By Brenda De Los Santos
At The Green Room, it’s all about family. The New London restaurant and bar that features a welcoming and cozy ambiance, a menu of comfort-soul food along with meticulously thought-up cocktails, opened in July of 2019 to fill a void in southeastern Connecticut. Co-owners Jonai Phillips, Tondra Bryant and Shakim Outler wanted to create something for their community by their community, where patrons could feel like they were at their home away from home.
Phillips, a 2010 graduate of New London High School, joined forces with family friend Bryant and Bryant’s longtime boyfriend, Outler, to remedy the dearth of soul food restaurants in the area. “New London was missing something like this - if you wanted to get food like this, you had to go to Hartford or New Haven - we wanted to fill that void,” says Phillips.
“Our business will always stand apart from others because we are a family and we focus on our customers and what makes them feel comfortable,” says Bryant. With offerings like their popular Rasta Pasta, a jerk alfredo dish with pasta, bell peppers and choice of chicken or shrimp, Chicken n’ Waffle Bites with house spicy maple syrup, and Eggplant Meatballs, The Green Room’s menu offers something for everyone. “We try to put choices on the menu so that people who don’t drink or who are vegetarian or pescatarian have choices too,” says Phillips.
The events that led up to the trio - whose LLC is called “Three’s Company,” a nod to the classic sitcom that featured two women and a man - opening the restaurant seem like they were meant to be. “Tondra is my best friend's mom,” says Phillips, “We got into this idea because I was working at the bistro down the street and she was cooking out of her home and wanted to do brunch, so she came into the bistro.” Phillips, who moved back to the area after an eight year stint in New York City to attend college and begin her career, looked to the future after the bistro closed. “I started looking around and this place fell into my lap. It was perfect.”
“Our business will always stand apart from others because we are a family and we focus on our customers and what makes them feel comfortable."
The restaurateurs put a big emphasis on quality, with attention to fresh ingredients and they maintain high standards when it comes to their menu. “We have a guy - Big Jim - who makes our handmade lump crab cakes, and our scallops are bought locally,” says Phillips. “They [Bryant and Outler] put their soul and family recipes into our menu,” she says.
“My inspiration has been and always will be my grandmother, who taught me everything,” says Bryant. Continuing that legacy was her motivation, “My family keeps me going. I want to have something they can be proud of and leave them in charge of one day.”
Phillips has put meticulous consideration into The Green Room’s drink menu as well. With staples like #HennyThingsPossible, a frozen Hennesy colada, and the Black Mamba, a cocktail of silver rum, blackberry syrup, sugar, lime, mint & soda, their drink menu is eclectic yet accessible. “We make sure everything is consistent and the drinks are strong enough,” says Phillips. “They are not cheap, but are not too expensive. I put a lot of thought into them. Every season has a special drink menu too.”
Greenery is featured prominently in the restaurants’ decor, and the fireplace at the center of the main room contributes to the warm and inviting atmosphere. Their staff of ten consists of mainly friends and family, and Phillips says, “Even if you’re not [friends or family] you end up being that.” That feeling of being family is passed on to patrons, due in large part to the environment that Phillips, Bryant and Outler have painstakingly created. When you visit The Green Room, you’re home.
The Green Room is located at 345 Bank Street, New London, CT. Learn more on their website, Instagram or Facebook.
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Photos courtesy of Fresh Start Cleaning CT.
By Sarah Thompson
DShaun Williams is following in his father’s footsteps, literally.
Born and raised in Hartford, his dad showed him from an early age what hard work and perseverance looked like. Almost every weekend, he would tag along to his father’s second job in commercial cleaning, a job that his dad is still doing 17 years later.
“I was raised solely by my Dad,” shared Williams. “His way of parenting was strict, but now, as a grown man looking back to when he took me to his cleaning accounts on Saturdays when I would rather be outside playing, I’m glad all that took place. He would bring me with him, and I would help out and see what he was doing.”
His father encouraged him along the way, explaining that cleaning businesses can be lucrative.
“That inspired me to go ahead and press go,” said Williams.
Williams met his business partner, Christopher Cho, whom he also refers to as his friend and brother, at a corporate job a few years ago.
“We were working a corporate job together and I was his boss, so it just so happened that we shared an office together,” he explained. “So, we grew close and it worked. I would throw out these crazy ideas and he would go with it and make it work.”
From there, Williams learned organization skills and lived by the mantra “whatever you have to do to make it work, make it work,” earning recognition and achievement awards along the way. "We are so confident in our abilities as a company, we offer our customers the first week of cleaning absolutely free of charge,” he explained.
Soon after, Fresh Start Cleaning CT was launched, in June of 2020. The business, with a team of eight employees, now provides commercial cleaning including dusting, window cleaning, floor buffing and carpet shampooing for large property management companies, medical offices and other facilities.
"All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor."
“We can handle any aspect of any facility,” explained Williams. “The biggest challenge is the pandemic. People want to work from home, so to be able to provide a very clean and disinfected [work or office] environment is the utmost importance so we all, as a society, can eventually get back to some kind of normalcy.”
Despite COVID, Williams and Cho have seen a steady growth in businesses since their launch just seven months ago.
“When I look back on my life and my upbringing, for me, I like a challenge,” shared Williams. “That’s how I like it to be done. Everybody’s freaking out and people don’t want to come outside but in the turmoil we will rise. Like a phoenix.”
Launching a business isn’t the only new chapter Williams took on last year. He also has a new son who he affectionately named Phoenix.
“All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor,” he shared.
Just as his father was dedicated to him, he is dedicated to his customers. And it shows.
“My customers know that they can expect from me that if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and we’ve got to get something done, we’ll jump out of bed and get it done,” explained Williams. “I sent an email at 2 o’clock in the morning recently and we got a response by 9 o’clock that morning asking for a quote. So, just staying on it, not giving up, constantly pushing the limit, that’s my style and it works.”
Fresh Start looks forward to giving back to the community soon, too. “We must give back. It is a requirement,” he explained. “We have to show people that through adversity like the pandemic, they can still reach their goals and push forward towards their dreams.”
As for Williams, he’s always been interested in politics and changing the outlook of places like Hartford.
“One thing I learned coming up as a Black man is to always be ten times better. You have to be,” he shared. “Sometimes there’s this trustworthy factor—like hey, can I trust this guy? Or for a lot of people, their first scope into really having personal or business relationships with a Black person is through the lens that they saw on television. When I deal with people, it’s straight professionalism. I don’t subscribe to what they may have seen. It’s about being better than every other business and providing better service.”
At first glance, Williams and Cho might seem an unlikely pair.
“If you look at Chris and I, it’s what the country needs right now,” shared Williams. “We’re two people from totally different aspects of life, different upbringing, coming together to make something happen. I put a lot of faith in him, he puts a lot of faith in me and we make it work. With everything that’s going on right now, with the pandemic, with the whole cry for social justice, I feel like our story is very important for people to see.”
With each new opportunity to engage with a new or potential client, Fresh Start is inspiring others with their representation of unity.
Williams summed it up: “We represent what America can be…and clean!”
Fresh Start Cleaning CT is located at 304 West Main Street in Avon, with services available throughout Connecticut and New York. Click here to learn more.
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By Alicia Brown
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is an anonymous quote that seems fitting for Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co., a growing company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Oh D’Luxe is owned by Oddette Staple-Brown, an amazing candle making guru.
During the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, many people seemed to be trying new things. Some found yoga, and some, like Staple-Brown, dabbled in online language courses. But it wasn’t until she remembered that she loved candle making—after all, she has an “utter obsession with all things with amazing scents”—that she was fully inspired to dive deeper into it. She started trying out different waxes, settling on soy-based as her preference.
“I am of the belief that scents play a great role in cultivating a tranquil and elevated state of mind. The candles I would smell in the store did not smell the same once they were taken home and lit,” she explained. “So, I went online and found a whole community of candlemakers."
What Staple-Brown was referring to is the term for how a candle smells in the store compared to when it burns at home: cold throw and hot throw. She claims that “hot throw,” or consistency between both experiences—what you smell before and during a candle burning—is key.
The candle makers group on Facebook, which was very collaborative and open to sharing their ideas, helped her learn all things “wax-in-ating”, like techniques with materials, temperatures and scents. Soon after, she shared her new creations with her friends at church, who fell in love with them!
In September 2020, Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. was born. With her husband by her side, she knew she’d have some great support as she embarked on her mission to create candles that would satisfy her requirements for quality, appearance and an amazing scent profile.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company."
“What makes this work is that my husband loves chemistry,” she explained.
And, that’s what candle-making is all about. It’s not just about pouring wax and calling it a day. Ratios of wax to scented droplets, which wick works best for burn time and many other factors are things Staple-Brown considers when crafting her candles.
“Where my weakness is, that’s his strength,” she said. “And I thank God every day for it.”
Staple-Brown continues to learn and add to the Facebook group, giving back to the online community that was so giving to her. She also looks forward to giving back to her local community by teaching students about the candle making business once the pandemic passes. Oh D'Luxe Candles strongly believes in giving back—they actively donate a percentage of their profits each month to help offer educational opportunities to youth.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company,” shared Staple-Brown. “Remembering ‘our why’, we have fittingly employed the mission statement ‘to provide luxurious candles on a budget.’”
Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co was birthed from Staple-Brown’s inherent need to find something interesting to do during the pandemic, and was first supported by friends and family. Thanks to her new endeavor, playing with scents, wicks and waxes has now turned into a business.
“I have so many ideas where I want to see this business go,” she shared. “And I am thankful for everyone who has supported me.”
All Oh D’Luxe candles are hand poured in small batches to ensure that we provide quality products. Their ingredients are 100% American-grown soy wax, phthalate-free fragrance oils complete with lead free wicks to ensure a clean burn and amazing scents while also being non-toxic.
Find Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. on Facebook and Instagram, or shop online at ohdluxecandles.com.
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By Alicia Brown
It’s 2021 and some of us still don’t understand how to properly break the cycle—the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle that too many people are familiar with.
Covid-19 made it even harder to juggle finances for some who were living with that paycheck and nothing more, and then suddenly there are layoffs on top of it. For some it was a disaster, for others it became a normal way of life and that is why learning how to balance finances is critical to make surviving this crazy world even easier.
Thankfully, Patrina Dixon, award-winning author, financial education instructor, “dualprenuer” businesswoman of P. Dixon Consulting, LLC has created an It’$ My Money, a business specially designed to help provide clear, helpful pathways to better spending and budgeting.
Dixon is one-of-a-kind. She loves helping people get on the right track and fall in love with saving. In her book, It’$ My Money: Guided Journal, she helps readers understand their relationship with money and encourages her concept of “forget what was”—a motto for brushing aside any guilt for current bad financial habits and instead embracing new, better habits. She emphasizes that it isn’t best to change habits “cold turkey” but instead, embark on a process that embraces nurturing and time—one that Dixon and her book can provide.
From providing tips and advice to taking a deep dive into personal or business financials, Dixon and her team will do it all, with understanding, confidentiality, and patience, through one-on-one classes, virtual finance workshops, and even financial workshops. She helps clients increase their savings and improve their credit scores. She also hosts a podcast called The Money Exchange, where she is joined by special guests to help educate listeners about personal and business finance. What’s more? Dixon has just launched a podcasting workshop for anyone interested in radio blogging or hosting a podcast.
There is almost nothing she won’t do to help her clients break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
Among her specialties are helping clients understand how to acquire multiple forms of income, like passive income and stocks, as well as build up their credit score.
“I imagine myself in my client’s shoes and I want to provide a quality experience,” she shared.
