That’s the counterintuitive — but strongly held — view of Dave Briggs.
“People are reluctant to say it. And I’m not downplaying all the damage it’s done, and the lives it’s impacted,” says the longtime Westporter, and former Fox News, NBC Sports and CNN broadcaster.
“But because of COVID, we have hundreds of new residents who love it here. Downtown is being revived. It feels alive. New stores are opening. The vacancy rate is way down.
“There are new restaurants everywhere. There’s so much positive energy all over town.”
Briggs says it’s “tragic” that some restaurants and shops did not make it through the pandemic.
For the many that did though, it’s time to do three things.
“Let’s introduce our businesses to our residents, new and old. Let’s help them out, by telling their stories. And let’s celebrate what they’ve done to our town during COVID.”
Briggs is just the guy to do it.
For a number of months he’s parlayed his media background into a series of Instagram Live interviews, with intriguing area residents. Now he’s taking his platform one step further.
Using Instagram Live, Facebook Live (both @DaveBriggsTV), and then archived on his YouTube channel, he’ll highlight local business owners.
Restaurants, retail stores, spas, gyms, services like Vivid-Tek and home stagers — all will be part of his as-yet-unnamed venture. So will businesses like Merican Mule (premium cocktail brand) and Q-Collar (concussion product), which are locally based, yet still low-profile.
First up: The Granola Bar.
“Julie (Mountain) and Dana (Noorily) are two of my favorite business owners,” Briggs says.
“They started from the ground up with a coffee shop, when I’m sure many people said ‘Don’t do it.’ Now they have 5 stores, and a truck. They’ve got a great story.”
Rick spent the past 7 years running the market’s bakery. But for more than 2 decades before that, he was the much-loved (and very generous) owner of Great Cakes.
Rick Dickinson, with his great Great Cakes goods.
When that iconic bakery across from New Country Toyota closed 7 years ago tomorrow, Westport lost more than a spot to satisfy a sweet tooth and enjoy a leisurely coffee. It lost a business that always gave back to the community, and a businessman who cared deeply about the town.
Rick was Great Cakes. He worked there for 27 of its 32 years — the last 22 as owner.
As Peter’s Weston Market prepared to close, Rick began thinking about Granola Bar co-owner Julie Mountain. He called, asking if they needed help.
She was stunned. Julie and fellow owner Dana Noorily had just been talking about doing more with their baked goods.
The 3 met at the popular Playhouse Square café. Rapport was instant. “We had the same ideas. And we laughed a lot,” Rick says.
He quickly said: “I’m 150 percent in.”
They quickly said: “Great. You’ll start Monday!”
So Rick is already on the job. Unfortunately, he can’t whip up his new additions to the Granola Bar menu — challah, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, brownies — justlikethat.
Julie and Dana have already purchased a challah maker (from Peter’s). But other equipment is needed.
Items will be added gradually. Challah, he promises, is first.
Coming soon: new bakery items on The Granola Bar menu.
Rick is working out of Westport, supplying it and the 4 other Granola Bar locations (Fairfield, Stamford, Greenwich and Rye).
“Julie and Dana have such a successful business already,” he says. “This is a win-win for all of us. I haven’t been this excited in years. I feel like I’m coming home.”
They’re all in a day’s work — well, 2 — at Wakeman Town Farm.
On February 8 (7 p.m.), master gardener/composter and Westport Garden Club civics chair Nathalie Fonteyne Gavrilovic offers the fundamentals of pruning. She’ll cover techniques, tools and timing. Click here to register.
On March 8 (7 p.m., Zoom), Dr. Jessica Melman discusses diet, crate training, vaccination schedules, flea/tick/heartworm prevention, common house hazards and more. She’ll answer questions too.
It’s perfect for all the new pandemic puppy owners. Click here to register.
Published today: “The Attributes: 25 Hidden Drivers of Optimal Performance.”
Author Rich Diviney — a 1991 Staples High School graduate — is a retired Navy SEAL commander. In 20-plus years, he completed more than 13 overseas deployments — 11 to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was intimately involved in the SEAL selection process, whittling a group of exceptional candidates down to small cadre of the most elite.
His new book examines what it takes to be those optimal performers.
Diviney was often surprised by which candidates washed out and which succeeded. Some had all the right skills yet failed; others he might have initially dismissed rose to the top.
Seemingly objective criteria did not tell him who would succeed in the toughest military assignments. It is just as hard to predict success in the “real world.”
Diviney explores the lessons he’s learned about attributes –including cunning, adaptability, courage, even narcissism — that determine resilience, perseverance. situational awareness and conscientiousness.
He shares stories from the military, business, sports, relationships and parenting.
Click here for more information. (Hat tip: Celia Offir)
The non-profit — which serves people of all ages impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families — is collaborating this year with Open Doors Shelter and Person-to-Person. Together, the organizations will address local food insecurity and hunger.
Volunteers will collaborate with STAR clients to prepare, deliver and serve hot meals to Open Doors Shelter, and collect non-perishable food to deliver to Person-to-Person.
The first meals were prepared by chef Luis Solis, owner of Don Carmelo’s. Dessert came from Sweet P Bakery in Norwalk, founded by Westporters Bill and Andrea Pecoriello. Both institutions are longtime STAR cooking class supporters.
The initiative was launched on the MLK Day of Service. Officials lauded a $20,000 grant from The Arc-US and AmeriCorps, to help the effort.
And finally … today is Australia Day. (Well, it is still January 26 in the US. In Australia, it’s already tomorrow.)
The holiday marks the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales, and the raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip. Aboard the ships: 750 British prisoners, and 250 military men.
