Tag Archives: Stew Leonard’s

COVID-19 Roundup: Great Landlords; CNN; Pet, Art, Food News; Devil’s Den Closed; More

Beth Schaefer leads off with some great news!

She owns Westport Yarns. Her shop is considered “non-essential” — though everyone could do with some soothing knitting these days — and she’s completely shut down. Not even curbside pickup.

Yesterday, her landlords — Edward and Joan Hyde — suspended her rent for April. They did the same for her shopping center neighbors Body Quest and Party Hardy.

If conditions don’t improve, the Hydes will consider doing the same for Beth in May.

“This could make all the difference whether I can survive or not,” Beth says gratefully. “It’s not a guarantee, but it puts me in a much better place.”

The Hydes are not Westport’s biggest or wealthiest landlords. Plenty of Westport commercial real estate is owned by large corporations.

But Edward and Joan Hyde made that first generous, community-minded gesture. Will others do the same, to help other businesses survive?

When they do, let me know. I’ll give them the shout-out they deserve.


First it was the New York Times. Then Fox News. Now CNN has reported on Westport’s state-leading 79 coronavirus cases.

The story mentions the now-infamous party that may have contributed to the spread of the disease. But it also includes cautionary quotes from Yale New Haven Health System’s chief quality officer Dr. Steven Choi — a Westport resident.

“There was no social irresponsibility with the party,” he says. “It could have been any party.”

The spread is now “past the point of contact tracing,” State Senator Will Haskell — a Staples High School graduate — adds. “The most productive thing people could do right now is not point fingers, but stay at home as much as possible.”

For the full story, click here.


Everyone loves healthcare professionals, and pets. But who can care for the latter, when the former is at work?

Town House for Dogs and Cats, that’s who. Owner Sandy Goldman offers free “daycare” for healthcare workers. Email sandylee@optonline.net, or call 203-227-3276.


In related pet news, Westport-based Connecticut Humane Society is hosting a Zoom webinar tomorrow (Thursday, March 26, 3 p.m.).

It’s a PetTalk (the animal version of a TedTalk) about busting pet boredom. Participants will learn how to keep pets’ minds and bodies active. Click here to sign up.

The Humane Society adds, “thankfully everyone here is doing fine. Most pets have been moved to foster homes. Our Fox Memorial Clinic in Newington is seeing veterinary emergencies by appointment.”


In addition to being a frequent “06880” commenter, Rich Stein runs a catering business. He writes now about the sudden, complete end of work for all caterers and private chefs. No more galas or gallery openings; no more private parties. Justlikethat, they’re gone. (As is business for the vendors — including local farmers and markets — they buy from.)

Rich says that he and other caterers — he mentions Dash of Salt, AMG Catering, Along Came Carol, along with his own What’s on the Menu Event Services — have posted very tasty menus on their websites and social media, for anyone who wants meals prepared and delivered (and frozen). They are always scrupulous about cleanliness and health.

Remember: Easter and Passover are coming. You may not have your traditional gathering — but you’ll still want to eat well.


Speaking of food, Brian Lewis is doing all he can to help his dedicated restaurant staff.

All takeout orders at OKO support a new meal train for the employees who are temporarily out of work. He’s providing full dinners for them and their families, twice a week.

“Every dollar from takeout orders that members of the community are so graciously placing supports this meal train,” Brian says. “Each dollar also helps me keep 9 people employed. and our doors open.”

Brian also plans to help feed first responders, and medical workers.

To help OKO help others, click here. For a list of all restaurants and markets offering curbside and takeout delivery, click here; then scroll down.


Speaking even more of food, Stew Leonard Jr. was on Fox News yesterday, talking about his family’s business.

Panic buying seems over, he says. They’ve adjusted to spikes, like selling 40,000 cans of tuna fish a week, up from the usual 10,000.

He also noted changes, like eliminating loose bagel bins and (aaargh!) all those free samples.

Oh, yeah: Stew’s is paying employees an extra $2 an hour now.

Click here for the full interview.

 


The Nature Conservancy has closed Devil’s Den. A “dramatic increase” in visitors — combined with their lack of social distancing, and “not heeding the town of Weston’s request to refrain from parking on roads which can block emergency access for our neighbors” — sparked the decision.