Dixon is one-of-a-kind. She loves helping people get on the right track and fall in love with saving.
Dixon started her business in 2016 and, just like the savings accounts of those who take her advice to heart, it has grown. Throughout the years, she’s stayed humble and true to her roots—focusing on why she teaches financial literacy—which is her goal of helping people achieve happiness instead of being stressed over money.
Dixon’s motivation was her own journey through childhood and into her adulthood watching her mother’s financial habits. Dixon’s daughter remains at the center of Dixon’s “why” as she refers to it.
"My 'why' is my daughter, by far,” she explained. “She’s why I do everything that I do but my inspiration was my mom.”
Dixon’s mom showed her that life can still be beautiful and that she could still have fun without having a ton of money, but, according to Dixon, the stress was there. So, she wants to show her daughter the stress-free way of living, even when she might not have a lot of money.
“I want to say, look, roll up your sleeves and do the work. You can do whatever it is that you want to do. You can dream high and make it happen,” said Dixon.
Dixon says she began this journey through learning and experiencing it herself. She wants to help others because she noticed that as people became interested in her expertise she came to realize that many people aren’t being taught financial planning. That is unless they are taking a webinar or conference hosted by Dixon.
“I wasn’t taught this. I wasn’t t taught this at home, I wasn’t taught this at school,” she explained.
Today, she is widely known as the “It’$ My Money Lady” and has traveled the country providing talks and bringing her financial expertise to hundreds of people. It’s no secret that she wants the best for her clients and community. She even provides adults and college students internship opportunities.
Whatever the season, Dixon is ready to help provide advice and guidance toward financial freedom. Click here to find information about It’$ My Money, including classes, workshops, books and more. Find It’$ My Money on Facebook, and join the It'$ My Money Squad Facebook group! Dixon’s only requirement when you join the group is that you remain active, and that’s not hard to do at all!
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By Sarah Thompson
Felicia Edwards is a creative. She always had her heart set on becoming a psychologist, but knowing she wanted to go beyond the four walls of a traditional clinical setting and, quite literally, get up and moving while helping people, she began forging her own path during her undergraduate years.
“I knew that I wanted to help people in some capacity that had to do with mental health, but I also knew that my passion was in media,” she shared. “So, I created a curriculum that would incorporate mental health, writing, media, communication sciences and I put it all together as one.”
At the time, telehealth wasn’t as popular as it is now, yet Edwards was ahead of the curve, pursuing a degree that would help break down barriers for people to address their mental health concerns, whether transportation, money or something else, and providing virtual mental health services.
“I wanted to help people through media in the mental health sphere, through helpful videos and publications,” she said.
So, she loaded up her toolbox of knowledge in communications and pursue her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy to become a psychotherapist. She began creating videos while still working in the clinical field, eventually finding herself in a master’s course called action methods in Marital and family counseling—one that would spark a whole new approach for her.
“They used acting as a therapeutic means to unravel whatever is going on with you,” she shared. “And I thought—this is what I’m going to do!”
The thought of not being bound by some of the rules other practices had, Edwards took steps to open her own practice in Avon in July 2020, backed with certifications in various therapies.
“In other practices I would have to conduct therapy in a certain kind of way,” she explained. “But within my own practice and with the people I bring on, I can say to them that they’re free to do whatever feels comfortable to them, but my main focus is creativity and doing therapy in a non-traditional way.”
Edwards focuses on helping people who are transitioning—whether to a new job, in and out of school or otherwise—and tends to gravitate toward college students and young adults. Edwards moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was a little girl, first living in Florida, then New York and finally settling in Connecticut, so transitions are one she can understand and relate to her clients about.
“I find those transitions hardest because they are life-changing,” she shared. “Sometimes when people are transitioning to ‘the real world’ from college, they have limiting beliefs, like I live this way, or my name sounds like this, and so I’m really afraid to get this job. So, it’s from a cultural perspective. They also have deeply rooted family beliefs that they’ve internalized and subconsciously they’re taking it with them.”
Edwards works to unpack these complexities, to help empower her clients to reframe their believed experiences and create a new narrative so, in her words, they “don’t click away from those job opportunities because they believe a person might turn them down because of who they think they are or what their name sounds like.”
These experiences are ones that Edwards has dealt with, too.
“Therapy is meant to edify you. Recognize it as self-care.
“In the workplace, I have experienced people thinking I’m incompetent or I’ve been in situations where I have received hits at me because I was the only one in my office that looked a certain way,” she shared. “There have been times when I’ve spoken to someone and they said something, but I know they weren’t intentional about it but it’s because they assumed something about me. They might assume I’m a single mother, so some people assume I need assistance.”
Edwards has reached beyond therapy to create a card game that helps people debunk biases based on assumptions on looks.
“I think it’s really important to understand that on a subconscious level that we automatically think something about someone as soon as we see them,” she explained. “The way we see them, until it’s debunked, we carry that bias around with us. I want us to be aware of those things, so we don’t lead the conversation a certain way or make a person feel unintentionally uncomfortable.”
Her game, called Assumptions, was originally created to use during her sessions with clients, but she’s working to re-roll it out in both physical and online versions.
She also likes to specifically work with communities where there are higher instances of stigma attached to mental health care.
“I have a handful of Muslim clients who say I’m getting therapy although this is highly frowned upon,” she shared. “A lot of the time people look to religion, which is fine, but I find that they’re still feeling stuck and they’re not getting the help that they need and that’s why I really wanted to help. It is becoming destigmatized a lot more, but there is still that belief that ‘only crazy people go to therapy.’”
At the top of Edwards’ list is helping encourage people to take the step to get help.
“Therapy doesn’t have to be scary or boring. A lot of times people think therapy is this big, scary ordeal or they should come with only bad news,” she shared. “Therapy is meant to edify you. Recognize it as self-care. You can speak to someone who is unbiased, someone who can give you what you need when you need it. I always say, if you ever have the thought that OK, maybe I should get help, act on it and don’t talk yourself out of it, because that’s what people do. There is no shame in getting help. It just means you need support, and everybody needs support.”
Assurgent Healing is based in Avon and offers online therapy for couples, young adults and women across Connecticut. Find Assurgent Healing, and information on Edwards’ Assumptions game online here. Felicia Edwards is also a creative business coach and owns AchievHer Perfection, helping business owners transform their “boring content marketing strategies into new income generating creative techniques.” Learn more about receiving free creative training for businesses by clicking here.
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Photos courtesy of iTeachCT
By Alicia Brown
Dear parents: is your child struggling with learning? Has the pandemic affected their studies? Have things been stressful for you? Meet Ms. Shardae of iTeachCT--a mother, teacher, leader and advocate for education and student learning who can help keep your student on the right track.
“I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning,” she shared.
There are two reasons that Ms. Shardae has made education her life mission, and one is Ms. Ford, a teacher who did not give up on her.
“Ms. Ford is the one who made time to help me master concepts,” she shared. This is the same guidance that Ms. Shardae wants to provide to all students in her program.
The second reason? She wanted to prove her doctors wrong.
When Ms. Shardae was a young child, her adoptive mother was told that her new daughter may not do well in school and that she might struggle. But she rose to the top of the class and says it’s all because of her mother’s encouragement and dedication to ensuring Ms. Shardae completed all her schoolwork.
"I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning."
“We don't want a student to feel like they are failing just because of their inability to grasp a concept that just needs to be taught differently,” she explained.
ITeachCT, which stands for “Integral, Embracing, Teaching Adolescents Through Challenging Horizons”, exists to help parents and students tackle challenges, and what’s more challenging than a school shutdown in the middle of a pandemic? Ms. Shardae’s Parent Power Hour helps parents gain insight around two concepts their child is learning and provides guidance where it is needed most, including helping parents gain confidence in teaching lessons that they may not have learned in school and breaking down concepts in helpful ways.
She tutors and assists with English, science and other studies for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and offers mathematics support for students in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Ms. Shardae’s business launched in March 2019 but her passion for helping students began after college when she worked in education. Recently, iTeachCT expanded beyond Connecticut for tutoring services, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accredited by the Better Business Bureau, she has an A rating—a direct reflection of her care for her students. From helping through the struggles of remote learning to navigating daily life and even providing scholarships, her dedication is evident in all she does.
Ms. Shardae loves giving back to her community and in 2020 she provided a $500 scholarship to a student, funded by donations and class purchases. Her scholarship is open to a first-generation college student or a college student from a single-parent home.
While the pandemic won’t last forever, virtual teaching will still remain popular for many years to come, and iTeachCT will be there to help students become the best they can be!
To sponsor a student, donate to the iTeachCT scholarship or to learn about available services and classes, visit iteachct.org or find iTeachCT on Facebook.
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By Camila Vallejo
When you think of your typical family-owned restaurant, you tend to imagine a business brought complete from the ground up — name, menu, space, etc. But sometimes success isn’t a matter of creating but instead reinventing. That was the case for Vinith and Cassandra Keola, the current co-owners of 50 West in Plainville.
Running for about six years under a previous owner, the restaurant had undergone several concept changes. From fine dining to a noodle bar, 50 West had tried it all with little long-lasting success. But for the Keolas it provided a foundation and following. All it needed was their special touch.
In March of 2019, they took over and developed a menu that would cater to all palettes and pockets.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles,” Cassandra Keola says.
The Keolas describe their food as American comfort with an Asian flair. Some fan favorites include buffalo bleu wings with bacon crumble ($11- $20), drunken noodles with pappardelle pasta ($14) and sauteed clams in a wine sauce with chorizo ($14) — just to name a few. The menu also offers other classics like burgers, salads, flatbreads and, of course, crafted cocktails.
Vinith is the mastermind behind the menu with over 20 years of experience in the industry.
Prior to 50 West, he owned a catering business and a restaurant in West Hartford which he conceptualized on his own. The West Hartford locale eventually closed because he says he went “too big too fast,” an experience he now keeps in mind when making business decisions.
Today, his focus is not so much on the big picture, but instead on the little things that contribute to a great restaurant, Vinith says, like ingredients, flavor and customer satisfaction. He shops locally for produce two to three times a week and 90% of the food is made from scratch.
“My food is my art and my pan is my canvas. I love taking a simple dish, deconstructing it, and making it into something I would eat myself,” Vinith adds.
While Cassandra works a full-time job at UConn Health, she can attest to Vinith’s passion by just the looks of the kitchen on a daily basis. She says the amount of fresh vegetables and spices makes it seem like Vinith goes foraging in the backyard.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles.”
“There are so many different spices in the world that people don't know about. We like to highlight them in our dishes. America is so used to starches and salty food that people are often forgetting about pungent, bitter, savory and spicy flavors. When you take a bite, you should taste one part and in the other bite, another.”
Good food and hospitality are in their blood, says the husband-and-wife duo. Vinith migrated to the U.S. from Laos in 1980 with his family. While his parents worked, Vinith took care of his older brother and learned his way around the kitchen. He may not have a formal culinary education, but he knows cooking is all about trial and error.
Cassandra’s mother is Scottish and Native American and her father is Barbadian. She says the mix provided her an appreciation for different cultures and, more importantly, cuisines.
Vinith uses their different cultures as inspiration for his dishes. One example is 50 West’s Cubanh Mi — a fusion between a Cubano and Bahn Mi sandwich with grilled marinated pork, Asian slaw and spicy aioli.
While creative dishes are at the center of 50 West, the Keolas pride themselves on customer service above all else.
