Tag Archives: Robin Tauck

Westport Steps Up For Afghan Refugees

Six years ago the Syrian crisis moved longtime Westporter John McGeehan to help lead a coalition of churches, synagogues and mosques to help resettle a family in Norwalk.

They pioneered, with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a model for community co-sponsorship. Local residents provide broad shoulders and deep pockets. The model has been replicated in more than 50 Connecticut towns and cities.

The swift Taliban conquest of Afghanistan sparked a national conversation about American efforts to resettle Afghan citizens who aided American forces, during our 20-year conflict.

An Afghan father and daughter, resettled in Connecticut.

Once again, as Connecticut prepares to welcome up to 700 refugees, McGeehan is hard at work. So is the Westport Rotary Club, and individuals like Robin Tauck.

For the past 3 years Robin — a Westporter, member of the worldwide tour company family, and sponsor of Greens Farms Academy’s World Perspectives program — and her daughter Colleen Leth have, through their non-profit foundation, worked with IRIS to sponsor refugees.

As the Afghan crisis unfolded, she thought of the Rotary Club. They’re busy with Saturday’s Lobsterfest fundraiser. But — true to their mission of worldwide service — they’ve taken on the added task of co-sponsoring a donation drive.

Next Tuesday (September 21) and from 12 to 3 p.m. on the weekends of September 25-26, October 2-3, 9-10 and 15-16, Greens Farms Congregational Church will accept drop-offs of winter coats, raincoats, and boots for adults, teenagers and children; school supplies and backpacks; new toiletries; cleaning and household supplies, and small appliances. “Boxed and labeled” is appreciated. Furniture and other clothing is not needed.

The donation drive is important. But it’s just the start.

Resettling refugees comes at a time when non-profits have been hit hard by the pandemic. Meanwhile, affordable rental stock is hard to find.

Each family of 2 to 4 needs an apartment near public transportation, language training, cultural assistance, women’s help, school assimilation, and $20,000 for the first year. Click here to donate.

Westport-Weston Interfaith Refugee Settlement is doing its part. The coalition — the United Methodist Church, Temple Israel, Greens Farms Congregational church, the Religious Society of friends, Saugatuck Congregational Church, and 15 Westport families identifying as a Muslim community — are working with IRIS to house and assist a family in East Norwalk.

Email jmcgeehan1956@gmail.com for more inforrmation.

“06880” Podcast: Robin Tauck

Robin Tauck is a 40-year Westporter. Her grandfather helped develop the modern tour business — and his Tauck Tours company was headquartered in Westport for decades.

Robin is the 3rd generation to lead Tauck, and has helped make it a global brand. She’s been particularly involved in cultural heritage, sustainable tourism and philanthropy.

In Westport — where she lives on Old Mill Beach — she has been a leading voice for environmental protection.

Robin joined me the other day at the Westport Library, for “06880: The Podcast.” We talked about Tauck’s history, the travel industry today, and of course, what it all means for Westport.

Click here to watch our wide-ranging conversation.

Robin Tauck

From Blight House To Bright Spot: Green Honors For Hillspoint Home

For years, only one thing marred the view from Old Mill Road and Elvira Mae’s, down Hillspoint Road. There — sandwiched between handsome beach homes and the beach itself — sat a blight house.

Unkempt and untended, it looked out of place. And dangerous.

When Robin Tauck bought the property, and an adjacent lot, she wanted to maintain the traditional beach community vibe. But she’s also an ardent environmentalist.

Her vision for the blight house was to maintain the same footprint for minimal impact, while creating a model for future homes.

Working with architect Michael Greenberg and TecKnow, the Bedford Square-based company that combines automation technology with green energy products, she built an innovative “guest cottage.” (Her own, similarly designed home, is next door.)

The new Hillspoint Road home.

227 Hillspoint Road uses sustainable building practices and innovative technology. Solar and battery storage is optimized, so the house is run almost entirely off the grid.

It meets many of the standards for a Green Building Award: rehabilitation, energy efficiency, innovation, conservation, sustainability, and modeling for the future.

So the other day — around the same time the United Nations hosted its Climate Action Summit — Governor Ned Lamont and Congressman Jim Himes were in town. So was Albert Gore III, from Tesla (one of the companies TecKnow works with), environmental leaders from groups like Sustainable Westport and Save the Sound, and all 3 selectmen.

Robin Tauck and Governor Ned Lamont, on the steps of 227 Hillspoint Road.

They presented Tauck, Greenberg and TecKnow with a Green Building Award. It recognizes this project, for its contribution to sustainability.

The honor signifies one more step on Westport’s path to being a net zero community, by 2050.

And it also shows that a small, blighted house need not be replaced by a bigger, more energy-sapping one.

Especially at such a well-known, beloved and lovely spot by the shore.