Bridgeport Rescue Mission offers food, shelter, clothing, addiction recovery services and education to a desperate population in Bridgeport — and does it 24/7/365, with no city, state or federal funding. A number of Westporters are deeply involved in the Mission’s work.

COVID-19 hits the low income, homeless and mentally ill populations hard. Meanwhile, both food donations and financial support is down. Packaged food or wellness kits with hand sanitizer, tissues, soap and cough drops can be dropped off at 1069 Connecticut Avenue, Bridgeport (Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Click here to donate online, or mail to: BRM, PO Box 9057, Bridgeport, CT  06601.

 


Beechwood — Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito’s innovative, immersive arts salon series — offers intimate, personal encounters with music, paintings, sculpture, dance, the written word and more.

It’s the opposite of social distancing.

But you can’t keep Beechwood down.

From 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday in April, they’ll provide an hour of art, music, performances and special guests. And they’ll do it while connecting communities around the globe. Audiences don’t just tune in; they’ll interact too.

Each Wednesday has a theme. There are live performances, special guests, and excerpts from amazing performances over the past 9 years of salons.

Mark your calendars. Then click on facebook.com/beechwoodarts. For more infromation, click here.


And finally, a few wise words from Bill Withers:

Half A Century Young: Stew Leonard’s, And The Miracle Mets

Alert “06880” reader/Terex director of internal communications/ 1970 Staples graduate/longtime New York Mets fan William Adler writes:

1969 was a magic time: Woodstock, and a man on the moon. It was also the summer of the Miracle Mets. New York’s lovable losers went from last to first in a historic season — capped by a seemingly impossible victory over the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Fifty years ago too, Stew Leonard’s store was opening.

At Staples High School, students like my classmate Phil Gambaccini raced home from school to catch portions of the fall classic (World Series games were played during the day back then).

Yesterday, 6 members of that 1969 Mets team signed autographs at Stew Leonard’s. They were celebrating both the 50th anniversary of their world championship, and the store’s 50th.

Phil Gambaccini recently moved back to Westport, after many years abroad. He was at Stew’s yesterday, of course. In the photo below, Ed Kranepool (center) and Art Shamsky autograph a ball for him.

Other Met legends in Norwalk were Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Jim McAndrew and Duffy Dyer.

The line for autographs snaked through the store and into the parking lot, for several hours. Near the end players moved through the line, shaking hands with fans (many as gray as the Mets), and handing out pre-autographed sheets of paper.

Most of the Mets — notably Shamsky, 77 — looked close to playing form, or at least fitter than many fans.

Kranepool has suffered with diabetes for many years, and is searching publicly for a transplant match. When fans asked about his health he quietly said, “Thank you. I just hope I get my kidney.”

To honor the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ championship season, Stew Leonard’s announced that its Wishing Well charity will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. That’s a tribute to Mets Hall of Famer and ’69 World Series ace Tom Seaver, recently diagnosed with Lyme-related dementia.

Pic Of The Day #245

Santa shops at Stew’s (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Friday Flashback #48

The news that Amazon is buying Whole Foods has everyone atwitter.

Perhaps the mammoth company that delivers nearly everything except babies will now make those pesky supermarket food runs obsolete too.

What could be better than, say, having fresh milk delivered right to your home?

Jeff Bezos, meet Marty McFly. And both you guys, meet the milkman.

(Photo copyright Paul Ehrismann)

Back in the day, Westport was awash in milkmen. Ferris (on North Morningside), Wade’s, Clover Farms* — they and many other local dairies brought milk straight to your doorstep. Sometimes, they’d even put it in your refrigerator icebox.

Sounds like a great idea whose time has come.

And gone.

And come again.

If that works, maybe we can also ask doctors to come to our homes too.

I’ve got just the name too. We could call them “house calls.”

*Never heard of Clover Farms? That’s because it turned into a slightly larger business called Stew Leonard’s. You know — “the worlds largest dairy store.” They don’t use an apostrophe — but they do sell cashmere.

Stew Leonard Jr.: Amazon Purchase Of Whole Foods “A Game-Changer”

Amazon’s proposed $13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods has rocked the grocery and retail industries.