“You can go to a restaurant every Friday and order the same thing. But, it's different when you're greeted by warm and welcoming staff. You might enjoy your food more, eat a little slower and taste things a little differently, ” Cassandra says. “We create an environment where customers feel like they’re eating with friends whether they’re dining alone or with others.”
Like many others, the COVID pandemic has not been easy for the Keolas. The state-wide shut down and restrictions came at a time where 50 West was just getting started. Nonetheless, the Keolas have been able to attract a regular customer base by providing authentic dishes in a warm and friendly environment. They and their staff of nine hope to see the end of this pandemic soon. And in the meantime, they’ll work towards the future.
“We’d like to see another location one day,” Vinith says. “There are so many things you can do with food and to stick to one location or kind of food it’s just limiting the creativity.”
50 West offers indoor and outdoor seating and catering is now available for family-style packages and special events. COVID hours are Wednesday to Saturday 4:00pm to 9:00pm and happy hour specials are from 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
Find 50 West online at 50westrestaurant.com, on Facebook and on Instagram. 50 West is located at 50 West Main Street, Plainville, Connecticut.
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By Sarah Thompson
Bet on yourself. Invest in yourself. Go all in on yourself. You are your best investment. These are words that Double or Nothing Apparel co-founders and cousins Mike Forrester and Drew Bailey live by, and now they’re sharing this motivation with others through their unisex all-purpose clothing brand.
Their self-described “stylish yet comfortable” brand is popping up all over Connecticut, and even into the New York, Boston and DMV areas. The creators' apparel has reached Florida, Georgia, California, and even internationally in Toronto and Africa. From hats to hoodies, sweat suits and tons in between, the duo is on a mission to spread positivity wherever they—and their brand—goes.
“Our brand represents hard work ethic, dedication and constant elevation, resembling tactics for success,” Forrester explained. “I want someone to put on our apparel and feel proud behind it, what it stands for, what they stand for. We want to unite everyone as one. It’s bigger than just a t-shirt or hat. We want to spread positive energy around the world and try to uplift with any encounter.”
"We want to put out apparel that not only appeals to people, but also inspires them when they put it on. Our brand symbolizes being a go-getter—going after and obtaining your goals with persistence and consistency."
They want to inspire others to go after their goals and dreams.
“Don’t feel like you’re locked into something if you have something [else] you’re passionate about,” said Bailey. “Double down and go all in on what truly inspires you, because you can achieve anything when you focus and put your all into it.”
“No matter who you are—any walk of life, any color, speak your goals into existence,” added Forrester.
The pair took their own advice, and with added encouragement from family and friends, launched Double or Nothing Apparel last June, despite the country being in the middle of a pandemic.
“We believed in ourselves, set benchmarks and focused on staying consistent,” shared Forrester. “It started with a vision, dedication and constant progression.”
Having grown up together in Hartford, Forrester and Bailey always spent time together. In their words, they’ve been “around each other since the sandbox.” And in fact, many of their designs have sentimental significance from their youth.
“With our soccer jerseys, that was my high school number,” shared Forrester. “So, it’s bigger than jerseys – it’s coming from memories. I won the championship with that [jersey] number, so reliving it and seeing the reaction from everyone is just a blessing.”
Their mission to counter negativity takes energy and intentionality, but it’s paying off. Their warm, welcoming family-vibe is putting smiles on many faces.
“Customers tell us they love our energy,” shared Bailey. “They tell us, I was feeling bad today but your positive vibe just switched my whole mood up.”
“Our customers’ feedback means a lot to us,” added Forrester. “It feels like we are growing together.”
They’re also committed to giving back to the community they grew up in and encouraging the next generation. Not too long ago, they were involved in a youth event hosted by the Hartford Lions Soccer Club, an organization they stand by.
“We love to support our community,” shared Forrester, “so it’s a big deal to give back.”
During the first months after they launched their family business they did experience some delays with manufacturing due to COVID-19, but in Double or Nothing style, the pair says they’ve “strived towards our goals,” and sales have continued to grow.
“We believe in our brand,” shared Forrester. “Hard work turns into equity.”
Keeping their designs timeless, they pride themselves on offering a unique variety of colors and unisex styles for men and women, all with excellent quality.
“We focus on having items for everyone to fulfill and satisfy customer needs,” shared Forrester. “We always think about how to expand.” And like their website says, the variety of colors and styles the brand offers resembles the culture around its two creators.
Their current high demand products during these cold months? Sweat suits and hoodies. Their new spring collection includes several must-have items, too. “It’s going to be a great season release,” said Bailey.
“Starting the brand with hats, we created 30 to 40 different styles that some customers request, and we do pre-orders and also custom orders for all items,” explained Forrester. “We focus on building customer engagement.”
With each new season, Forrester and Bailey are committed to working hard, staying positive and being consistent with their mission to inspire.
“Our brand is evidence of growth, and we are blessed to share our art and mission with the world,” said Forrester.
“Just like ‘you are what you eat,’ you are what you put on,” added Bailey. “We want to put out apparel that not only appeals to people, but also inspires them when they put it on. Our brand symbolizes being a go-getter—going after and obtaining your goals with persistence and consistency. So, when you see those words—Double or Nothing— just know those are words that you can live by and stand firm on.”
The Double or Nothing Apparel online store is available at www.doubleornothingapparel.com and based in Greater Hartford. Find Double or Nothing Apparel on Instagram and Facebook. Email inquiries to Doubleornothingunited@gmail.com.
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By Lajeune Hollis
Let’s face it, there is a kid in each and every one of us. The Art Child, a travel- based and online program for kids of all ages, recognizes that. Its mission, according to founder Ms. Alicia Brown, a certified therapeutic art life coach, is “to offer programs to let kids be kids, show their emotions along with helping them control them.”
I wondered, how did this business start? According to Ms. Alicia, her business began as showcase of her art, and she was selling cards, canvases and more.
“I switched when I realized most of my work was targeted to kids and people who enjoyed abstract art,” she shared. At the time, she was in school studying child psychology with art therapy as her career. She got her certification in Therapeutic Art Life Coaching, which combined her love of working with children and her passion for art.
And so, The Art Child was born.
In partnership with Sawyer, an online provider of children’s classes and activities with a mission “to inspire a love of learning through play and exploration,” The Art Child offers programs for children ages two and up, teens and adults. Ms. Alicia tailors each class to the individual person, or collectively for groups. Class fees are per person or by group, and can be made via Cashapp, Venmo, PayPal, Square or Apple Pay.
“It's important to me because there are so many children without creative outlets, and art programs seem to be the first things cut,” she shared. “We are trying to stop that, and showcase that art is extremely important for anyone. If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Residents of Connecticut can hire Ms. Alicia to come directly to their church, home, school or daycare to hold a therapeutic art class. All art supplies and snacks are provided at no extra cost. And, social distancing rules are in place during the pandemic to ensure all attending are safe.
One challenge she has faced is getting The Art Child name out there. “I have a select few promoters and have been working with local businesses to hold art events, but due to COVID-19, the turnouts are always small,” she shared. “Hopefully, going forward, we can change that.”
"If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Because of the pandemic, The Art Child is now also offering online children’s classes for free on Friday and Sunday evenings at 7:00pm. Children from anywhere across the United States can participate from the comfort of their homes.
Once participants sign up for a free class by The Art Child, they will have the option of having art supplies mailed to them, including paint brushes, canvases, construction paper, glitter and more, paying only for shipping. On the day of the one-hour online class, attendees are emailed Zoom login information, and on class night, Ms. Alicia first reads an illustrated story before teaching the actual activity. Children actively participate by following her step- by-step instructions and holding up their artwork as the night progresses. They give a final thumbs up once they finish their “masterpieces.”
In addition to classes, The Art Child also offers face painting at birthday parties, art activity boxes, art commissions, events (see availability on theartchildllc.org), pre-drawn canvases for DIY as well as pre-painted canvases. Ms. Alicia is also certified to work with kids on the spectrum, who are living with Autism, Asperger’s or with social disorders.
As for adults, Ms. Alicia helps them “turn off” their brains during their therapeutic art classes by focusing on the process as opposed to the outcome.
As with anything worthwhile there is a cost. However, The Art Child holds fundraisers on a regular basis to defray business costs, especially for their free programs. Donations are accepted at any time at www.theartchildllc.org.
What’s next for The Art Child?
“I want to reach all 50 states with art boxes, and I’ll be having an event with The Key Bookstore in Hartford, Connecticut on February 19 at 6:00pm,” she shared. “It's a story time and painting event for adults and children. I am also working on a coloring book for all ages.”
Ms. Alicia is getting a jump start on her goal of reaching all 50 states by offering a special Valentine’s Day activity box. She hopes to “spread the love” by offering this special activity for couples that include two canvases and brush sets, two heart notebooks, two pencils, two slimes, two bottles of bubbles, six paints, glitter and a rose quartz from Hippie Love. She explains that the rose quartz, when held, will helps people to relax their minds and will then activate the love inside of them, allowing their hearts to tell them what to paint. Visit www.theartchildllc.org to order one of these special boxes.
Sounds like a good plan.
The Art Child is in Bloomfield, Connecticut, with in-person services available throughout Connecticut and online services available nationwide. Find The Art Child on Facebook, Instagram or learn more at theartchildllc.org.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
Gizelle E. Tircuit and her daughter, Janelle Posey-Green, started their New London-based holistic mental health practice, Magnolia Wellness, LLC, in 2016 not only to benefit the community, but to allow them to feel good about what they were doing.
Tircuit is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a background in education and is currently at the write up stage for her Ph.D. in Counseling, while Posey-Green is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has worked in the non-profit mental health field. They feel that the hearts of big institutions were in the right places when they were smaller, but as they grew they missed the mark. They didn’t want to have to meet a certain quota for how many clients they needed to see in a week.
Being the owners of their own practice allows them to steward Magnolia Wellness LLC in the exact direction they want to be in. They offer programs such as DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), Positive Parenting, SMART Recovery group therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy ), sound healing, energy balancing and cleansing, as well as ancestral healing practices and other Holistic treatment approaches.
“We have an eclectic approach,” says Tircuit, “Many times it becomes a combination to find what the client needs.” Posey-Green adds, “One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.” Tircuit maintains her teaching license with a certificiaton in Special Education, so that she can support families with 504 plans and IEPs.
Originally from New Orleans, the mother and daughter pair take much pride in their roots, and have incorporated the magnolia, Louisiana's state flower, as their business namesake. Posey-Green uses her Creole roots as a springboard for teaching her clients practical ways to incorporate indigenous self-care practices into their lives at home. She uses sound bowls and smudge sticks, as well as teaching people to regulate their own energies with fire breathing, dance, and sound. She says that many of her Black clients come for these indigenous practices that don’t necessarily come naturally to them.
After moving to Connecticut from Louisiana, Tircuit says they went from living in a community in Louisiana where her children saw Black adults who were doctors, attorneys and all the other professions in a community made up of different professions and families to Connecticut where there were only two Black families in their community. She didn’t let that deter her and made sure to expose her children to Black professionals. “Janelle [Posey-Green] was exposed to many Black women professional therapists,” says Tircuit, “We are all very close, and she got to see these beautiful Black professional women.”
"One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.”
The impact on Posey-Green was profound. “My mom never stops. There is nothing she can’t do because I’ve seen her do so many different things. As an adult, I know I can because she did.” Tircuit admits she had reservations about opening up a private practice, but she says Posey-Green was her cheerleader. “We motivate each other and we are inspired by each other as a family,” she shared.
