The Planning & Zoning Commission seldom hears “thank you.”
Their decisions are often controversial — or humdrum.
But this month’s unanimous vote to extend outdoor dining until further notice was met with effusive praise from restaurant owners throughout town.
From Tutti’s to downtown (where the other day all the well-spaced tables outside Basso were filled) — and even spots like Sherwood Diner — outdoor dining has been an important lifeline during a difficult time.
Basso. on Jesup Green (Photo/Dan Woog)
If neighboring property owners give consent, restaurants can use otherwise unusable setbacks, as Rizzuto’s has done with their popular igloos.
Rizzuto’s popular igloos. (Photo/Joel Treisman)
They can use adjacent property too, as Rive Bistro does.
Restaurants can even request Board of Selectmen permission to put tables in street parking and on sidewalks. Railroad Place (Romanacci, Tarantino, Harvest) and Church Lane (Spotted Horse, Manna Toast) are prime examples of town-restaurant cooperation.
The application process is simple. It’s managed by P&Z director Mary Young, with support from fire marshal Nate Gibbons, to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.
As the weather gets better, more outdoor dining options are sure to appear.
And who knows? They’re so popular, the P&Z may decide to keep them, long after the pandemic ends.
A new store opened Saturday in Saugatuck. Bar ‘Bucha — next to Tutti’s — fits right into the revitalized neighborhood. Offbeat, funky and fun, it introduces kombucha — a fermented drink made with a black tea base — to Westporters, who always seek the next healthful thing.
But that’s only half the story.
Here’s the kicker. Bar ‘Bucha is owned by Aishah Avdiu. It’s her 1st commercial venture. That makes sense: She’s still just a senior at Staples High School.
You wouldn’t know it to talk to her. With a family background in business — her father is a real estate developer, her mom works in the fashion industry — and her intense, no-nonsense manner, she’s ready to make her mark.
And she’s doing it her way.
Aishah’s family has enjoyed kombucha for years. Probiotic, low in sugars and calories, it’s used to treat intestinal issues and clean up skin.
Kombucha is “a delicious drink with a super kick,” Aishah says. With a 1 to 2 % less than 0.5% alcohol content — not enough to qualify as an alcoholic drink — it comes in a variety of flavors. Bar ‘Bucha will serve ginger, mixed berry, lavender chamomile, citrus hops and others, in bottles and from taps. There will be healthy snacks too, but no other food or drink.
If that does not sound like an ordinary business venture, you’re right. And if it does not sound like a business a teenage girl would start, you’re even more right.
Aishah Avdiu, with her kombucha taps. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)
Aishah is no ordinary teenage girl. As a sophomore, she took accounting on a whim. Inspired by teacher Lenny Klein — and realizing she had good business sense — she signed up for every business course Staples offers.
Advanced Placement Economics with Jon Shepro, and 2 semesters of Personal Finance with Sarah White, stoked her interest and creativity.
Last May, Aishah looked at the notes she’d kept on possible businesses. A kombucha bar stood out. It was an unfilled niche, in a fitness-conscious town.
She researched sources, traveling to other states to sample the best products.
She found empty space next to Tutti’s, then sold the landlord on her plan. She got an investor, and secured loans. She even joined the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.
With advice from her parents — and knowledge gained in her classes — Aishah dove headfirst into the work of zoning, building and health permits.
She hoped to open in October. HVAC issues pushed that back to last Saturday. It was one lesson in the reality of retail.
Another reality: You can’t personally staff a store on weekdays, when you’re still in school.
Aishah’s arranged for coverage when she’s not there. But when the bell rings, she’ll head to Riverside Avenue.
Bar ‘Bucha is not her after-school job. It’s her fulltime business.
We’ll drink to that.
Some of Bar ‘Bucha’s selections. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)
The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.
It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.
With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.
It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.
Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.
It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.
All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.
An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building) is at left; the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Luciano Park is at the bottom. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.
Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.
A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.
Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.
A closeup of the rendering above. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.
Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.
Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.
It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.
The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti’s. The buildings in the artist’s rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings. The Charles Street office building is on the far right.
The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.
But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.
Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.
Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.
The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.
Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.
They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.
Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.
But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.
The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.
And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.
It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?
Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.
The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.
What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.
Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.
Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.
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