An hour ago, Stew Leonard Jr. was one of the experts CNBC called on for expert reaction.

Stew Leonard Jr. (Photo courtesy/Westchester Magazine)

The president and CEO of the small but influential chain called the deal — which includes a store on the Westport border just a mile from Stew’s Norwalk flagship location — “a game-changer in the industry.”

Amazon’s technological know-how “will revolutionize how people buy food and get it delivered,” he added.

Leonard — whose grandfather Charles Leo Leonard founded the store’s predecessor, Clover Farms Dairy, and personally delivered milk straight from the farm to local customers — saw today’s announcement as a return to those days.

“The cost of the last mile of delivery has been dropping,” he noted.

Leonard also cited the growing number of millennials as a factor. Using his 31-year-old daughter as an example, he said that her generation expects every purchase to be deliverable.

However, he continued, “retailers have to get snappier” about how they present the purchasing experience.

“We try to make it fun,” he said, with plenty of animation and the chance to see mozzarella balls being made fresh.

However, he acknowledged, buying cereal and water in a store is far less exciting.

(Click here for the full 4:42 interview.)

When Amazon gets into delivery of Whole Foods products, will the animals at Stew’s be less of a draw?

Stew’s Lucky Turkey

Alert “06880” photographer Lynn U. Miller was at Stew Leonard’s yesterday morning.

(“Don’t ask why anyone in their right mind would be at Stew’s the morning of Thanksgiving,” she says.)

She spotted this gigantic billboard:

Stew Leonard's 1

The lucky turkey is not — as at least one customer thought — the bird selected for dinner at Stew’s home.

No — the “lucky turkey’ is actually on display in an enclosure at the entrance to the World’s Largest Dairy Store.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

The lucky turkey — which lives to celebrate another day — is named Madison. Someone at the front desk told Lynn she (the turkey) is named for Stew Jr.’s daughter.

Sure, President Obama can pardon a turkey. Far more impressive for Stew to do so — saving countless kids from asking their parents, “Is that our dinner?”

What Would You Do At Stew’s?

It’s a tough scenario.

You’re busily shopping at Stew Leonard’s. A little old lady comes up and asks you to read a label for her.

Then she has a question about “oxidants.” She wonders if you like mangoes. She warns you about sodium.

What would you do?

That’s the exact question posed by the ABC-TV show of the same name. “What Would You Do?” uses actors to portray difficult social problems, in public settings — a mother yells at her child for not getting an A; a boss sexually harasses a waitress; parents react negatively when their child comes out as gay.

ABC took hidden cameras to Stew’s — stashed behind the dancing cow, maybe? — and filmed shoppers as they were confronted by an actress playing a lonely grandmother.

Nearly all were polite. They took time, chatted, made her feel less alone. Who knew that we’d find our better angels in Stew’s produce aisle?

A Stew Leonard's shopper (left) is filmed by a hidden camera, patiently answering questions from an actress playing a chatty older shopper.

A Stew Leonard’s shopper (left) is filmed by a hidden camera, patiently answering questions from an actress playing a garrulous older shopper.

Then ABC upped the ante. Another actor pretended to be the woman’s embarrassed and irate son. He spoke sharply to his “mother,” and apologized for her behavior to the shoppers she was pestered.

Once again, most folks did the right thing. They said it was no bother. They took her side. One demanded, “Why are you talking to your mother like that?”

One of the kindest reactions of all came from Lou Curcio. A longtime Mario’s regular, he’s always been a stand-up guy. Now the entire nation — or at least those tuning in to “What Would You Do?” — saw his kind heart.

You can, too. Click here (you may have to sign in with your TV provider). Find the July 10, 2015 episode; then fast-forward to the 9:45 mark. Lou’s the guy in the Nado Paving shirt.

Would you be as nice as Lou if no one is watching — except hidden cameras at Stew’s?

Lou Curcio (left) confronts the

Lou Curcio (left) confronts the “son” (actually an actor) of a lonely, chatty old woman.

Stew Leonard Jr. Dishes On Lobsters

When your name is Stew Leonard Jr., it’s hard to imagine you won’t be part of the family business.