Zac Mathias jokes that he’s “homeschooled at The Granola Bar.”
He’s not. But the Weston High School junior is clearly a unique young man.
True, he spends a lot of time at the popular Playhouse Square spot. He’s also a regular at nearby Pure Barre.
Zac Mathias at Pure Barre.
If you follow Zac on Instagram. you know that already. And you’re not alone. Zac has 15,000 followers. He’s one of the area’s top social media influencers.
He posts — several times a day — with a focus on lifestyle and design. Clothes, beauty, skincare, furniture — if it’s chic, cool and/or helps you live better, Zac will let you know about it.
But he’s not all lipsticks and lotions. Zac also delves into politics, and LGBTQ issues.
As I said: He is not your average 11th grader.
Zac is passionate about what he does. And he discovered his passion early. At 5 years old, he rearranged his parents’ house. (A babysitter helped.)
He soon started designing for his friends — and his friends’ mothers. He got ideas from magazines, but trusted his intuition. It served him well.
It’s not easy being different. Zac was bullied. Fifth grade was the worst, he says. But his teacher let him stay inside during recess — and asked him to rearrange the room.
“Weston is small,” Zac says. “You’re with the same 200 kids from kindergarten on.” But he had plenty of “kind” friends, and they’re still tight. As he — and his classmates — have grown, many have recognized his gifts.
Zac always followed his dream. The summer after 7th grade, he interned at Dovecote. Owner Sarah Kaplan — who knew him from his fledgling Instagram presence — “embraced me,” he says. He worked with store stylist Ronny Carroll, learning all about artwork, accessories and more. Sarah gave him plenty of responsibility, including helping customers.
In 8th grade, Zac focused on social media. Businesses asked him to feature them.
He moved from designer to marketer to connector. Now he’s a bona fide influencer.
Zac is grateful for the opportunities he’s had (and created for himself). “I’ve met amazing people,” he says. “Coming from a small school where being different makes you ‘odd,’ I’ve been able to connect with so many other people.”
The other day, a woman whose 9-year-old is being bullied contacted Zac. He met the youngster. “It meant a lot to them to see me living my life,” he says proudly.
As for pride: Zac is a founding member of Westport Pride, a new LGBTQ organization. He looks forward to getting involved in activities like designing a rainbow crosswalk. He’s previously worked with the Triangle Community Center and Trevor Project.
Zac Mathias with shampoo by Better Natured, a Fairfield County company. Part of the proceeds from sales of his t-shirt support the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention effort for LGBTQ youth.
Local — as in, Fairfield County — is Zac’s focus right now. He highlights area businesses, not big brands. That’s why he hangs out at The Granola Bar. “It’s not Starbucks,” he explains. “You’re handed your coffee by someone in the community. Dana and Julie (the owners) are right there for you.”
In fact, Zac says no to “90% of the offers I get. Whoever I work with has to be the right fit. And if I like them, but let’s say the shoes are ugly, I’ll say that too.”
His father taught him an important business tenet: Never say a quick no. He cites one example: He kept communication open with a brand whose packaging he did not like. But he tried the product, and liked it. He gave advice on repackaging; now they are partners.
This summer, Zac posted some political thoughts. (You don’t need to guess who he supported for the White House.) If he lost any followers because of his stands, he says, “they weren’t the right followers. There are other followers who have different views than mine. We get along fine, beyond politics.”
He’s branching out too. Recently, Zac posted about his driver’s permit test. “I want people to laugh,” he says.
But it is “classic chic” that he most focuses on. He leans toward any product or service that lets someone be “unapologetically yourself.” That can be a handbag or shoes, he says. It can also be almond milk. It’s all about lifestyle, and fostering a community, an environment.”
Though Weston is small — and Westport is not exactly a metropolis — Zac like the area. “There are so many creative people here. They’re doing good things, with a big footprint. There’s a lot of opportunity.”
Zac Mathias at one of his favorite spots: The Granola Bar. (Photos/Julia Dags)
What’s next? Zac is working on a new project with a young woman from Massachusetts. He could see branching out to his own product line, or perhaps a reality show.
“The sky’s the limit,” he says confidently. “I could be the gay Martha Stewart — minus the jail time.”
The Playhouse Square spot — which also offers coffee, smoothies, salads, wraps and more — has spawned 4 other locations (Fairfield, Stamford, Greenwich, Rye), and a booming catering business.
But no place is immune to COVID-19. The Granola Bar shut down early in the pandemic. When it reopened in May, owners Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily realized their business was solid from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. After that though, it flagged.
They were paying rent, and had fixed costs, for much longer than those 8 hours. Their executive chef, Neil Rohricht, is “amazing,” Mountain says.
So the owners asked themselves: “What does Westport need, and what would we be really good at?”
The answer: tacos!
Which is why The Granola Bar has introduced The Taco Bar.
From 4 to 8 p.m., 7 days a week, Westporters are scarfing up tacos (carnitas, pollo asado, papas con chorizo, pork belly pastor,, carne asada, charred cauliflower and vegan gringo), burritos (cali, mixtos, original), sides (guac, queso, chips, rice and frijoles borracho), and taco packs. Those include 12 “build your own” tacos, and a family dinner kit with a choice of 3 varieties). “Parents really appreciate the ease of feeding their families,” Mountain says.
A few of the Taco Bar’s items.
Like The Granola Bar, The Taco Bar is all takeout or delivery. There is no in-restaurant dining.
“Parents really appreciate the ease of feeding their families,” Mountain says. “And the deliciousness.
“We’re doing this with quality. We’re not just throwing something in a taco shell.”
Which is why — at The Taco Bar at The Granola Bar — you won’t “granola tacos” on the menu.
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