Tag Archives: Westport

Meet Manolo

In the best of times it takes self-confidence, steel nerves and big bucks to open a restaurant in Westport.

These are not the best of times.

Nonetheless, workers are busy transforming the recently vacated Zest into Cafe Manolo.  After more than a century as a bank basement, the space — underneath Patagonia, across from the Y — opens in June as a 2nd consecutive eatery.

Manolo’s website calls it “a dream created by experience and memories.” Chef Pedro Garzon — formerly with the Barcelona restaurant group  — has a background in both Europe and Barbados.

Manolo promises “traditional Mediterranean fare and presentation.”

Let’s hope our pocketbooks and palate are where Manolo’s owners think they are.

Let’s hope our usual aversion to parking more than 10 steps from a restaurant’s door doesn’t doom this new place.

And let’s thank Manolo for rushing in where many other restaurateurs would not dare tread.

Cafe Manolo

Cutting The Big Guys Down To Size

Recently — having been nearly Netflixed into oblivion — Blockbuster downsized.

Already, the store that took over half its Post Road property is going out of business.

Seeing “Closing Sale!” signs plastered in the window, I stopped.

Maybe my patronage would help.  Besides, who can resist a bargain?

But despite looking everywhere, I couldn’t find a thing that fit.

That’s the last time I go to Rochester Big & Tall.

Rochester Big Tall

Surveying The Scene

A small crowd discussed some big ideas about drugs and alcohol — Westport-style — at Town Hall last night.

Positive Directions and a panel of Staples students presented the results of several recent surveys.

Some results were unsurprising. Alcohol and marijuana use by teenagers is prevalent.  There is a strong correlation between drinking and drugs.  Parents underestimate what their own kids are doing.

Some of the results did surprise.  Twenty of the parents surveyed had hosted a party with alcohol for teens — and nearly all said they were aware of the underage alcohol law.  Among students and parents, cigarettes are perceived to be more harmful than either marijuana or alcohol.

But, as often happens, the best information came from the students themselves.

Four members of Staples’ Teen Awareness Group presented their own surveys.  And while 60% of seniors (and 10% of juniors) admitted to drinking and driving, 80 percent said their parents have done the same thing.  When asked whether they’ve ever been in a car with a drunk driver, student after student asked the TAG members:  “Do my parents count?”

You bet they do.  In more ways than they realize, parents count.

Happy Birthday, Will!

William Shakespeare was an amazing dude.

Born 443 years ago today, he wrote brilliantly about so many subjects:  love, power, Westport…

Westport?  Of course!

  • Taking your dog to Winslow Park: “Out, damned Spot!  Out, I say!”
  • Investing with Bernie Madoff: “All that glisters is not gold.”
  • That !@#$%^&* new McMansion right next door: “What light through yonder window breaks?”
  • P&Z and ZBA meetings: “The first thing we do, we kill all the lawyers.”Shakespeare
  • The Board of Finance, explaining why this year’s budget must toe the line: “Nothing can come of nothing.”
  • Our healthcare crisis: “The patient must minister to himself.”
  • Our countless banks, which no one ever uses: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
  • What you’ll find at Balducci’s, now that it’s been sold: “Eye of newt, and toe of frog/Wool of bat, and tongue of dog/Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting/Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing.”

Sign Of The Times

Winslow Park, Westport Connecticut

“No Trespassing” signs are not unusual in not-in-my-backyard Westport.

What makes this one noteworthy is that it’s posted in the back of the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot — one of the best ways to get to Winslow Park.

Winslow Park, as in “town park.”  We own it.

Can someone please explain how we can trespass on our own property?

Losing A Little Zest

Zest has served its final meal.

Zest restaurant Westport CT“Economic forces beyond our control” doomed the popular restaurant — tucked beneath Patagonia on Church Lane — just before its 3rd anniversary, said co-owners chef Pietro and Janine Scotti.  The news came in an e-mail to loyal customers — of whom there were many.

The Scottis’ message was like their restaurant:  upbeat and community-minded.  The couple thanked patrons profusely for their “heartfelt support,” then looked creatively ahead.

The Scottis also own DaPietro’s, just over the bridge at 36  Riverside Avenue. Acknowledging that their other property has a reputation as a “special-occasion restaurant,” the owners are tweaking its menu and reminding diners of a few amenities.

Lunches will feature more casual, fresh-market offerings, at “surprisingly reasonable prices.”  The “by-reservation-only Grand Tea” — similar to fine hotels in New York and England — will continue to be served from 2:30-4:30 p.m.

DaPietro’s is still hosting seasonal wine dinners, themed dinners and cooking classes. They also cater, “receiving rave reviews for producing gourmet affairs on tight budgets.”

