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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Five Guys Finds a Home in Fairfield

Five Guys Finds a Home in Fairfield:
Fifth location for the 
four managing partners
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Best Bang for Your Buck. Heaven on a Bun. These are some of the raves that have already been bestowed on a popular burger chain with over 975 locations nationwide. Now Fairfielders can enjoy the same juicy, fresh goodness and value since Five Guys opened in town December 16.

The new fast food eatery, at 340 Grasmere Avenue in the Whole Foods Market shopping complex, is the fifth location owned by a team that includes Robert and Mariann Marona, of Newtown, their son Nick, of Bethel, and daughter Dana Smith, of Milford. The foursome opened their first restaurant in Brookfield, in 2006, followed by Newtown, Westport and Norwalk.

Since opening in Fairfield, Smith said, “We’ve been getting a great response from customers, and are seeing many familiar faces every week. People say the burgers are among the best they’ve ever had and the fries are favorites.”

No surprise given the eatery’s keen attention to quality. “The beef is 100% fresh, never frozen, trans fat free, and with no preservatives,” she said. “The potatoes are fresh cut, cooked in 100% peanut oil with no cholesterol or preservatives.”

The potatoes, in fact, are delivered fresh twice a week from farms in Idaho. “This week our inventory comes from Wattenbarger Farms in Shelly, Idaho,” Smith said. “We go through 3,700 pounds of potatoes a week.”

As to options, customers have many. In the burger category, they can opt for a hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger. The regular burger has two 3.5-ounce patties while the “little” version has one patty. Fifteen different toppings are available, allowing an incredible 250,000 different combinations.

Hot dogs, grilled cheese and veggie sandwiches are burger alternatives. Free refills are offered on soda and customers can enjoy complimentary roasted peanuts while waiting on an order.

Service is another forte here, made even faster through the ability to order online. “Web orders have become very popular,” Smith explained. “Customers can go to our website, pick the location, and order what they like – customized to the full extent – for pick-up. You can pay right online. It’s a big time-saver.”

As to the staff, they are pleasant and hard working, which makes the cheery red-and-white checkerboard environment all the more enjoyable.

Just ask fans Liz and Jim Schumacher of Fairfield. “We’ve visited the Five Guys in Mystic,” said Liz, “where my sister lives. We’re so excited about the Fairfield location, as we won’t have to make the long drive for a good burger. We love the bacon cheeseburgers, and that they give small farms a chance.”

Fairfielder Genevieve Swenson, catching lunch with her daughters Lillian, 3, and Emmeline, seven months, is already a veteran customer at the Fairfield hub. “This is my second time here,” she said. “I used to go to the Westport store. I’m happy that this is around the corner. You know it’s going to be good. I don’t think there’s any other place where you get a great burger and great fries. The free peanuts are also a treat and I like that there’s a grilled cheese choice. The fries are especially great – they remind me of boardwalk fries at Rehoboth Beach.”

A New Art Exhibit Springs to Life at Westport Library

A New Art Exhibit Springs to Life 
at Westport Library
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Though Winter may only have begun in the area, Spring had already sprung at Westport Library.

“Portraits in Bloom”, a collection of over 40 botanical paintings created by artist Mary Ann Neilson, had its opening reception at the 20 Jesup Road facility Friday evening. Over two dozen attendees browsed the works, listened to Neilson speak about them and enjoyed wine and cheese.

“I see plants as though they are people,” said the artist, “each with its own personality. When you paint flowers, you paint them the same way as a portrait. And when you are around them a lot, you start seeing each uniquely.”

Among the work was a botanical painting by Neilson’s great-grandfather Rudolph, created in 1897. Rudolph was a muralist who taught at Cooper-Union. His painting hung beside one by Mary Ann, titled “Medallion Rose”, of a flower-filled vase that had been owned by her grandmother, an avid gardener. Both were great influences to Neilson.

