By Sarah Thompson
Imagine a place where brides are welcomed with open arms, greeted by personal stylists, and cared for every step of the way—even before they enter the doors. Bridal Affection in Hamden is just that.
Owners Mel and Ide Ehigiato first opened their bridal salon as a sister store to Bridal Trousseau in New Haven, which was, quite literally, bursting at the seams. The move was intended to provide a bridal salon that offers two options for brides to find their dream gowns. Bridal Affection offers a Flagship Salon with some of the best bridal designers in the industry. In addition, they have a Sample Salon inside their store where brides can purchase couture bridal gowns off the racks at a generous discount.
“If your wedding is imminent, you can come to Bridal Affection’s sample salon, fall in love with a gown and bring it home that day,” explained Ide. “All of the gowns in our sample salon are discounted, but they are all the same quality as at Bridal Trousseau. They’re couture gowns. If you’re on a budget, and time crunch, it makes sense. In our flagship salon, we carry some of the best bridal designers in the industry where you can order your dream gown directly from the gown designers. You can visit both our sample and flagship salons in the same appointment”.
Their salon offers gowns from major designers like Maggie Sottero, Pronovias and Van Der Veld.
“We offer personalized service for brides,” shared Mel. “One of the things we focus on in our salons is having a professional personal stylist who can guide you through the process. Our stylists are people who really love and care about what they do. We hear from many brides and their families how we made it easier for them and less stressful. Trying on pretty dresses should not be stressful, it should be fun. To us, that’s very important.”
"Our stylists are people who really love and care about what they do. We hear from many brides and their families how we made it easier for them and less stressful."
The Ehigiatos make booking easy. Brides receive instant confirmation and reminders a few days before their appointment. And for brides who want an even more memorable experience, Bridal Affection offers two-hour Exclusive Bride and Bubbly Appointments.
“You bring your party, we provide hors d’oeuvres and champagne, and you can book any day of the week,” explained Ide. “On days when the shop is closed to the public you can have the whole salon to yourself!”
When a bride tries on the gown that is “the one” it’s one of the highlights of owning their shops, according to Mel.
“Sometimes you want to cry with them, because you’re excited and you’ve been through that process with them. You see them and you see how happy they are—they are beaming,” she shared.
The space at Bridal Affection is truly a sacred space, where all brides are treated with dignity and respect, and where some families even put aside differences for their loved one’s special moment.
“It helps bring people together for one person,” said Mel.
Last year, when COVID hit, The Ehigiatos were forced to close their doors temporarily, just two weeks after their shop opened.
“We started Bridal Affection on March 1, 2020. We had to build the business from scratch, and because of the pandemic, brides had to cancel and postpone their weddings,” explained Ide. “But with that, there were also opportunities, so it wasn’t all bad. We had to be innovative, and it forced us to be more creative in the way we operate our business.”
Through it all, Mel and her team worked with every bride to ensure their wedding was a special day that they deserved.
Originally a research scientist and adjunct lecturer in the Bronx, Mel discovered her “passion for fashion,” as she calls it, when she and Ide were running an event venue business.
“We love diversity and we welcome everyone. I’ve always loved being around a lot of different kinds of people because where I grew up in upstate New York it wasn’t like that,” she shared. “I like an environment where people can come together for something pleasant and happy to celebrate, no matter what they look like or who they are. We see people from all different backgrounds come in our salon. It’s encouraging, it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful to be a part of that.”
The Ehigiatos believe in living out their faith and that their purpose is bigger than selling wedding gowns.
“It’s the ability to meet people, build relationships and love them,” shared Ide. “That is truly who we are. We want to welcome everybody and love everybody.”
Bridal Affection is located at 1125 Dixwell Avenue, Hamden, Connecticut. Find them on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or on their website. To learn more about Bridal Trousseau, visit their website.
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By Lajeune Hollis
MGI Fire-Arms—which stands for “Mr. Gibson Instructs”—is the result of two things Ricardo Gibson loves: firearms and teaching.
For eight years, Gibson has been teaching children in Waterbury—his hometown—in grades Pre-K through eight. And, he even coaches intramural sports and women’s flag football in his community. The first in his family to graduate college, his aspirations continue to soar as he hopes to become a Waterbury school principal.
Six years ago, although he was “anti-gun” growing up, Gibson took a seat in his first pistol training class. He enjoyed it so much that he pursued his Connecticut gun license and soon after, began posting instructional videos on social media. People took notice and the likes, comments and shares began to increase, as did the inquiries for when he was going to start his own pistol instruction business.
Gibson heeded his fans’ advice and, with just five students in his first class in June 2020, he launched MGI Fire-Arms during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. His online class attendee numbers quickly grew beyond 200 from his popularity on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and through word of mouth and his loyalty card referral program.
My love for teaching has led me to become a Licensed NRA Instructor,” shared Gibson. “Being an elementary school teacher has led to me keeping the same principles when teaching my pistol course—patience, differentiation and high expectations.”
Gibson’s courses include Pistol Permit Certification, CT Basic Permit Certification, and Shooting Refinement for advanced learners. He is also in the process of offering a Massachusetts License to Carry Certification Course. One of his most popular courses is the Utah Pistol Permit Course which covers more than 30 states. He partners with venues like The Gun Store in Connecticut to host it and everything is provided in the classroom, including fingerprints, passport photos, documentation and envelopes to mail everything off. The cost for this course is $130 and is limited to the first 10 people who sign up.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new."
