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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By Brenda De Los Santos
Augusta, Georgia native Brittany Curry has taken a winding journey to create Love on You, a Norwich-based business that offers natural hair and body care products, salon services and self-care education.
Today, Love on You serves as a hub for women to pamper themselves with salon services, learn how to care for their hair and scalp, and purchase the products they need to do so. Curry’s line of products includes Butter Love, her signature handmade body butter, sugar scrubs, candles, shampoo, a deep conditioning hair mask and even other products like beard oil and soaps. The shampoo and mask are both vegan. Curry says, “One of the things I wanted to do was create a professional grade product that was clean.” Providing her own line of products has allowed her to share her tried and true system for maintaining hair and scalp health while also educating her clients on what they are putting on themselves. She is motivated because there is a need. “There are marketing tricks that keep people misinformed,” she says of mainstream products for Black hair care.
"I am sowing that seed for them to be able to care for their hair on their own and normalize being able to maintain their hair."
Butter Love, her hair and body balm, is one of her best sellers, along with her “Heal and Seal” package, which includes her shampoo, hair mask and Butter Love. She also carries earrings and other jewelry for sale, and clients can also book makeup services in addition to salon services like silk presses and natural and protective styles.
Curry has been a licensed cosmetologist for twelve years, though her initial plans were to be in the nail industry. “I actually wanted to be a nail tech but the school I went to didn’t have a nail program, so I went to cosmetology.” When her husband, who serves in the US Navy, was stationed at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton from 2010 to 2015, Curry took a break from doing hair and instead focused on real estate.
While living in Hawaii in 2017, Curry transitioned back to doing hair. She noticed that many of the Black women she met there as a hairstylist had very dry hair, and she wanted to do something to help. She started experimenting in her kitchen and her line of products was born. Clients asked her about the products she was using and said that they would buy them if she sold them. “That's how it started, women loving on themselves,” she says. She sold her products in a small retail space there until her husband was given new orders to return to Groton.
Once back in Connecticut, Curry noticed her previous clients from Hawaii struggling to maintain their hair health, and with renewed purpose, decided to focus on teaching her clients to care for their scalp and hair in addition to the services and products she already offered so clients can care for their hair in between visits to her salon. She says that seeing this happen with her past clients in Hawaii was a lesson learned. “With this focus, I am sowing that seed for them to be able to care for their hair on their own and normalize being able to maintain their hair,” says Curry.
However, it became clear to her that in order to do this, she needed to open her own salon. “The vision of what I wanted didn’t fit in the culture of places I was in. I felt led. God led me to do it,” says Curry of opening her own full-service salon.
Opening her own space wasn’t without challenges. “I didn’t even have funds,” Curry says. Despite financial obstacles, Curry says that things just aligned, “I called a wholesaler that did fixtures, and they were closing and their fixtures were all marked down. I had passed by this space so often and I didn’t even see it - I finally just peeked inside.” She signed the lease for her space in Norwich in February of 2020. “I just took a leap of faith,” she says.
After renovations, Curry opened Love on You in the midst of the pandemic, and it was worth it. Curry says “I am definitely grateful that I can bring Love on You to this area, this is a very underserved community.” Her goal is to treat people how she would want to be treated and create a welcoming environment. She says, “I aim for people to feel hospitality like from the down South. They are safe here.”
Love on You is located at 460 North Main Street in Norwich, Connecticut and open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find or shop at Love on You online at this link or find Love on You on Instagram or Facebook.
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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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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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