Phil Levieff of TecKnow, Albert Gore III of Tesla, and Robin Tauck. (Photos/JC Martin)

Broad Horizons At Wakeman Town Farm

It always feels good to attend a fundraiser for a local organization. (And there are many fundraisers and groups in Westport.)

You eat and drink well. You’re entertained, and can win cool auction and raffle items. Plus, you’re contributing to a worthy cause.

However, you don’t always know exactly where your money goes.

If you attended last fall’s Harvest Fest at Wakeman Town Farm though, read on. (Keep reading if you didn’t go too, of course.)

Some of those funds went to support Horizons at Sacred Heart University. The tuition-free academic enrichment program serves low-income Bridgeport students in kindergarten through 8th grade. It’s one of 60 national chapters.

Thanks to Harvest Fest, more than 170 youngsters came to WTF last week. They learned about life on a farm, and got hands-on experiences with animals and plants.

Learning about life at Wakeman Town Farm.

On Friday, they had a huge pizza party. Volunteers fired up the new wood oven, donated by Robin Tauck (with stone from the Gault Family, and a gas grill by the Wormser family). Transportation was underwritten by Bankwell Westport.

But none of it would have been possible without help from Harvest Fest.

Remember that the next time you head to a fundraiser. The catered food and fancy wine is wonderful. Tickets to a Yankees Stadium suite, or a vacation at someone’s Caribbean home, is nice.

But the true joy comes when your money is put to good, real, important use.

Every kid loves pizza. Every counselor worries about the time. (Photos/Robert Osgood)

Robin Tauck Reports On Syrian Refugees

The Tauck family is known for many things. Their eponymous company — now in its 4th generation — pioneered high-end group travel, heli-skiing and small-boat river cruises. In Westport — where many family members live — they’ve been quite generous, from renovating National Hall to helping preserve Long Island Sound. A foundation is deeply involved in aiding Bridgeport.

Robin Tauck is a travel industry leader. Her interests range from eco-tourism to helping nations and regions use travel as an economic engine.

She’s nearing the end of a 50-day odyssey in Italy and Greece. With her proximity to Turkey, Syria and the Middle East, she got a first-hand look at the mass migration of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

Two of the many children in a Lesbos Island refugee camp.

Two of the many children in a Lesbos Island refugee camp.

On Lesbos Island, Robin — an outgoing woman who loves to learn — talked to as many people as she could: refugees, Save the Children workers, and the Lesbos mayor who, she says, “deserves a peace prize.”

Greece has already moved almost a million people from that tiny island just 6 miles off Turkey, through Athens, and on into Europe. Only 4,000 refugees remain.

Little cafes did their best to feed and warm the new arrivals. The island is lovely, Robin says, “but the people are even more beautiful. You cannot imagine how much they did.”

At the height of the smuggling operation, nearly 10,000 people a day arrived in crammed Zodiacs. (By contrast, Ellis Island — set up as an immigration center — handled 11,000 a day at its peak.) Save the Children — which moved its headquarters recently from Westport to Fairfield — now has 10 small offices in the area.

A hand-made sign thanks the many volunteers.

A hand-made sign thanks the many volunteers.

Hundreds of unaccompanied minor children were separated from parents. The kids are traumatized — and not allowed to leave the island yet.

Save the Children is focusing on them. Robin’s new friend Vasili Sofiadellis is teaching computer and coding skills. Youngsters learn English and Greek too.

“It’s not bad. But it’s not pretty,” Robin says.

A pregnant mother survived the trip to Greece. Robin Tauck holds her 7-month-old -- who weighs only as much as a normal 2-month-old.

A pregnant mother survived the trip to Greece. Robin Tauck holds her 7-month-old — who weighs only as much as a normal 2-month-old.

The island is in the midst of cleanup. Broken boats, and enormous piles of hundreds and thousands of life jackets — “each one a life story,” she notes — are being moved from the beaches.

Robin Tauck (right) surveys some of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned life jackets.

Robin Tauck (right) surveys some of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned life jackets.

Robin also reports that Westporter Barbara Innamorati brought toys from Westport to Italy. They were delivered to a refugee camp on Lesbos, housing 880 people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Robin explains that Lesbos is ready to move from the “R” word (refugees) to the “T” word (tourism). Hotels are vacant; charter aircraft have stopped arriving. Holland America docked one cruise line during the crisis.

Robin told the mayor the Tauck story — including how her family emigrated to the US through Ellis Island. He said, “maybe one day some of our 800,000 refugees that made it to Europe will start a new family and new story, like yours did.”

“God bless the Greeks,” Robin says. Lesbos, and the entire country — one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations, with dozens of World Heritage Sites, beautiful island and warm hospitality — is “waiting for us to return.”