But Stew — a Westport native — tells the New York Times that, had it not been for a chance encounter with an airplane seatmate, he might not have taken the path he did.

In an interview in today’s Business section “Frequent Flier” column, the president and CEO of “The Worlds [sic] Largest Dairy Store” says:

I never thought I’d wind up in the business. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift. I told him I wanted a ticket on Pan Am. I wanted to see the world.

I did, and actually during my see-the-world trip, the course of my life changed.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

I was on a flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, and was seated next to a fellow in his 50s who was wearing all white. He even had on a turban. I thought he was very exotic. We started chatting. He told me he was the 16th generation to work in his family’s business. I told him that my father had a grocery store in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to work with him, but I was set to do some training with a consulting firm and didn’t want to work in the food industry or the family business.

He was very kind, but he started asking me why I would want to take my energy away from my family. I told him I wanted to prove myself. He told me I already did. The gentleman was really nice, but kind of relentless. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. When I got home, I did talk to my dad about joining the business, and here I am.

The interview centers on Stew’s frequent travels. Once, he says, he borrowed a private plane to fly 10 fish department managers to Prince Edward Island, for negotiations on lobster prices.

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

The flight saved them money, and a hotel room. But it backfired when the lobstermen couldn’t get over the fact that Stew arrived on a private plane.

“It was not one of my better decisions,” he tells the Times.

“I would have been better off flying commercial. In the long run, it would have been a lot cheaper.”

For the full “Frequent Flier” interview, click here.

Belta’s Farm: Bayberry’s Hidden Bounty

Bayberry Lane is like many Westport streets. There’s a mix of homes: handsome converted barns; stately Colonials; 1950s split-levels; modern, multi-gabled McMansions.

Nothing — not a sign or a peek through the trees — indicates that the driveway at #128 leads to a 28-acre farm.

It could be Westport’s best-kept secret: There’s a working farm a few yards from the intersection of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway.

An aerial view of Belta's Farm from several years ago shows fields, greenhouses, a compost pile (near the top), and two homes (bottom).

An aerial view of Belta’s Farm from several years ago shows fields, nurseries, a compost pile (near the top), and two homes (bottom).

Four generations of Beltas — the farm’s founding family — live there. Dina is the widow of Jimmy Belta, who first farmed the land in 1946. Greg is her son. His children and grandchildren are there too.

How much longer, though, is uncertain.

The other day Greg took time out from his 7-days-a-week, 1-man farming operation to talk about Belta’s Farm. He was joined by his sister Connie. (There’s a 3rd brother, also named Jimmy; a 4th sibling died not long ago.)

Connie and Greg Belta, in the field.

Connie Caruso and Greg Belta, in the field.

Greg and Connie are very proud of the farm. It’s one of the few remaining in Westport. (Others include 10 acres owned by the Stahurskys on North Maple; the 12-acre Kowalsky farm on South Turkey Hill, and 17 acres not far away on Bayberry, formerly owned by the Pabst family and now worked by recent college grads.)

Jimmy Belta’s parents had a small truck farm in Norwalk. After being discharged from his World War II service, James found the Bayberry Lane site, thanks to Leo Nevas. The Westport attorney also helped Jimmy buy the place from Evelyn Gosnell, a silent film star who raised potatoes there.

For several decades, it thrived. Jimmy raised tens of thousands of chickens and turkeys. He had a slaughterhouse in back.

The greenhouse and outbuildings, today.

Nurseries and outbuildings, today.

In the 1960s he joined forces with Stew Leonard’s. Jimmy supplied the store with a ton of tomatoes — a day. They were prominently displayed, as the product of a local farmer.

“That consumed the farm,” Greg says.

Jimmy also grew basil, garlic and flowers. But in 2005 — slowing down a bit — he closed the wholesale business.

An easel tells CSA customers what to pick up each week.

An easel tells CSA customers what to pick up each week.

Today, Greg — who graduated from Staples in 1967, 2 years after Connie — runs the farm primarily as a CSA (community-supported agriculture). 80 families pay $500 a year for the right to pick up a variety of produce each week.

The crate is always different. Greg grows eggplant, cantaloupes, peppers, carrots, kale, lettuce, radishes, onions, beets, arugula, mint, basil and flowers — and much more. His 125 chickens lay plenty of eggs.