Magnolia Wellness also strives to impact their community as a whole. Posey-Green has taken on the role of being a community leader, creating several online communities. After COVID hit, the CT BIPOC Mental Health & Wellness Initiative was created to provide a safe space to openly discuss the impact of the pandemic and racial trauma on Black, Indigenous, people of color. Posey-Green says CT Therapists and Healing Practitioners of Color was created because “we are not all the same, so we deserve options. You shouldn’t have to stick with a professional just because they have the same cultural background as you.” And SECT Naturalistas was created when she was working with teens and found that many did not have role models who looked like them. While Posey-Green takes on being the public face for these communities, Tircuit’s contributions are more in the background.
Although most therapy appointments are currently being done virtually, the mother-daughter pair says that being treated in their practice is an experience. Whether a session is done online or in person with sage burning or an essential oil diffuser going, their clients are treated with dignity and taught stability and endurance. “It all goes back to our roots, our sense of community and culture,” says Tircuit.
Magnolia Wellness is located at 302 State St, New London, CT 06320. Click here to learn more.
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By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO of Aquiline Drones
After years of continuous development, Connecticut-based Aquiline Drones (AD), the nation’s only Black-owned drone manufacturing and technology company, is now just a few months away from launching the nation’s first true “Aquiline Drone-on-Demand” (ADoD) mobile app.
Akin to Uber and Lyft, individuals and businesses will enjoy the luxury of ordering both private and commercial drone services right from their fingertips!
ADoD will be accessible through all mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, in which the user may order a variety services including aerial photography, videography, utility inspections (power lines, wind turbines, bridges, tunnels, railroad tracks), outdoor events, home security and beach patrol, search and rescue missions, precision farming and many more.
“AD’s drone-on-demand service is an exciting new product that was designed to lower the threshold of safe and responsible use of drones in society,” said Barry Alexander, CEO, and founder of Aquiline Drones. “It’s a modern-day convenience everyone should have!”
AD’s in-house manufactured drones are equipped with capabilities such as AI-assisted object recognition, 4K video recording, and many other essential features to meet customers’ requests.
Alexander notes that drones are expensive and not very easy to control. One bad move and an amateur pilot could be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage, or a full drone replacement. ADoD essentially removes the risk of hardware loss and liability from bad or unethical piloting and ensures that all missions will be completed by graduates of AD’s Flight-to-the-Future (F2F) program, an online, drone pilot training course and employment opportunity for anyone 18+, certified by the FAA. Enrollment into the program can be accessed via: ADflight.to/future
In addition, users of the app will have the unique experience of interacting with the drone(s) while performing jobs or missions. App users can also create an AD Cloud account where they will be able to obtain footage of the recorded content in real time, or after the job is completed.
“We envision a world in which drones are constructively and harmoniously incorporated in society, using their real-time control features, autonomy and analytics to reduce costs, optimize business operations, minimize carbon footprints, create new business value and, most importantly, save lives,” concludes Alexander. “Our new ADoD app is another step in making that vision a reality.”
About Aquiline Drones
Aquiline Drones is an independent, Black owned, American drone company founded by highly experienced aviators, systems engineers and IT gurus. With a customer-centric model, US-based manufacturing and supply chain and world-class MRO services, the company offers innovative and successful ways for using drones in commercial activities.
Supported by a dedicated UAV cloud and real-time OS, autonomous drone operations with real-time control and dynamic in-field decision making capabilities, Aquiline Drones’ full-spectrum of technological solutions provide a more expansive and deeper applicability across countless industries and environments by delivering real-time data insights. Aerospace-compliant processes for software, hardware manufacturing and systems integration, along with best-in-class mission capabilities are being planned and designed as the company continues to create strategic partnerships with Federal, State and private organizations in an effort to develop and launch new drone system applications in a collaborative manner. Visit www.AquilineDrones.com for more information.
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By Dr. Ceylon Cicero, ND; Natural Practices
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a necessary body process that is important—if we did not have inflammation, we would not have immunity. It is a necessary part of our immune response—or how our bodies defend themselves—and anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful as well. Congestion, pain and swelling are all signs and symptoms of inflammation, which may result from the presence of foreign pathogens such as harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, tissue damage of any kind or fevers. Inflammation happens naturally as a necessary process to repair and heal. It can happen any and everywhere in the body--and we need it to.
To maintain optimal functioning, our bodies are constantly changing and balancing. Our bodies like to be balanced and will do whatever it takes to maintain that balance in order for survival—even damaging or injuring another part of the body in the process. Inflammation, while it is a necessary process, can be overdone and cause some damage to the body as well. With the body and with health, a good rule is “anything in moderation” (well almost anything) and that goes for inflammation too. Our bodies can produce an acute inflammatory response or a chronic inflammatory response. Acute inflammation is short lived (minutes to days) which is necessary for repairing. This includes things like a cut finger or a twisted ankle. Chronic inflammation is long lasting (days to months, or even years) and is damaging. It creates imbalances in the body that can lead to hypertension, diabetes, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, hair loss or other ailments.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by modern day luxuries and our lifestyle choices, including:
Managing the inflammatory response is how you manage your health. You have a lot of control over your lifestyle choices and helping your body heal itself. “You are what you eat” is not just a saying, but a way of life. If you are eating foods that are causing inflammation in your body, you are then inflamed. Food should work for you, not against you. A very good start to prevent inflammation is to identify your food sensitivities and food allergies!
For follow-up care regarding but not limited to chronic inflammation, schedule an appointment with Dr. Ceylon Cicero at Natural Practices, 10 Crossroads Plaza, West Hartford, CT 860-951-8308. We provide testing for food allergies among many other things. We have seen a great number of patients who have experienced an enhancement in their lives emotionally, physically and mentally—all from discovering their inflammation responses to certain food allergies and more!
Click here to visit Dr. Cicero's website.
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By Sarah Thompson
After tasting the food at My Wife Didn’t Cook, you might think that owner Deivone Tanksley’s number one goal is to make your mouth water. After all, his fried chicken or deep fried whiting fish with mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread or the wing plate with his signature barbeque Hennessey sauce will captivate you in no time. And while there’s truth to his goal of serving only the best food, the reason behind his restaurant runs much deeper—it’s bringing people together, one plate at a time.
Tanksley, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Jaci—who Deivone says is his biggest supporter—has deep roots in New Britain, where My Wife Didn’t Cook opened its doors in 2019. Having lived in the city his whole life, Tanksley knows firsthand how difficult it was to overcome some of the generational challenges so many of his friends and neighbors face.
“I was brought up in the projects where my dad was in and out of jail and my mother was on drugs. They are both doing wonderful now and have changed their lives around, but it was at age 11 when I was first incarcerated—I was sent to juvenile detention,” he shared. “Then [the mistakes I made] kept trickling to 14 years old, 16 years old, and the system engulfed me. At the age of 20, I started reflecting. I had two kids and I kept thinking, this is the status quo. I was able to see how the culture repeats a cycle for generations after generations—and in that moment my eyes opened and everything changed. From there I said I have to cut the cycle, so I started working and people would laugh at me. I went from the kid on the corner selling weed to a kid with his shirt tucked in. I was like, you can laugh all you want. I have a family to take care of.”
And, thanks to his self-described “relentlessness” and creative brainstorming and partnership with his wife Jaci—who is a whiz in the kitchen--he was able to continue turning the pages in the next chapters of his renewed life journey, inspiring countless people along the way.
In 2016, Tanksley started New Britain Legacies, a youth basketball mentoring program. Not too long after, he recognized that there was a market for a soul food restaurant in New Britain, so he opened My Wife Didn’t Cook. Perhaps surprisingly, the non-profit and restaurant often work hand-in-hand to make a positive impact in the community.
In fact, three alumni from New Britain Legacies worked at the restaurant before heading off to further their careers, and several other youth are currently working at My Wife Didn’t Cook, building their job skills and receiving mentoring support.
“We feed each other--the restaurant feeds the program, whatever the program needs, and we use the restaurant platform to provide. We try to give the kids that outlet. If we can’t hire them or fulfill something, we use our resources and reach to point them in the right direction,” he shared.
Last year, Tanksley’s felony record was expunged. While he lived through some dark and challenging times, he’s committed to sharing his story to help others, and to amplify that story through his business.
“It’s my purpose—I can reach more people with my story, I can help more people with my platform, I can continue to be a philanthropist and invest in the community, and this is where my relentlessness comes from. I feel like I’m that one person that people look at and see that people can change and people can be something in their life. If I quit now, I’m not just quitting on me. I’m quitting on my whole name and history—my kids, my community, my people. I feel that my sacrifice of my time is worth it to help thousands of people,” he shared.
Tanksley proves that there are people with stories behind every business, people who have experienced setbacks, struggles and sacrifice--but he hopes to inspire other people to pursue their passions and open a business, too.
“Because of the status quo of Black businesses and Black entrepreneurs, there’s not a lot of us who are in this game for ownership; there aren’t a lot of us who are creating our own,” he explained. “We had so much setback, so when we do either try to sit at that table or challenge the status quo we are questioned--do you belong here or do you not? And we can’t make as many mistakes and not be criticized. We have been miseducated, we’ve been misguided, we haven’t had certain resources, we don’t have generational wealth, so we’re literally setback. The challenge that we face is probably double or triple as opposed to another person facing that same thing.”
"I feel like I’m that one person that people look at and see that people can change and people can be something in their life. If I quit now, I’m not just quitting on me. I’m quitting on my whole name and history—my kids, my community, my people."
When another enormous setback—COVID-19—struck, Tanksley chose to use it as an opportunity to help the community. He and his crew were able to provide free meals for nearly 2,000 people in just a few days, earning a “Think Beyond Yourself Award” from New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
“I’m real big on community and providing for the community in times of need. If we didn’t have this platform, we would not be able to give away so many free plates during COVID,” he said. “During the first week of COVID when everyone was really struggling, we prepared about 900 plates—we had a line out the door. Within a half an hour all those plates were gone. Over the next couple of days, people around Connecticut heard about this story wanted to help. They started sending me and my wife checks from all over, so we did another barbeque again and another 1,000 meals were out the door.”
Free meal or not, Tanksley works hard to make sure all who visit his restaurant receive fantastic customer service.
“It’s the main thing I train my staff on,” he explained. “I love people so for me to have [good] customer service is all I care about—when that customer walks in, whether they are having a good day or a bad day, I want to make sure they leave happier than when they came in. Customer service is number one, and the food has got to be consistent and excellent, which it is. It’s not just customer service because we want their business, but it’s when I’m walking down the street, I want a customer to say--that’s a good guy.”
Bringing people together is at the heart of My Wife Didn’t Cook. When customers step inside, they are transported into a place that inspires and comforts. From the cozy lounge area to the bright colors throughout and motivational quotes on the walls, happiness is evoked.
“When [you] come into our restaurant, you get more than food. You get an experience. People come to get inspired. And it inspires us to hear their stories. We didn’t want to just bring a restaurant--we wanted to inspire the youth, adults and the community to let them know that we’re here. That’s our whole purpose.”
My Wife Didn’t Cook is located at 89 West Main Street, New Britain, CT and will soon open a second location at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT. Click here to visit their website for hours, menu and more.
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10/16/2020 3 Comments
By Terrence Irving
“My whole purpose is...if you can’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t have it on your skin.”
It’s a warmish fall day and I’ve just arrived at the suburban Willimantic studio of Isankofa Natural Skin Care, owned and operated by Sahra Deer. She greets me outside along with her marketing manager. Kids, including Sahra’s daughter, are outside enjoying the weather. The smell of leaves is in the air, but so is something else. Something really, really good.