Chef Pietro Scotti

Chef Pietro Scotti

The Scottis concluded by saying they look forward to continuing their “amazing relationship with the community.”  What a classy note, on one of the most disheartening days of their professional lives.

Zest is not the first good Westport restaurant lost to the economic downturn.  Let’s do all we can to return the Scottis’ warm feelings for their customers, and help their beloved DaPietro’s thrive.

A Beacon Is Dimmed

Beacon Electronics — a granddaddy of Westport’s locally owned, hometown businesses — has turned off its lights.

Perhaps time passed an electronics repair store by.  But “06880” won’t let Beacon pass into memory without a proper sendoff.

Nearly 20 years ago I interviewed Tom Migliaccio — co-owner with his brother Louis — for “Woog’s World.”  Even in 1990, I was awed that a store like Beacon Electronics was still around.

It opened at its Post Road location in 1949, and never moved (the name came from a big beacon behind it, near Rayfield Road).  I described it as “staffed by middle-aged experts, not 20-something whippersnappers who don’t know a woofer from a tweezer.  If my stereo was history, they’d tell me so, and if I needed a part that cost 98 cents, they wouldn’t charge me 98 bucks for it.”

When the Migliaccios opened, their rent was $75 a month.  In 1990 it was $100 — a day.  I have no idea what Beacon paid when it closed, but I’m sure it was a lot more than $3,000 a month.

Two decades ago, the Migliaccios described the difficulty of making money.  Solder cost $15 a pound.  “You can’t charge a customer for soldering a connection,” Tom said.  “But we have to solder, and someone’s gotta pay for it. Well, that someone is me.”

In the 20 years since we talked, things got worse.  People stopped bringing in radios for repair — because people stopped listening to radios.  Or if they didn’t, when one broke they simply bought a new one.

With televisions, the opposite occurred.  They became so complex — and humongous — that specialists now make house calls.  You can’t toss a 60-inch entertainment center in the back of your car, even if your car is the size of a house.

Way back then, Tom predicted doom for small Westport stores.  He said: “A friend told me, ‘If you stay in business long enough you’ll end up broke.’  The cost of staying in business, you just can’t keep up.  I think one day you’re going to find Westport is a town without services.  There are a lot of empty stores now, and there’ll be more in the future.  Pretty soon there’ll be no more mom-and-pop stores anymore.”

But — true to his generation and his craft — Tom was not complaining.  Looking back in 1990 on 41 years, he said he planned to stay as long as he could.

“By and large, everyone we run into is nice,” he said.  “We have a good clientele, and we’re thankful for it.  But you can’t control rent, you can’t control inventory costs, you can’t control health insurance.  That’s what the little guy is up against.  If I didn’t enjoy what I do, I would’ve been out of here long ago.”

It took 19 more years — for a total of 60 — but Beacon Electronics finally met its match.  Nothing lasts forever — not even a hometown repair shop where the owners are actual experts, and customers truly come first.

Today there is one more hole on the Post Road streetscape.  If there is a god, it won’t be filled by a bank.

Beacon Electronics

Figuring It Out

Good news!  The Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport metropolitan area is the nation’s “4th most livable city.”

Bad news! It’s also the nation’s most expensive rental market.

In other words, it’s a great place to live — but who can afford to live here?  Yogi Berra’s got nothin’ on me.

I guess we should be proud that Forbes.com — the livability folks — ranked us just behind Portland (ME), Bethesda (MD) and Des Moines (Midwest) — though neither Bethesda nor Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport is technically a “city.”

And we should probably be thrilled that Forbes’ “livability index” omitted criteria like traffic, commuting distances, public transportation, taxes, lack of room to grow, weather and, oh yeah, cost of housing.

Factor those in, and we’d be battling Cleveland,  Detroit and Flint for the title of most miserable places to live.

"Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport"

"Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport"

Flint, Michigan

Flint

Crumbs Comes To Town

Caroline Purvins loves Westport.  She says it’s “picturesque, quaint” — and when she looks out the window she sees “geese, not pigeons.”

As a New Yorker, Caroline can be forgiven for thinking that Canada geese are cuter, cuddlier or less obnoxious than pigeons.  But she’s right about the rest of that view.  Her enormous windows look out on Jesup Green, the library, the river — it’s one of the best views in town.

And right now many Westporters strolling by enjoy looking the direction too:  in.  Caroline’s windows showcase Westport’s newest store:  Crumbs.  The upscale cupcakery has just opened its 15th New York-area store, at the prime corner on Taylor Place behind Tiffany.  It’s only the 2nd Crumbs in Connecticut; the other is in Stamford.