Greg’s daughters help run the CSA. But both are teachers — not full-time farmers.

The retail business continues, in a way. Every Friday and Saturday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), the Beltas pitch a tent on Bayberry Lane. They sell fresh vegetables, eggs, preserves and the like from Belta’s Farm Stand.

Belta's Farm Stand -- open Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Belta’s Farm Stand — open Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

As sustainable a farmer as Greg is though, he’s not sure how much longer he can sustain Belta’s Farm.

His father died in early 2012, age 88. He farmed to the end.

Greg is trying to make a go of it himself. It’s not easy.

The land includes 18 tillable acres. The soil is “fantastic,” Greg says. (When the Community Garden began near Long Lots School, Jimmy donated soil for it.) There is room for fruit trees, and animal pens.

“It’s rich in every bounty,” Greg says. “It has great potential.”

But, he adds, “Farming takes a lot of hard work.”

A few of the 125 chickens at Belta's Farm.

A few of the 125 chickens at Belta’s Farm.

Greg and Connie would hate to see the topsoil lost, the land plundered. It’s zoned for 2-acre housing; if it were sold as a farm, or for some other non-residential use, it would have to be as an entire piece.

The future of Belta’s Farm is uncertain.

Meanwhile, Greg puts his shovel in the ground every day. By himself.

On a farm that’s been here — and in his family — for nearly 70 years.

And which most Westporters have no idea even exists.

Sharing The Turkey Bounty With All

One good turn deserves another.

Two — well, read on.

A year ago this Sunday — 4 days before Thanksgiving — Saugatuck Congregational Church was nearly destroyed by fire.

Less than 3 weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy slammed Westport.

Either calamity might have pushed the church’s annual Thanksgiving feast to the back burner.

Instead, last year’s event was a spectacular success.

This year’s will be even bigger.

And better.

Twelve months after the blaze, the Saugatuck Church building is still unusable. So — for the 2nd straight year — Christ & Holy Trinity Church has opened its spacious Branson Hall to all.

Christ and Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall — site of the 41st annual Thanksgiving feast.

Saugatuck Church organizers are equally generous. This year — to honor the men who saved their building — they’ve invited all Westport firefighters to this Thursday’s feast.

And, in Sandy’s wake, they’re also inviting every Westport police officer, EMT member and Public Works employee.

Plus all CL&P crews and tree guys. Along with any out-of-state utility workers who might still be around.

“We want them all,” says Saugatuck Church mission board chairman Randy Christophersen.

“They can come join us. They can drive up and get a meal to go. We’ll even deliver it to their home or apartment.”

The guest list doesn’t end there. Anyone whose home is still uninhabitable — in Westport, Bridgeport, any port — is invited. So are seniors at the Westport Health Care Center.

Transportation a problem? No problem! Volunteers will pick anyone up, and bring them home.

And, of course, there’s the usual guest list: anyone alone, lonely, even entire fortunate families just looking to share a meal with others, is welcome.

Oh, yes: Bob Lasprogato’s jazz band will play.

This is a massive undertaking. And, Randy notes, Saugatuck and Christ & Holy Trinity could not do it alone.

Green’s Farms Congregational Church and Temple  Israel — Saugatuck’s post-fire home-away-from-home — are contributing 2 crucial elements: volunteers and food.

They’re not the only ones.

Stew Leonard’s has donated 25 turkeys; Brit Air is giving another 15 more. Oscar’s‘ refrigerators are storing them. Stop & Shop is providing all the produce. Juice comes from Newman’s Own Foundation. First County and Webster Banks are staunch supporters too.

The Boy Scouts are doing pots and pans. 100 chairs will come  from Assumption Church.

“This is a snap,” says Randy Christophersen, in between hectic preparations for the massive feast.

“Last year after the fire, we had only 3 days prepare.”

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, apple pie for hundreds of Westporters, neighboring residents, seniors, first responders, municipal and utility workers — piece of cake.

(The Saugatuck Congregational Church’s 41st annual Thanksgiving feast is set for Thursday, November 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. For more information, or to request a delivered meal or ride, click here.)