(Yesterday’s New York Times Travel section also covered the tourist scene on Lesbos, and the rest of Greece. Click here to read that story.)

New Pearl Splashes Into Longshore

A pearl is a beautiful jewel.

Longshore is one of Westport’s crown jewels.

So it’s particularly fitting that Pearl is the name of Longshore’s new restaurant. And that oysters and clams figure prominently on the menu.

Pearl at Longshore — the full name — opens officially tomorrow (Monday, February 22). But a soft opening last night showed that — more than a year after Splash closed — Westport’s dining and social scene have taken an impressive step forward.

A new entrance for a new restaurant.

A new entrance for a new restaurant.

Last night — in the beautiful new dining room, next to the handsome bar, as the wait staff bustled around — lead owner Marc Backon and his wife Lois described the long journey that transformed rundown Splash into a gorgeous Pearl.

It was Halloween, 2014. Dining at Tarantino, they learned from then-general manager Antonio Ninivaggi that after 18 years, Splash had shut its doors (and the adjacent, once-quite-popular Patio Bar). They were saddened. They’d eaten there often, and both daughters’ 1st jobs were at Splash.

It was not an immediate “let’s do it!” moment. Yet gradually the Backons decided to give Westport back its waterfront gem.

They had no background in restaurants. But Marc has a long career in business, Lois is in banking — and they are smart, committed Westporters.

Slowly, they put together a group of 25 or so investors, mostly from here. The list also included Ninivaggi (who had moved on to Osianna in Fairfield). They hired a crack design team, led by Bilal Barakat, and renowned executive chef Michael Hazen (Bartaco, Barcelona).

The stunning bar is made from recycled glass. Behind it is recycled wood.

The stunning bar is made from recycled glass. Behind it is recycled wood.

The journey was tough. The building — including the kitchen and food storage areas — had deteriorated significantly. A couple of deadlines were missed.

But the wait was worth it. With seating for 55 inside, 70 outside and 18 at the bar; chic, contemporary decor that includes paintings by local artists and a display with Robin Tauck’s Sherwood Mill Pond books, plus a menu that ranges from locally raised oysters to boar, it’s bound to create Westport’s newest buzz.

Locally harvested Hummock Island oysters are a special treat.

Locally harvested Hummock Island oysters are a special treat.

The patio is not yet finished. That’s okay. It will be ready this summer.

Hey, it takes 3 to 7 years for an oyster to produce a perfect pearl.

This one is ready after just 1.

The town of Westport owns the Pearl at Longshore property, and rents it to operators. Among the diners at last night's soft opening were 2 town officials who helped oversee the renovation from Splash to Pearl were (far left) former Parks and Recreation chair Steve Haberstroh, and (right) 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

The town of Westport owns the Pearl at Longshore property, and rents it to operators. Among the diners at last night’s soft opening were 3 town officials who helped oversee the renovation from Splash to Pearl: (far left) Parks and Recreation chair Charlie Haberstroh, (near left) Parks and Rec director Jennifer Fava, and (right) 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

(Pearl at Longshore will be open 7 days a week starting tomorrow [Monday, February 22] for dinner only. Lunch — and a golfers’ menu — will be added later.)

In summer, the view of Long Island Sound will be spectacular. In winter, the Longshore Skating Rink shimmered in the background.

In summer, the view of Long Island Sound will be spectacular. Last night, the Longshore Skating Rink shimmered in the background.

Happy 90th, Tauck!

Exactly 90 years ago this month, Arthur Tauck Sr. rented a Studebaker. He brought 6 strangers on a 1,100-mile sales trip through the Berkshires, Adirondacks and Catskills. (He was selling his invention: a coin tray for banks that’s still used today. That’s a whole other story.)

It was the 1st “escorted motor tour” in history. That month, a new industry was born.

The first-ever Tauck tour.

The first-ever Tauck tour.

“Tauck Tours” soon expanded. Arthur Sr. ran motor coach trips to the Poconos, Nova Scotia, Virginia, Niagara Falls and Ontario.

The young company used guts and creativity to weather the Depression. They launched a special tour to the 1933 Chicago Exposition, then added a Florida cruise and Gaspé Peninsula trip.

Big ads for new tours ran in East Coast newspapers on a fateful Sunday: December 7, 1941. World War II ended those plans, but in 1947 Tauck Tours roared back.

Arthur Tauck Jr.

Arthur Tauck Jr.

Arthur Tauck Jr. took the helm in 1958. Soon, the company won a key legal battle in the Supreme Court. The coast was clear for private air charter services — and once again, Tauck Tours led the way.

In the 1960s, Tauck expanded westward. They won the right to host guests at National Parks hotels; linked the Canadian Rockies to the West Coast by motor coach; added Hawaii itineraries, and introduced helicopter sightseeing.

