boring with a capital ‘B.'”  After her divorce, she had 2 choices:  “move, or do something fun.”

She stayed put, and had fun.

Jennifer started with cooking classes.  She soon wanted to expand, but couldn’t sell food from her home.

She found a 2000-square foot empty warehouse just over the town line in Norwalk — the only place she looked — and started classes for adults and kids.

She opened for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday, plus Saturday brunch.  She added “private dining” at night, for groups ranging in size from 12 to 100.

Morning menu items include “the porridge of champions” and a breakfast trifle of fruit, lemon curd, yogurt and granola.

Midday, Jennifer serves the likes of lobster chop salad with rows of ratatouille, mache and asparagus; a crepe with veggies of the day and a rolled egg, and chocolate fajitas with flank steak.

From 9:30 p.m. to midnight every Saturday, Jennifer serves “Sweet Treats”:  plated desserts and drinks.

She did it all without a business plan.  Sugar & Olives grew, um, organically.  “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she says.  “But it’s working.”

The interior of Sugar & Olives. (Photo courtesy of CTBites.com)

All food is sourced locally.  She buys whatever she finds fresh at farmers markets:  vegetables, eggs, cheeses.  Lobster comes from Westport’s Jeff Northrop.

All materials are compostable.  Jennifer uses no plastic.

Except for the plastic in an iPad.  Last week she bought several.  Now each dinner table orders off an iPad menu.  (Diners also enjoy free WiFi.)

Jennifer still runs cooking classes, of course.  Adult topics include “Instant Dinner Party,” “Sensational Seasonal Vegetables,” and “Oy Vey, My In-Laws Are Coming!”

Kids classes cover “Marshmallows and Other Sticky Treats,” “Dinner in a Bag” and “Homemade Chinese Takeout.”

Sugar & Olives does not advertise.  Everyone who comes is referred by word-of-mouth.  The referral should include directions — there is no sign in front, just a distinct orange door.

“I’m having fun,” Jennifer says.  “This place is always full of people.”

So why “Sugar & Olives”?

“They’re 2 things everyone should have in their pantry,” Jennifer explains.  “It’s a little bit of sweet, a little bit of savory.  Besides, a lot of my recipes use olive oil.

“They don’t sound like they should go together,” she adds.  “But they work for me.”

Just as Sugar & Olives works for anyone who tracks it down.

(Tonight [Saturday, April 10, 7-9 p.m.] nearly 2 dozen Staples students will perform a benefit concert for Haiti at Sugar & Olives.  Admission is $10; all admission proceeds, and a portion of food proceeds, go to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund.)