All of Gibson’s instructional sessions generally last 30 minutes and he meets course participants at their chosen gun range, provides ammunitions, targets and a variety of guns to try. Following classes, if a student wants to get their CT gun license they may need to exercise some added patience. Normally it takes up to eight weeks but due to the pandemic in can take up to six months.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new,” he shared. “I want them to know that they can always use me as a resource and I’m available by phone or text.”
One of the many reasons Gibson’s classes are successful is because of his contagious enthusiasm and he recognizes that people learn differently, so he caters to each person accordingly. He has found that some people learn by seeing (visual), some by hearing (aural), some by touching (physical), some by logics (mathematical), some by Interpersonal means (social) and some by Intrapersonal means (solitary). His teaching style adapts to all learning styles.
Gibson’s students rave about his classes, sharing that their “only regret is that [they] didn’t take the class sooner,” that they “loved the class—[it’s] informative yet personal, and to the point,” and encourage that “If you’re looking for an instructor to make you feel at home, relate with you and make sure you have a great time, Ricardo is your guy!”
Most of the people who take Gibson’s courses have never even seen a firearm.
One student shared, “I brought someone with me who was unknowingly fearful and by the end of our session Ricardo educated her and got her over her fear.”
Gibson says that he is blessed but recognizes that timing is everything. During the last year, learning how to use a gun safely was high on many people’s list after witnessing disturbing national news stories like George Floyd’s death.
MGI Fire-Arms is proof that 2020 wasn’t all bad after all.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you,” shares Gibson. According to his words of wisdom, he certainly is doing great work, in many ways.
Find MGI Fire-Arms on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or on their website. Class participants must be 18 years or older and 21 years or older to obtain a Connecticut conceal permit license.
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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 Natasha Samuels
Craig Wright is beating the odds. His Vernon restaurant, Craig’s Kitchen, recently celebrated its third anniversary, and despite navigating a global crisis that has had an enormous effect on restaurants, his is on track for continued success.
Why? Wright believes that self-reliance is key to weathering storms like the pandemic.
“I am able to do most of the work myself,” he explained. “And not have to pay other people to do it.”
Like most businesses, Craig’s Kitchen was forced to pivot quickly to survive the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. The dine-in area is now closed, and a newly constructed takeout window allows patrons to place and pick up orders with no contact. Wright is also offering a paired down menu and has partnered with mobile food delivery services like Uber Eats and GrubHub.
Wright currently manages all aspects of the restaurant, including whipping up Craig’s Kitchen favorites like fried fish, barbecue ribs, mac n’ cheese and candied yams—recipes that he says he learned from his mom.
“My grandparents were from Alabama,” he shared. “They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Wright plans to continue with his annual community-based programs. “Every [year] we throw a community Thanksgiving dinner [that] anyone can attend,” he said. This year his Thanksgiving feast will be on Thursday, November 26 from 12:00-3:00pm. All are welcome and COVID guidelines will be in place to keep patrons safe.
Wright sees the Thanksgiving program as his way of giving back, and it has helped him gain press in local print media as well as NBC, ABC and FOX Connecticut affiliate stations. He was also recently invited to appear as a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. These features have provided publicity and public relations opportunities that are invaluable and aid the success of his business.
Things are looking up now for the 33-year-old former Detroit native, but he says that his life has been a roller coaster. “I have come from homelessness. I’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs,” he shared.
It’s hard to imagine, but he says that he did not have any long-term goals during his youth and never imagined that he would one day open a restaurant. He says he was in and out of trouble through his early twenties and it continued until he was sentenced to substantial time to a Connecticut prison.
“My grandparents were from Alabama. They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
“They sentenced me to three and a half years, and I ended up doing three of those years,” he said. “I never thought about the future and that's one thing that changed in me when I went to prison. I stopped and I [decided] that I definitely have to change everything,” he said.
He spent his last 6 months of his sentence living in a halfway house.
“When I was in the halfway house, I ended up getting a job in a restaurant and I worked my way from dishwasher through the ranks, all the way to a sous chef,” he shared. “I worked at different restaurants and it all culminated to this,” he said.
At one point, Wright was even working four jobs at a time.
He learned about the availability of restaurant space in Vernon from an old high school friend. “I had the opportunity to buy the business [and] as soon as the opportunity came, I just took it,” he said proudly.
But he wasn't necessarily prepared for it. “I definitely wasn't financially prepared, and I wasn't mentally prepared for it,” he shared. “I felt that the opportunity was too good to let pass so I just did it and I've been here three years now.”
His advice for anyone who is looking to start a business is to simply go for it.
“There are a lot of naysayers, [but the] bottom line is you go into business to make money. You are going to have to take a shot to do that. You can help someone else make money—that’s the safe route—or you can take a shot and try to do it yourself,” he shared.
The ability to persevere and ingenuity can also take you far, and something that many business owners need. “Everyone [doesn’t] succeed. Owning a business is not easy. Everyone does not own a business. That's for a reason. It's hard work. No one cares about it but you. You have to treat it like a baby. You get out of it what you put into it,” he explained.
As for Wright, he’s putting his all into his business and hungry patrons keep coming back for more.
Craig’s Kitchen is located at 13 West Main Street in Vernon, Connecticut. They are open Monday through Friday 11:00am to 8:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00am to 9:00pm. Find Craig’s Kitchen online at www.craigssoulfood.com and on Instagram.
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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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