Not even a Covid-19 mask could prevent the first impression that Isankofa inevitably leaves its visitors: the wonderful scent of the products that await inside. Ingredients such as apple, peach, and pumpkin are autumn-appropriate.
Once we get started, Sahra quickly makes it clear that Isankofa is about much more than just nice smells.
THE ISANKOFA WAY
We’re in the studio now and the source of the enticing aroma is before me on several rustic wall shelves. The professionalism and care is obvious: everything is neatly organized and aligned. The products are carefully labeled with a description and list of ingredients, complete with Isankofa’s branding. Sahra also accepts online orders that can either be picked up in person at the studio or shipped directly to customers.
Early on in our talk, Sahra points out a subtle fact about human anatomy: our skin is our largest organ. When asked about Isankofa’s “why,” Sahra expands:
“The company started for [a] couple different reasons. My mother, and a few of my cousins, and one of my aunts had breast cancer.”
Questioning the concept of conventional deodorants and antiperspirants, which are well known for containing chemicals which aren’t exactly healthy, Sahra’s outlook on self-care evolved. She took action, gaining an interest in natural skin wellness, then developing her own deodorant.
Eventually, her resolve was only strengthened by one of her children’s skin conditions: “And then when my daughter was a little bit older, she ended up having horrific eczema…[Her prescribed treatment consisted of] all these chemicals that never seemed to help. So then, that’s how the body butter started.”
MORE THAN JUST A NAME
Sahra’s father is a Rastafarian who used to be an antique dealer in her native Jamaica. Naturally, then, she admits an affinity for mixing old with new in her business.
Her strong connection to (and fondness for) the island nation is evident beyond her accent. It also explains the “I” in “Isankofa”:
“The Rastas don’t believe in the you, the me, or the we, they believe in just the ‘I’,” she explains.
Enter Iyaric, the Rastafari English dialect. A manner of speaking created to combat oppression, convey piousness, and maintain African roots, Iyaric makes extensive use of “I”, both as a word and as a concept.
With the “I” portion of her business’s name, Sahra goes on to explain the rest. The Rastafarian culture, popularized in America by the late and great Bob Marley, is widely associated with Jamaica only. Few are aware of its African roots, including the West African nation of Ghana. Enter “sankofa,” an ancient concept born there. The exact definition varies slightly depending on where you look. Sahra’s does great a great job of conveying the point:
“‘Sankofa’ means...to look into the past in order to have a prosperous future.”
Sahra is very up front about Sankofa’s influence on her business philosophy and product development: she borrows from ancient self-care methods and recipes, modernizing them for her customers. She puts it frankly:
“Sometimes I feel that people have gotten so smart that they need a 360, back to stupid.”
In other words, when it comes to keeping your skin healthy, simple is best. From Africa to Asia to North and South America, people have been caring for their skin naturally for millenia. Figuratively, then, the Isankofa brand challenges us to ask ourselves, “Why fix what isn’t broken?”
“My whole purpose is...if you can’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t
QUALITY YOU CAN SENSE
Meeting Department of Consumer Protection standards in Connecticut isn’t easy. Sahra takes great care to ensure that Isankofa’s facility, ingredients, and production methods do so.
“I am making [each product], so my name is out there on the line...I try to use locally-sourced, organic, fair trade...and most of all, food grade, ingredients. Even down to the lye that we use,” Sahra explains.
I already described the pleasant effect Isankofa products have on your sense of smell, so we can scratch scent off of the list.
Let’s move on to what you can see. The products are clearly packaged well; Sahra also makes it a point to use biodegradable shrink-wrap on Isankofa’s soaps. This stuff isn’t mass-produced, so you can see just about every speckle, hue, and swirl of the unprocessed ingredients used to make them.
Touch is an easy one. Isankofa is primarily, after all, a small business focused on natural skincare products. From oils to balms to butters to soaps...with actual grains of rice in them. The list goes on. Everything here is created to keep your largest organ feeling and looking healthy.
And what about taste? A bar of “Aren’t Figs Rose-mantic?” soap literally looks like pudding. The reason is that it actually contains, well, food. Figs, olive oil, and coconut.
Perhaps noticing that I was staring at the soap as if we were in a pastry shop, Sahra offers a lighthearted dose of reality:
“It’d be really nasty, but yes, you could eat it.”
STAYING ON COURSE
Like many other small businesses around the state, Isankofa was hit hard by this year’s Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to in-person retail, Sahra is used to inviting customers into the studio for classes as well as attending markets with like-minded vendors.
She explained, “Last year was a really great year for the business. It grew leaps and bounds. And I felt like...finally, 2020 was gonna be my year...and that did not happen.”
Still, Sahra remains optimistic and focused on the Isankofa’s mission of continuing to provide quality skincare products that respect our bodies and our environment. As of this writing, new email list subscribers are eligible for a discount as well as those who return Isakofa glass bottles to the studio for recycling.
“I want to make sure that I have an affordable, natural product...for people that look like us...I tell people all the time: I don’t expect you to drink the [natural skincare] Kool Aid. But, try one thing [before writing it off].”
So what are you waiting for? Give Isankofa Natural Skincare a try today. Your skin—and your conscience—will thank you for it.
Click here to visit Isankofa Natural Skincare's website.
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By Patrina Dixon, Owner/Author/Speaker, P. Dixon Consulting, LLC
In today's world, there are many ways you can give back to your community or those in need. A small encouragement or support from your end may make a lasting impression on someone else's life. Also, as the saying goes, if others' generosity has blessed you in your past, you are obliged to pay it forward to keep the good karma going. There is nothing more fulfilling in life than helping someone else without expecting anything in return.
I was recently a part of many of Experian’s #CreditChat panels and shared my views on paying it forward and giving back.
As a personal finance expert, international speaker, host of the podcast The Money Exchange and an award-winning author of the financial journal book series, It'$ My Money™, I have been asked several times by Experian to share my views and this one is near and dear to my heart.
For me, the primary benefit of giving back and paying it forward is just the joy that comes with the act of helping someone else succeed. The fulfillment which comes with that act far exceeds any tangible benefits. The causes that I support are the ones that align closely with my own beliefs. Some include United Way, YWCA, and my church.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact. The action can be as small as asking someone how they are doing at the start of the day, sending a kind note to your colleagues, friends, or family and just inquiring about their well-being or just reminding them that you are thinking of them. I find that I give back in time and labor more than anything monetary. Sometimes all that someone needs is for someone to listen to them and that's enough to brighten their day.
You can give back directly for charitable causes without breaking the bank. If you would like to be generous, there are multiple ways you can do it, even if you are on a tight budget. You can create or build something that you can then give out to those in need. An example during the COVID-19 time would be creating masks and donating them to the organizations where you can make a maximum impact. Another way would be to help provide food for people experiencing homelessness in your neighborhood, which again provides a significant effect on person in need without having to spend a lot. These are charitable activities that can be done on a low budget and without a lot of pre-planning.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact.
I have spent a significant portion of time raising awareness in shaping the spending and saving behaviors of my clients to guide them toward financial independence. I believe whatever the cause is, the best way to raise awareness is by using social media platforms, especially video-based platforms like YouTube. That is where the audience who will be supportive of your cause is hanging out, and you reach them where they spend most of their time. COVID-19 has also put most of the conventional ways of supporting and helping your community on pause or moved to unconventional ways. This doesn’t mean it is not possible, you just have to be safe and social distance and wear masks.
Many people are out of jobs, and many small local business owners are trying to save their business. You can help them stay open by buying local and support the jobless in finding new jobs, hire them or contribute to train them.
As with anything positive within human endeavors, we also have negative aspects like fraudulent charities and organizations that pop up. The best way to determine if a charity is legit is to search their track record by researching on Google or the Better Business Bureau website to see their business rating. You can also check who the team members are running the charity and read their financial statements to understand what percentage of your charity goes to the cause and what percentage goes to administrative expenses.
Sometimes acts of kindness are a complete surprise and come out of the blue without any warning. The most memorable act of kindness I received was when my husband and I went out for dinner for our anniversary. We had a beautiful evening and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious four-course meal. When we completed our dinner and asked the waiter for the bill, we were pleasantly surprised. The waiter told us the gentleman seated at the table next to us had paid the entire bill and taken care of the tip as well. It was such an unexpected but beautiful gesture, especially coming on the day of our anniversary. The gentleman that paid asked the waiter not to tell us and he was gone when we found out.
One of the areas I focus on is finding ways to help inspire kids to be generous. I spend a lot of time working with kids on educating them in developing better financial prudence for their future. On my website, there is a free It'$ My Money™ and Sammy Rabbit Coloring Book that is perfect for kids to have fun while learning that saving is a great habit. In my experience working with kids, I believe that the best way to teach them about giving back is to show them acts of kindness instead of telling them to be kind.
The best way to give back and pay it forward is always to be kind, spread love and joy, tip the essential and demonstrate these actions in front of kids regularly.
Photos courtesy of Caleb Roseme
By Caleb Roseme, Co-owner and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Assured Quality Homecare
I am a 35-year-old Black man, and I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child, my parents regularly warned me that I would be treated differently because of my skin color.
I never wanted to believe them because living in a predominantly Haitian community, I was protected from experiencing racism. I loved my country and could not believe that I would be treated differently because of my skin color. When I was 11 years old, all of that changed when my father was assaulted and arrested in front of his family at the annual Brockton Fair in Massachusetts.
That week, my parents made a promise to take us to the Brockton Fair, and we were excited. My three siblings, four cousins, and I spent the entire week planning, anticipating, and imagining the amount of fun we were going to have at the fair.
When we arrived at around 3 PM that day, we went to the ticket booth to purchase tickets. My father started to ask the woman selling the tickets, who was caucasian, questions about which package would be the best for the family. My dad has a master’s degree in education and was pastor of a congregation of 56. Those who know him know that he loves to ask questions. But those questions started to annoy the woman selling tickets.
After several questions, she became more aggravated, told my dad to piss off (in much harsher language), and refused to sell him tickets. After a minute of going back and forth with my father, the woman called over nearby police officers.
The police immediately grabbed my father and slammed him against the fence. My father told the police that he had done nothing wrong, but they yelled at him to shut his mouth. My siblings, cousins, and I all started crying hysterically, and my mom begged my dad not to say a word. My father again asked what he had done wrong. He told the officers he had rights and that they were treating him unjustly. That’s when two of the officers pulled out their batons. As the two police officers were about to hit my father, a third officer assisting with the process saw us children. He realized that they were about to beat my father in front of his children and stopped them. The officers promptly threw my father in the police car and hauled him off to the police station -- car keys, money, and all.
In those days, there were no cell phones, and we had no way to get in touch with my father to know what happened to him. We were in a different town, with no friends and family nearby. All we knew was that he was at the police station, which was two and a half miles away, and the only way to get to him was by walking. So we walked...
That was the longest two and a half-mile walk in my life...
"I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County."
When we arrived at the police station, we found my dad waiting for us there. The police accused him of disturbing the peace, a charge that was eventually thrown out. By the time we returned home that night, I was asleep from the emotional and physical drain of that night. However, my sister was still awake and witnessed for the first and only time in her life my father break down and cry at the dining room table. We have never seen him cry since then, even though he is now 68 years old and has since lost both his parents and a brother and sister.
The story I described to you was the earth-shattering moment in my life when I realized that I was not safe and would never be truly safe because of my skin color. Since then, I have been pulled over and yelled and screamed at profusely by police, had objects thrown at me by Caucasians driving by me as I was jogging, worked around openly racist coworkers, been prevented from entering peoples home because they did not want black people on their homes, had a police officer put his hand on his gun when I approached him for directions, and much more. I moved to New London County at the age of 22 when I graduated from college to work as a mechanical engineer, and many of the events that I described to you happened to me while I’ve lived here, some as recently as 2019.