“Don’t tell the other stores, but this might be the best location,” Caroline says.  (No worries — your secret is safe  ;))

Caroline Purvins shows off her favorite cupcakes

Caroline Purvins shows off her favorite cupcakes

Caroline — who despite a cupcake-based diet is as lithe as a gymnast — bubbles with enthusiasm for her new store.  “The customers are so happy to have us here!” she says.  “Everyone is so welcoming.  They’re all talking about birthday parties, bridal showers — it’s great!”

Crumbs, it should be noted, has been open for all of 2 days.  And though lots of people are away on school vacation, a steady stream of sugarholics already fills the spacious store.  They’re drawn not just by the colorful assortment of cupcakes (in varieties like cappucino, Heath bar, lemon meringue and grasshopper, most for $3.75), but also brownies (walnut, Oreo, marble; $3.25), cakes (Reese’s and apple caramel, $34; red velvet, $40), along with muffins, Danish, croissants, pastries, cookies, coffee and soda.

One sign says, “Made by Hand.  Baked by Love.”  Another certifies that the goods are strictly kosher (“except for Passover”).

How smart is it to open an upscale business in a time of global downscaling?

Caroline did not want to speak for the owners.  Personally, she said, “it’s a worry for anyone.  But as far as Crumbs goes, I’m very comfortable.  In times like these, everyone needs a treat.

“I feel so lucky to work here,” Caroline continued. “I started in college, and it’s a great company.  We all know each other so well.  And who wouldn’t be happy selling cupcakes, and making people happy?”

Point well taken.  So now, the most important question:  What is Caroline’s favorite cupcake?

“Hostess!” she answered immediately.  “I love it!”

She paused.  “But maybe soon it will be the Baba Booey.  It’s new!  It’s chocolate chip and peanut butter.  I don’t even like peanut butter!  But the chips…!”

Staples athletes David Mortner and Yarden Orly finish training with some well-deserved cupcakes

Staples athletes Yarden Orly and David Mortner finish training with some well-deserved cupcakes

New To The Neighborhood

Last Friday, the Rockwell family met several thousand of their new Westport neighbors.

The young couple and their two children were featured — in four color photos — on the front page of the Westport News’ Real Estate section. “New to the Neighborhood” the headline blared.  “Sense of community, schools and scenery draw family to town” the sub-head burbled.

At first I thought the Rockwells’ shout-out came because they were the first people in months to buy a house here (or anywhere in the country). But as I read further — about the family’s choice of Westport over the rest of the tri-state region, based on their initial criteria of “a good commute, excellent school system, reasonable taxes and wonderful town amenities,” then nailed down by Westport’s greenery (thanks, Google Earth!), two train stations, Longshore and beach — I realized this was a 2009 version of an old newspaper tradition.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s the Westport Town Crier ran a regular Page 1 feature: “New Folks in Town.”  Befitting its folksy title, each week the column welcomed 2 or 3 new families here.

Reading the “New Folks” stories several decades later opens an intriguing window on post-war, baby boom Westport.  Many families moved here from New York City, Long Island and New Jersey; some came from the Midwest.  (The Rockwells relocated from London; wife Aini previously lived in Asia.)

The new fathers worked for Union Carbide, IBM — solid companies like that.  (Alan Rockwell is a partner with an international law firm.)

The mothers, of course, did not work outside the home.  (Not that anyone used the term “working outside the home.”  These women were “homemakers.”)

The families — and they were always intact; no single men or women, same-sex couples; not even divorced people — looked forward to Westport life.  Little League, sailing, the YMCA, PTA, the Garden Club  — over and over, the New Folks in Town were eager to join in.

A generation or two later, the Town Crier column still resonates.  Many of the newcomers’ names are familiar.  They stayed, grew roots, raised families, got more involved in Westport than they ever imagined.  They ran for the RTM and Planning and Zoning Commission; they led fights for and against education budgets; they opened local businesses.

Others stayed a year or two, then vanished without a trace.  They made no impact here at all.  No “Folks Leaving Town” column chronicled their departure.

Reading “New Folks in Town,” now that many are “Old Folks in Town” (or “in Florida”), it’s easy to see a Stepford sameness to their arrivals.  They came bearing similar suburban hopes and dreams.  They were young, optimistic; their lives seemed poised to soar, and Westport would be the launching pad.

Some found what they were looking for here.  Others did not, or could not.  In their first appearance in the local paper, no one could tell which new folks would wind up where.

So:  Welcome to Westport, Alan, Aini, Tyler and Finnegan Rockwell.  We hope our town is all you wish it to be.  We hope you’ll get involved in our lives, in ways you expect and ways you can’t yet imagine.

We promise to check in a few decades from now, and see how you’re doing.