The Wilton Road headquarters.

The Wilton Road headquarters.

In the 1970s, the company moved its headquarters from New York City to Westport. The first tiny office on Wilton Road, across from Save the Children, grew several times. They added space at the Vigilant Firehouse (now Neat) across the street; the Mews office complex across from Compo Shopping Center, then consolidated everyone on Post Road West.

During the ’80s, when the classic “Fall Foliage” tours were done, tour directors came to Arthur Jr.’s and other family members’ Westport houses to unwind and debrief. For 5 straight weeks, this town was Tauck Tours’ home away from home.

As the 3rd generation — Peter, Robin and Chuck — emerged as leaders, Tauck Tours went global. There were “Yellow Roads of Europe” tours; small ship and European riverboat cruises, and land tours in the South Pacific, Central America, China and Southeast Asia.

The Tauck family also spearheaded the restoration of the Inn at National Hall — and donated the old-fashioned streetlights lining the nearby Post Road bridge.

The 2nd and 3rd Tauck generations (from left): Peter, Chuck, Robin, Ronnie and her husband Arthur Jr., Liz. Most live (or have lived) in Westport. Missing: Kiki.

The 2nd and 3rd Tauck generations (from left): Peter, Chuck, Robin, Ronnie and her husband Arthur Jr., Liz. Most live (or have lived) in Westport. Missing: Kiki.

Moving just across the Norwalk border to the Norden complex, Tauck continued to grow and innovate. Trips with a service component; one-of-a-kind special events; intergenerational tours; tie-ins with Ken Burns and BBC Earth, plus new itineraries in Africa, India, South America, Antarctica (soon: Cuba) — all beckon younger, adventure-oriented travelers.

Tauck has done it without losing the personal touch of that first Studebaker tour. The number of repeat guests is the envy of the industry. Recently, the company was named one of the best places in Connecticut to work.

Tauck logo

Tauck celebrates 90 years today, with a company-wide party.

They’ve also flown in 20 former tour directors — folks who remember the New England touring days, and parties here — for a gala get-together tomorrow. It’s at Arthur Jr.’s house, of course — not far from where Robin and Chuck live.

Tauck hosts hundreds of thousands of guests, and boasts 500 employees. But it’s still a family business.

And its heart is still in Westport.

BONUS FEATURE: Click below to see Arthur Tauck Jr. talk about the founding of the company:

Gentlemen (And Ladies): Start Your (Very Quiet) Engines!

Westport celebrated “Greenday” — actually “Greenweekend” — with festivities at Wakeman Town Farm, WeGreen awards, Earthplace nature walks and much more.

Including the 3rd annual Electric Vehicle Rally.

Art Cohen's hybrid BMW i8 drew many admiring  glances.

A hybrid BMW i8 drew many admiring glances.

Several dozen EVs — and their drivers, navigators and admirers — assembled at the train station. They compared EV notes, munched on free food from Steam (quaint imagery there, no?), then embarked on a silent ride to Wilton.

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen  Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles last year. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds -- not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles last year. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla S P85D. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds (not that anyone does that on local roads). On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

PS: The weather was perfect all weekend long. Despite all we’ve done to her, Mother Nature threw us a bone.

Two of the clever license plates seen at the Electric Vehicle Rally today.

Two of the clever license plates seen at the Electric Vehicle Rally today.

Tooling Around The Farm

Today was fantastic for anything outdoors related. If a realtor couldn’t sell a house with today’s spectacular weather and fall foliage, she should find another line of work.

Meanwhile, down on the (Wakeman Town) Farm, volunteers were out in force. They helped harvest fall vegetables, and prepare for the arrival of sheep and alpacas (!).

The crew was helped by the Tauck family’s “Trip’n trailer.” It hauls tools to national, state and local parks, to help with events like this.

Tauck tools 1

In the spirit of volunteerism, Robin Tauck says that if you’ve got a group project and need shovels, rakes, trowels and wheelbarrows, just call 203-227-0677.

The tools are free. The experience is priceless.

Fox On The Run

For over a century, Westporters have enjoyed Old Mill Beach.

But wildlife has been here longer than that. And — after decades away — it seems at least one species is back.

Robin Tauck owns a quintessential, weather-beaten home on Compo Cove. Yesterday, while enjoying perfect late-September weather, she spotted a large, seemingly wounded red fox.

The fox on Old Mill Beach. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

The fox on Old Mill Beach. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

He spent much of the afternoon “cruising the beach.”

As Robin noted, he was “cute, fast, limping and watchful.” He may also be rabid.

Some beachgoers were worried. Others, Robin said, thought it wonderful “to see and be mindful of our still-natural setting, and the species with whom we share our special environment.”

Be warned. Be careful.

But remember: The foxes were here first.