The experiences that I share with you today are not unique, and in all honesty, I am fortunate to have only suffered those “minor” experiences. It could have been worse, I could have been beaten, I could have been jailed, I could be dead. Even now, it is still not over for me. I walk around daily knowing that if I am in the wrong place at the right time, I could easily find myself -- a married man, father of three, engineer, and business owner in Norwich -- in my father’s shoes.
Photos courtesy of Assured Quality Homecare
The racism buck did not stop at my father’s generation, and it has not stopped at mine. Since my daughter was four years old (she is now 8), I have had to console and explain to her why some of her classmates and in other cases, kids in her children’s ministry class, didn’t want to play with her because she has “brown skin.”
If I were to invite you to a family gathering and you were to speak with my relatives and ask them about their experience, you could write several books. If racism and police brutality against my family is not dead and we live in New England, how much more is happening in the other parts of the country where whole communities and elected officials are openly racist?
I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County.
Racism is real and ever-present. Until we are willing to accept that truth, we will not be able to bring the change and healing that our black community and this country needs to move forward. I hope that by reading this letter, it will help you see the reality of what our black American community across the country, including New London County, faces so that you can join the much-needed conversations to bring change in our country and communities.
Click here to learn more about Assured Quality Homecare.
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By Sarah Thompson
It’s been quite a “season” for Lillard Royal Lewis, Jr.
Also known as “Chef Jay,” Lewis is a world-renowned chef, an insightful food philosopher, a published author and a philanthropist. He applies his philosophy and global vision of food sustainability and health disparities, plant-based economics and corporate responsibility to his Connecticut-based business, which is 100% Black-owned. His many products, which include the Baby J’s Spice label, are all driven toward two central philosophical pillars of his corporate structure: sustainability and diversity in education.
While his gourmet spice line has launched him into a class all his own, his journey started as a private chef to the stars, preparing meals for R&B legends and performers including Carl Thomas, K. Michelle, Smokey Robinson, Al B. Sure!, Styles P and Gregory Osbourne. Over the years, some clients turned into significant friends and mentors—including legendary actor and comedian John Witherspoon and business icon Curtis Robinson. Both have provided Lewis with invaluable professional guidance.
“Some of the first people to try my spices before they were even labeled were Smokey Robinson, John Witherspoon and Soledad O’Brien,” he shared. “They tasted my food, sampled the original spice blends and they were like wow, you’ve got to bottle this!”
Lewis knew early on that what would set his business apart was research and development of proprietary intellectual property. He wanted to own components and raw resources used to create in his industry.
“In the culinary world, spices and spice blends are to the culinarian as gold is to the watchmaker or platinum is to the jeweler,” he explained. “Spices are immutable commodities in my profession. Unlike raw material commodities, spice blends can be created and for the creative mind—opportunities will always abound.”
Inspired by stories of spice traders throughout Africa and Asia, Lewis began to create various herb and seasoning blends—almost daily! Eventually, he created an array of reliably delicious spice blends that were hit when used for exclusive dishes for his private clients.
"I take my products around the world, around the country and around the state and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well as feed hungry people."
What followed was the incorporation of his business, Fūd, Inc. Built completely from the ground up and self-funded, Lewis specifically chose to incorporate his business in Connecticut because he believed in how positive the future could look.
“This is our state,” he shared. “We must invest in ourselves and in our children’s future.”
And it has always been his two young boys, Jayden and Jameson, who have been by his side as his builds his company.
“Ever since I’ve started this business, they’ve been there every step of the way,” he said. “They taste-tested and helped develop the spices. I remember bringing them to the Secretary of the State’s office, meeting Denise Merrill while I was trying to set up my business, and being there when I closed the deal with Geissler’s—they were right there with their pens and papers, with their hands raised. I think it’s a phenomenal way to teach my sons what it means to be a Black-owned business.”
Lewis and his boys are delivering some phenomenal products to people all across Connecticut and beyond. Now featured at grocery stores across Connecticut and Massachusetts, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice—which, according to Lewis’s sons, goes great on steak and chicken—has become a household hit.
Photo courtesy of Chef Jay
Geissler’s Supermarket, a New England-based family-owned chain founded in 1923, saw value in partnering with Lewis’ brand right away.
“We took this last year as an opportunity with Geissler’s—who has been an amazing business partner with us—to understand how retail works, how having a product in grocery stores works,” explained Lewis. “It’s a field rife with challenges but enormous benefits if one is willing to put in the time, gather and listen to advisors and work toward excellence. I wanted my sons to see this process up close and appreciate what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”
Following a logistics and strategy meeting with Rob Rybrick, co-owner of Geissler’s, Lewis’s son shared that he was “going to grow up to be a genius just like Daddy.” Soon after, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice arrived on Geissler’s shelves in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“The response from the community has been enormous. We’ve been getting calls for product all the way from Texas to Colorado and we’ve even shipped to California,” he said. “We have a couple of cases going overseas. We’ve gotten a really good response.” While Lewis is grateful for this uptick in business, he doesn’t want to simply benefit from the moment.
“It’s a good opportunity to fundraise,” he explained. “If we are going to get this influx in new customers and revenue streams, I think that it’s a socially responsible and corporately responsible thing to do to take some of that and reinvest it in the community so that my sons have some more tools than I did.”
Lewis has already given to his son’s schools and is currently forming an initiative that focuses on diversity in education, inside and outside the classroom.
Every bottle of Baby J’s says, “of food and philosophy,” which mirrors the heart behind Lewis’s business and the transition he’s making from the catering world to retail, business consultation and social justice education.
“In my most recent trip to Ghana, I lectured at Webster University about sustainability and corporate responsibility to a group of undergraduate and grad students,” he shared. “That’s where the company is going. I take my products around the world, around the country, around the state, and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well feed hungry people.”
Lewis, who has a degree in Philosophy and African American Studies from Central Connecticut State University, stresses the importance of “balancing the scales” when it comes to business leadership and decision-making.
“Everything has been so data driven lately, but what we’re seeing in real time is how data-driven solutions are not necessarily the best solutions for the times,” he said. “What we need in board rooms across America is more wisdom, we need more social sciences and philosophy. Students with Liberal Arts degrees are, in my opinion, where the leaders of the future are going to be coming from. Today’s corporations, large and small, need more empathy, maturity and to be more social justice-minded.”
Lewis believes that the best way to start the day is with positivity. Often, that positivity comes from his sons, who he refers to as “living life coaches.”
“My sons have been such a phenomenal source of positivity first thing in the morning,” he shared. “When you start off with your sons believing in you—believing in themselves—and having their own ideas for the business, that’s a help!”
And, Lewis says he feels like a genius when he sees his boys wanting to start their own businesses.
What’s next? You guessed it—a new Baby J’s spice blend called Genius, which will feature young boys and girls of color on the bottles. Lewis will also feature the youth on the bottles in blog posts, sharing why they are geniuses, ultimately benefiting a charity as well.
One thing is for sure, with the next generation following in his footsteps, the Baby J’s brand is going to be just one of many great businesses to come from the Lewis family.
Find bottles of Baby J’s at Geissler’s Supermarkets across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Find locations here. Click here to connect with Chef Jay on Facebook and here on Instagram. A website featuring Baby J's Spices with purchase options will be available soon.
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Photo courtesy of The Key
By Jaclyn Wilson
Inspired by the intimate interactions she had with booksellers as a conference attendee, Hartford, Connecticut resident and UCONN grad Khamani Harrison created The Key Bookstore in 2018. The Key is an Afrocentric mobile and online bookstore with carefully curated book lists focused on African American history, environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and spirituality. Harrison calls these subjects the four pillars of her business, using each as a guide when building a list of books. “Curation,” Harrison explains, “is everything.”
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
Her booming business and thriving online community prove Harrison knows exactly what readers want. Harrison notes, “Some bookstores are missing the connection to the soul of a book reader.” Armed with that knowledge and dialed into the desires of readers like herself and her friends and neighbors, when she first began bookselling in 2018 Harrison would set up her mobile bookstore at community events, festivals, open mic nights, and pop up events, bringing knowledge right to the community, and providing books intended to enrich their lives.
By building a dynamic, interactive space for online reader discussion, Harrison is filling the void left by traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers—a void that is filled when a reader is able to go online and interact with others who have also just read the same book and want to discuss the book’s content, pose questions, talk about their favorite parts, or get clarification.
Like all businesses, Harrison’s has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shut down, and is currently operating exclusively online at keybookstore.com. During the pandemic and since Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, Harrison’s business has “exploded.”
Harrison explains, “People are looking for answers to take action with…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.” Harrison also notes that part of the explosion of orders and subscriptions she’s seen is also due to The Key’s “White Ally Book List” that went viral on Twitter 10 days after George Floyd’s death, and was then picked up by Buzzfeed.
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
“People are looking for answers to take action…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.”
Photo courtesy of The Key
Harrison includes White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo on the “White Ally Book List” and notes that it is currently her best-selling title. A New York Times bestseller as well, White Fragility explores how the reactions of White people when confronted with issues of race can ultimately serve to maintain racial inequality. Other titles on the “White Ally Book List” include the most lauded and celebrated Black voices of our time, such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
They Key also offers other insightful book lists about the Black experience, such as Black365, which includes titles like Survival Strategies for Africans in America by Anthony Browder, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois, while the Black History 101 book list recommends The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop, now in its 30th printing.
No matter what readers may set out to learn, the book lists curated by The Key offer readers sophisticated recommendations and a dynamic online community with whom they can discover these books, and perhaps a new perspective on life.
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By Kerry Kincy
Yes, it’s Capital with an “a” and no, it’s not a spelling error (for all our "Grammarly grammars" out there…LOL). Even though Capital Ice Cream is located on Capitol Avenue and is just two blocks from the state Capitol Building, the owners envisioned opening a place that was reflective of the beauty, positivity and diversity of the people of the capital of Connecticut—Hartford. That said, they take great pride on being affectionately referred to as the “The Happy Place in Hartford”. Chantell Kelly, who co-owns this sweet little magical place with her husband Shane, says she gets asked that question about the spelling a lot. According to Kelly, it was intentional—because when you dream you’re supposed to dream big! We hope to expand throughout the city of Hartford and beyond!
Kelly and her husband are Hartford residents. They saw a need in their community and decided to fill it.
As a Kindergarten teacher, Kelly’s students would always share stories of going to far away places to have ice cream. As a parent, she would also take her own children beyond city lines into West Hartford and other towns for ice cream. Always aspiring to open a community business, she and her husband thought how nice it would be to open an ice cream shop that local children and families could enjoy and be proud of right in their own neighborhood.
Voila! Dreams can come true if you only just believe.
She believes her little shop, with more time and resources, can be recreated in many towns across the state.
On an otherwise invisible strip just beyond the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and before the once famous Capitol Records—another hidden gem that for years stored and sold albums that would delight only the serious of vinyl collectors—this jewel is worth “the dig.” I mean, what’s more exciting than finding a hidden gem? Capital Ice Cream is definitely a treasure—glimmering and sparkling with happiness.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model...It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
As soon as I walked up to the building I was taken back to my childhood when the biggest problems in the world were what flavor of ice cream to choose. Although only about 250 square feet of frontage and maybe 250 square feet more inside, the rainbow of colors all over the shop is a feast in and of itself for the eyes. Handmade tulle cones stacked high upon each other in the window complement and offer a preview of what lies ahead and colorful umbrellas and metal stools circle the outdoor tables.
I learned that Kelly enlisted the help of local artists and nearby University of Hartford art students to create the detailed menu artwork on the walls. Capital Ice Cream’s staff only adds to the brightness that emanates from this tiny shop.
The sign on the door instructed that only three customers were allowed inside at a time. However, I think even if current times didn’t require six feet of space, any more than three feet would not provide the space needed to peruse the choices that the colorful menu just above eye level displayed. I was thrilled to be able to take it all in slowly. Just being inside Capital Ice Cream is its own enchanting experience.
As I scanned the menu, my eyes settled in and focused on the Kindness Cones. This gentle reminder in selflessness encapsulates exactly what Kelly’s intentions are and why she chose this particular location for her shop. Customers are invited to purchase a kindness cone at a discounted rate and leave a handwritten note on a paper cut out to “pay it forward.”
“So often children from the neighborhood stop and peek into the shop, sometimes just wanting to say hello, simply curious, and sometimes humbly ask for a cup of water,” shared Kelly. “The cones are for these children and families that come, sometimes ordering two cones for a family of five to share.”
We can all appreciate that not many families have extra income to purchase an ice cream cone. “Pay it forward” kindness spreads and is as delicious as the selection of Capital Ice Cream’s toppings. Of course, a Kindness Cone was included in my order and honestly, made my cone taste even better.
When creating her business model and wanting to offer top quality products, she realized the price point might fall outside the income levels of some families in the neighborhood, and rather than sacrifice quality and continue to maintain a successful business, this was a way to make her amazing ice cream accessible and available to everyone.
For those of us who cannot handle the speed at which this amazing “real” ice cream demands on a hot summer day, the cup and spoon “just in case” was a smart idea. I realized I couldn’t lick and hold another cone—and wear my mask simultaneously—so I quickly rushed outside to hand over my friend’s cone and sit down.
As I enjoyed my sweet treat, I watched as a little boy, maybe all of three years old, held tightly onto his cone as he and his dad were exiting. His eyes were filled with anticipation as he waited patiently to remove his mask to taste. I felt it deep in my heart: this new normal is not feeling normal at all.
Thankfully, Kelly and her sweet shop are helping create a place of comfort and inspiration despite these challenging times.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model,” she said. “Both children and adults are surprised to learn that a Black woman owns this sweet little place. It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
Capital Ice Cream
389 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06016
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By Sarah Thompson
Surf’s up, right in the heart of Blue Back Square in West Hartford! Marked with a bright pop of blue on its exterior, Playa Bowls welcomes guests with a laid back vibe. Surfboards, egg chairs, murals of mermaids, flat screen TVs streaming surfing and extreme sports and even a cozy fireplace all combine to bring a bit of the beach right to this restaurant.
But, according to owner Mitch Jackson, what stands out the most is what he calls the best acai ever.
Jackson’s background is in corporate and private business, in the information technology space, so before taking the plunge in business ownership he knew it had to be good.
“I tried the product before I bought into it—and it’s the best I’ve ever had,” he shared. “The owners of this franchise have gone above and beyond sourcing just the right acai from Brazil. It’s blended with real cane sugar, no preservatives, and everything is all natural. It’s delicious!”
From bowls to smoothies and juices, Playa Bowls offers a colorful selection of inviting and unique offerings that are delicious and satisfying. Customers love the Nutella, Pura Vita and Electric Mermaid Bowls most. The best part? Everything is prepared fresh and right on the spot.
Playa Bowls West Hartford open its doors in November 2019. Friends since their college years at UCONN and having both grown up in the area, Jackson and co-owner Mike Bogdan had noticed an untapped opportunity to bring something new and fresh to West Hartford. Having been mutual acquaintances with the CEO of Playa Bowls—a franchise that began as a pair of blenders, a patio table, and a fridge that has flourished into over 83 stores, thousands of employees, and a mission to lead communities in healthy, sustainable living—they had a great place to start.
Jackson is also an agile specialist for Deloitte, so when the challenges of running a business come his way, he handles them with optimism and wisdom.
“When COVID hit, everything had to go to a standstill,” he explained. “Once we started getting more information about it, we were able to pivot. We had already had delivery with Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door Dash, so that gave us a huge advantage, so people could order even though our doors were closed. We took a pretty decent hit and we were a bit concerned and worried like any business owner would be in February and March, but once people started to acclimate into the new style it was as if things were regular. We actually did better than we did when we were open.”
In fact, they adapted so well that their growth created new jobs and adding more hours.
"The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old."
“It was great to be able to say that we aren’t going to have to let anyone go and that we could still hire some other folks,” said Jackson.
When it comes to customer service, he says “there really isn’t a secret sauce. It starts with saying please, thank you, and smiling.”
Playa Bowls West Hartford is particular about who they hire and keep on staff, because they want to ensure that customers experience a positive energy the minute they walk through the doors.
“Everything starts from being polite to maintaining safety, and then it goes from there,” explained Jackson. “We preach safety in every way, making sure they are safe, wearing their masks properly, constantly washing their hands, and looking for things that are out of sorts with food or surfaces.”
The restaurant even has an app where customers can track their purchases to earn points for discounts or free bowls.
At the leadership level, Jackson says they try to bring a positive energy to their employees.
“It’s contagious. The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old,” he said.
And while Playa Bowls is new to West Hartford, they have made a commitment to give back in any way they can. “We think it’s important to give back to the people who put trust in you, the customers,” shared Jackson.
Through Dine-to-Donate, they’ve been able to work with various local organizations and causes to give back a portion of their proceeds, including supporting a senior dance concert for University of Hartford students and holding a Best Buddies fundraiser to support local students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Jackson also believes their employees should represent the people in the community and that being on the Playa Bowls team means being part of a family.
“We have a multitude of different backgrounds and representation, including a minority owner. When there were Black Lives Matter rallies and protests, one of our employees spoke at one. We allowed other employees to wear BLM shirts and speak out on social media about it. We highly encourage it. I sat down with every employee and told them that if there was anything that they were struggling with that we are here as a family – not just as owners or managers or shift leaders, but as a family to talk about this and grow through this and learn from each other. We’re all in,” he shared.
Playa Bowls is located at 51 Memorial Road, West Hartford, Connecticut. They are open 8:00am-9:00pm during the summer and 8:00am-8:00pm during other seasons. Learn more or browse the menu of acai, pitaya, coconut, green, chia, banana, and oatmeal bowls, and their huge variety of smoothies and juices at: https://www.playabowls.com/.
Click here to connect to Playa Bowls West Hartford on Facebook.
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By Arianna Velez
Mind, Body & Soul Food is a new restaurant located in Meriden, Connecticut. Owners Deja Durant and chef John Small are longtime family friends who share a love for soul food. Family-owned, together they follow recipes that have been passed down for generations. Offering a variety of dishes including seafood, chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens and more, their quality meals are made with the freshest ingredients. And, they will soon be offering daily specials and desserts, including delicious cheesecakes.
Durant is not new to owning a business. He recently closed his clothing store and wasn’t expecting to open a restaurant. When the store closed, he took some time off to reflect about what he really wanted to do, and this new opportunity just presented itself. After driving by the location daily and seeing the for-rent sign in the window of where Mind, Body & Soul Food now operates, he started thinking that he could do something. With many cooks in his family, he decided to give the number in the window a call. The result? What was once a Subway that sat empty for quite some time is now the new home of one of the best soul food restaurants in Meriden.
Durant is well known in his community, not just for his business endeavors but also for the role he plays in giving back. At his previous store, he held events for coat and back to school drives and more. Co-owner chef John Small was in business with Durant when he owned his clothing store, and he would regularly contribute 60 backpacks to the drives. Recently, Meriden held a Black Lives Matter rally where Durant and Small gave away free food. They made chicken and mac and cheese—which were a big hit.
“The line was like a mile long,” said Durant.
Both Durant and Small are just the type of people who naturally like to give back. For Durant, his daughters are what motivate him. Not only is he building a legacy for them but he’s also showing them what it means to uplift those in the community.
“For me, it’s my kids,” he shared. “I got all daughters. I have 4 of them. I’m trying to provide for them and also, like it’s legacy too. I want to leave them with a piece of something.”
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe.
Aside from their amazing food, customer service plays a role in customers coming back to Mind, Body & Soul Food. Durant believes in always being polite and remembering everyone has their good days and bad. At the end of the day, he says, “we’re all human.” He believes in customer satisfaction and if the customer’s experience isn’t the best, he wants to know how he can make it better.
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe. Chef Small, who learned to cook from his grandmother, relocated from New York to Connecticut when he was 17. He loves sharing his love of food with those around him and knows his food will make the difference when it comes to people coming back for more. Home cooking in a restaurant made with love and with the help of his wife is the perfect recipe for hungry guests to feel right at home.
Small and Durant believe that guests will be surprised, comfortable and satisfied after visiting their restaurant. Upon entering, the beautiful aesthetic will surprise guests and make them feel comfortable. The food will absolutely satisfy. And, Small and Durant make sure all meals are double checked even before leaving the kitchen, to ensure orders are correct and presentable.
Mind, Body & Soul Food held their grand opening on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Their first day open they sold out of food completely and even had to close two hours early—a complete success!
Owning a restaurant is a completely new experience for Durant, but it is clear he has a lot of support and his food already has received many amazing five-star reviews. With lines wrapped around the building, wait times may longer due to COVID restrictions, but guests are being understanding and staff is doing the best they can. The food and service are truly amazing, welcoming and satisfying.
One customer shared, “Mind, Body & Soul Food had great customer service from ordering to pick up! Food was amazing! Place is really nice inside! Kept it simple with fish, mac and cheese and corn bread. My very picky eaters devoured every crumb. We will back soon to try more stuff!”
While they’re closed on Mondays, guests can visit the restaurant Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:00am to 8:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00pm. They will soon be offering delivery.
Mind, Body & Soul Food is located at 511 West Main Street, Meriden, CT 06451. Learn more about Mind, Body & Soul Food on their website.
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Pictured: Playa Bowls in West Hartford (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Yvette Young
People often ask, why does ShopBlackCT.com only focus on Black-owned businesses? The quick answer is because of the impact systemic racism has had on the Black community.
Let’s use the “Monopoly analogy”—utilized by Kimberly Latrice Jones on social media—to highlight how systemic racism has impacted the economic reality of Black people in America.
Imagine you are playing Monopoly for 450 years and for 400 of those years you are not allowed to have money, own any property or have any possessions. Then, for the next fifty years, everything that you earned was taken from you. You are playing for the benefit of the person you are playing against. You have to play to build their wealth and not your own. The question is, how do you win? The answer is that you can not win, because the game is fixed.
Left: Reginald White, owner of The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul (Photo by Brenda De Los Santos Photography); Right: James Hanton, owner of The Singing Sliders (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
"Wealth matters, and when you have played the 'economics of racism Monopoly' for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times."
Black people in America have been trying to catch up for centuries and when we put in the hard work and build our wealth it is burned to the ground like in Tulsa and Rosewood. This leaves us having to start all over again, forever trying to catch up.
We are asked to catch up in a system that was established to allow us to remain poor. Practices such as not granting loans to Black individuals so they can buy property is a barrier. Justifying that Black people don’t qualify for loans because they have minimal wealth is a barrier. Using redlining practices to decide what funding goes into certain communities and if a loan to purchase property in those areas is justifiable is a barrier.
Systemic racism limits access to financial resources that would allow Black people to invest in themselves and their businesses. Once a Black individual is able to acquire the resources needed to start a business, they are then confronted with the numerous barriers linked to maintaining that business. There is not an equal playing field for Black-owned businesses and they often do not have the resources to market and promote their businesses; often their revenue supports the cost of keeping the business open.
Because of systemic racism, there are only a small percentage of Black-owned businesses compared to the total number of businesses in the United States. In fact, only 4.3% of the US’ 22.2 million business owners are Black (Brookings Institute Report, Feb 2020).
Pictured: Your CBD Store Simsbury staff and co-owners, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
When faced with obstacles such as a pandemic, the impact on Black-owned businesses becomes insurmountable. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on Black-owned businesses. The Bureau of Economic Research reported that 41% of Black-owned businesses closed as a result of the pandemic, as opposed to 17% of white-owned businesses. Wealth matters, and when you have played the “economics of racism Monopoly” for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times. This is why it is important to support Black-owned businesses, because without additional support, many will struggle to survive.
ShopBlackCT.com was established to infuse support to Black-owned businesses by creating a platform for them to receive free marketing and promotion for their businesses, which in turn will help them reach new clientele, gain more customers and increase their revenue that will allow them to remain viable. Economic stability is crucial to the sustainability of these businesses.
Annette Khodra from Nettie’s Gift Garden stated, “Being posted on ShopBlackCT.com has brought awareness to Black-owned businesses such as mine, which has increased consumer traffic to my site. It is a blessing to have my business being featured on this site. I am grateful for the opportunity to receive free marketing through my connection to ShopBlackCT.com. This site is truly an asset for my business.”
Annette’s statement exemplifies why ShopBlackCT.com is critical and a much needed boost for Black-owned businesses. All small businesses matter, but when you look at the history of oppression the Black community has experienced and the lack of generational wealth as a result of that history, there should never be a debate about why there is a need to support Black-owned businesses.
Pictured: A delicious meal from My Wife Didn't Cook (Photo by Gary Pope, GDA Weddings)
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Pictured: A Sweet Equations candy cake. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
By Allison Reynolds
After impressing New Year’s Eve party guests with a homemade candy cake several years ago, Sade Owoye took the nudges from her friends and family to start a bakery and, along with her mother Vanessa Owoye, Sweet Equations was born.
“Growing up, I always loved baking and making my own candy,” shared Vanessa. “With Sweet Equations, I can combine both of my passions, while sharing the gift of sweet treats with our customers.”
Nestled on Route 4, within The Farmington Inn & Suites at 827 Farmington Avenue in Farmington, this hidden gem is the only bakery in Connecticut specializing in candy cakes.
Pictured: Co-owners of Sweet Equations, Vanessa and Sade Owoye. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
"Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family."
Their cakes are a superior dessert experience made with the freshest ingredients, and their customer experience exceeds expectations—everyone who walks through their doors is treated like family. Quality, attention to detail, care and love are the bonus ingredients put in every cake they make.
I know this to be true, because I recently needed a cake to help celebrate my Dad’s new home—and satisfy his major sweet tooth. We ordered the Nutty Buddy and we’re still licking our lips. It was absolutely delicious and a heavenly mix of chocolate and peanut butter!
One of their most popular items, Sweet Equations candy cakes are built to order—and perfectly topped off with a bow!
“Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer,” shared Vanessa. “We greet and smile at every customer that comes to visit us. We educate them on our products and provide samples. We love getting to know what our customers like and helping them to find it in the store. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family.”
Pictured above: Nutty Buddy candy cake by Sweet Equations (Photo: Allison Reynolds)
And, these two know how to take “sweet” to the next level. As a “thank you” for helping others, they have donated to Relay for Life and Komen Foundation and many other local non-profits. They also donate to the local food pantry, schools, and several charities and causes. They even treat their employees with a complimentary cake on their birthdays!
“We look forward to continuing to make an impact in our community,” shared Vanessa.
The pair are reaching out by offering online cake decorating classes, a slight change from their pre-COVID popular (and fun!) in-person classes. Classes include Buttercream 101, Cake Meets Candy (Kat Walk So Special), Baker's Dozen, Let’s Decorate Cookies, My Pretty Unicorn.
“We can still be together even when we’re apart,” explained Sade. “And any experience level is welcome.”
Classes must be booked in advance, and more information is available at this link.
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
Favored by locals on Yelp, Sweet Equations is featured this month in “The Top 10 Bakeries Near Farmington, CT.” The bakery offers gift certificates, private pickup times (Saturdays), curbside pick-up and shipping. Visit www.sweetequations for information or to customize your order.
Sade and Vanessa will always ensure that your day ends on a sweet note!
Sweet Equations has been making headlines for years. Learn more at these links:
Cakes Plus Candy Make 'Sweet Equations' (Hartford Courant)
Small Business Spotlight: Sweet Equations (Innovation Hartford)
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
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Pictured: Owner of Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, Reginald White. (Photo: Brenda De Los Santos Photography)
By Brenda De Los Santos
For Reginald White, opening his Middletown, CT-based food trailer, The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, was the culmination of years of hard work and determination.
Crab Shack King, which officially opened as a food trailer in March, offers seafood with a touch of soul. Some fan favorites on the menu are the deep fried lobster, crab cakes, poboys and his signature “King Sauce.” You can get your seafood fix at 840-900 Washington Street from 11:00am-5:30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11:00am-7:00pm Fridays and 2:00-9:00pm on Saturdays. Occasionally, White will have a pop-up location in Meriden as well.
Previously a truck driver, White was on vacation with his wife when he got the call that the company he worked for was filing for bankruptcy. Instead of being defeated by it, White, who has a certificate in catering, attended Lincoln Culinary Institute for a time, and has a family who all love to cook, took it as a sign that he had “finally gotten the green light to move forward with cooking.” With previous entrepreneurial experience as the former owner of Knockerball CT, starting his own business serving food “the way he likes to be served” was a natural next step.
“When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food, it drives me to never go back [to the streets].”
Searching for nine months to find the perfect trailer for his business, White finally met two Black women who owned a marketing firm and were looking to sell their trailer. White says, “they felt his passion,” for creating delicious food and their trailer became Crab Shack King’s new home.
White’s expertise in the culinary arts is paying off—his popular menu of mouth-watering seafood often sells out, and his “King Sauce,” which is dairy-based and features all natural herbs and spices, is on the verge of being sold in local stores. He has experimented with creating a dairy-free version and has also played around with recipes for a vegan “crab” cake. He is continually expanding his knowledge, noting that he also learns from an employee who has been in the business for 30 years.
A self described “military brat” growing up, as a teen the streets called him, and White left home at 15 years of age. A former gang member and drug dealer, he spent time in both state and federal prison. It took determination and help from others for White to turn things around. In 2014, he founded Total Man Inc., which is geared towards providing alternatives for at-risk youth who are subject to the difficulties of gang membership, incarceration and much more. He said that his passion for mentoring comes from his desire to reach young men and women to help prevent them from making the same mistakes he did.
Crab Shack King is more than just a business for him, too. “When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food,” says White, “it drives me to never go back [to the streets].” He takes pride in serving great food and providing excellent customer service. He likes to engage with his customers, getting them to laugh and feel comfortable. And for him, serving quality food is of the utmost importance; Crab Shack King’s seafood is always fresh, and every bite bursts with flavor as he marinates everything—right down to the crab that goes into the crab cakes.
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Pictured: Owner of The Singing Sliders, James Hanton. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Alexandra Frisbie
On most Wednesday evenings parked outside the Little Red Barn in Winsted, CT, or on other days around lunchtime on South Main Street in Torrington, or in an industrial area on the town line with Harwinton, you will find James Hanton in his silver food trailer, happily cooking sliders and sandwiches for a crowd that may include hungry and tired truck drivers, workers who just want to take a break and enjoy some delicious fresh food, or patrons of the nearby brewery who would like some tasty pulled pork to accompany the beer in their bellies. Depending on how busy he is, Hanton may be singing while he cooks, a nod to his business name and slogan.
A few years ago, after working some jobs that didn’t pan out, Hanton began to dream about launching his own business venture. The idea of being his own boss and having job security was appealing. He thought about cooking, which he enjoys. Having been raised in South Carolina on Southern cooking, Hanton noticed that while there were plenty of Italian and Chinese food options, there were not many places serving fresh BBQ pork and Southern food locally in Connecticut. He and his wife also realized that at the time, there were no food trucks in their area. So they bought books and learned about the food truck business. They visited locations with food trucks, including the Long Wharf in New Haven, to see how they were run. Hanton took the CT Food Safety Management Course and got certified. In October 2018, Hanton and his wife, who co-owns the business, opened The Singing Sliders Food Trailer in Torrington.
According to Hanton, who has worked in restaurants, the big difference with food preparation in a food truck is understanding the difference between what you would like to serve and what you can serve. Despite the limitations, Hanton says he will only cook and serve food that is fresh, not previously frozen. When asked how quality translates in what he offers, Hanton replied “I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
“I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
Customer favorites are the BBQ bowl and pork sandwiches and sliders. Hanton explained that the sandwiches are larger than sliders; they are served on larger rolls that are sometimes lightly toasted. These days, he is constantly tweaking and adjusting the menu, entertaining customers’ suggestions and trying out healthy options. Some have requested the return of the orzo bowl with sautéed vegetables. Hanton offers a choice of sauces in which he will sauté the vegetables. If an item becomes popular, he may add it to the menu, at least temporarily. Recently, Hanton’s grandson took a cheeseburger and topped it with the mac and cheese Hanton gave him on the side. An aspiring rapper whose nickname is “OK Nitro,” his grandson topped that with BBQ sauce and raved about it. Hanton dubbed it the “OK Nitro Mac and Cheeseburger” and put it as a special on the menu.
The success in launching his food truck business did not come easy. Hanton recalled a time when he was getting started that things weren’t going well and he almost gave up. He was not confident that he would be able to make his dream a reality. Then it occurred to him that as bad as he felt, many others were much worse off. He felt compelled to help others instead of feeling down on his luck, and began to give away food once a month, no questions asked, from his food truck. He said that when he began to look at things differently, he began to see success—yet he continued to regularly provide free food. Due to COVID-19, he had to suspend this community effort, but he hopes to be able to resume soon.
I had to ask about the name of the business. Did the sliders themselves “sing” somehow, or does Hanton sing? He said that on some days he may be singing while cooking in the truck, but it was really his wife who thought up the name. He says it refers to the food—the sliders are so good they will make you sing! As for the singing sliders on the trailer, Hanton’s daughter drew the art freehand, which was transformed into an image that could be placed on the trailer.
Today, Hanton says what keeps him going is the independence of running his own business and having a job that allows him to interact with people. He says he has many repeat customers and is starting to build a fan base on social media. He likes to use Instagram and Facebook to let his followers know where he is going to be during the week. The three words he said best describe his business are “happy, satisfying and local.”
Hanton has catered for small groups (up to 150 people), including at the Little Red Barn brewery in Winsted, where he parks on Wednesday evenings. He has traveled to Waterbury and New Milford and is willing to bring the trailer to other locations in Connecticut.
One thing is for sure—if you see the silver trailer with Singing Sliders on the side, be sure to stop right away and get a bite. You won’t regret it.
South Main Street, Torrington (at the Harwinton line)
Monday and Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Industrial Park/Altra Industrial Motion, Inc, New Hartford, CT
Tuesday and Friday: 9:00am-1:00pm
At the Little Red Barn, 32 Lake Street, Winsted, CT (www.lrbbrewers.com)
View the WSFB story on The Singing Sliders
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