Early on in her career, the artist had trained as a theater painter in New York, then went into corporate graphic design, illustrating book covers and company annual reports. When Neilson’s husband Louis and she moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, she started getting more involved in gardening and began studying botany.

Neilson has been painting botanicals for almost 25 years, though is more well known for her European landscape paintings.

Attendees thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit, studying many of the paintings closely. “They are beautifully detailed, like looking at flowers right outside your window,” said Weston resident Michele Seibold. “The shading on the leaves and varigation is amazing.”

Chris Timmons, the Library’s Director of Programs & Exhibitions, may have said it best, noting, “These are a glorious reminder that spring is down the road.” 

Scouts’ Xmas Tree Pick-up Builds Character, Funds Activities

Scouts’ Xmas Tree Pick-up Builds Character, Funds Activities
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Sleepy-eyed, a little chilly but nonetheless ready for duty, members of Westport’s Boy Scout Troop 39 went out and about early Saturday morning to conduct their second annual Christmas tree pick-up. Besides teaching team cooperation, the effort raised funds for troop activities while providing a source of mulch for the town.

Coordinated by Eric Montgomery, the group, which included about 20 kids ages 11 to 17, Scout leaders and parents, gathered at 7 a.m. in the Imperial Avenue parking lot behind the Westport Woman’s Club. There, participants fueled up on bagels and coffee, donned reflective safety vests and received maps and tree pick-up addresses. Westporters had been instructed to leave their trees curbside and tape a suggested donation of $15 to their front doors for the service. Over 400 households had registered, twice the number as last year.

“In our first year, we did 200 tree pick-ups, netting about $2,500 after expenses,” said Montgomery, onsite with his son Luke. He said the idea was inspired by a friend, Mike Connolly of Troop 116 in Ridgefield, who has been running the program there for the past seven years.

As to how collected money is used, Montgomery said, “Funds go to camping gear – lanterns, tents, cooking equipment – and also high adventure trips, like scuba diving to the Florida Keys, which we did this past summer. It costs a lot to run the troop every year.”

Two large box trucks were provided by Scoutmaster Mark Wisniewski. Another large dump truck was provided by general contractor Tom Kowalsky, of Kowalsky Brothers, who also contributed his time for the day. Two additional pickups were borrowed from friends of the Troop.

“Nothing bad comes out of scouting,” said Kowalsky. “You’re teaching good skills and morals, and they have good fun.”

Assistant Scoutmaster Kathy Thopsey added that the fundraiser “teaches community service and how to get along with each other, especially at an early hour of the day after being up late playing video games.”

The Troop’s treasurer Robert Arvanitis offered, “The Scouts is about resilience, and events like this teach kids how to handle themselves.”

The group, assigned to the respective vehicles, divided up into teams, and began their curbside collections, returning trees to the Imperial Avenue Lot to be fed into a commercial chipper. Montgomery predicted there would be a 25-foot high pile of wood chips by day’s end, about 3:30 p.m.

New Years Revelers Take the Compo Plunge for Charity

New Years Revelers Take the Compo Plunge for Charity
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – If you ever had the gumption to take an icy ocean plunge on New Year’s Day, Sunday was certainly the day to do it. Bright blue skies and temperatures hovering around 50 degrees made an otherwise daunting experience a little bit more tolerable as two groups of bubbly locals dipped for charity at Compo Beach.

Up first, at 10 a.m., was Team Mossman Triathlon Club, a band of about 35 hearty souls, who were raising money for Westport-based Save the Children. Each participant paid a $50 entry fee, though many went above and beyond that figure with special fundraising extras.

Andrea Williamson-Hughes, corporate secretary at Save the Children, for instance, had friends sponsor parts of her body and represented their donations by writing their names on those body parts. “I do it because it’s a great way to start the new year, be with friends and do something good,” she said. “People all over the world suffer in tough conditions. If I have to be uncomfortable for a few minutes, it’s the least I can do to help.”

Team Mossman event organizer Robin Myers said a small bunch of folks used to do the plunge for fun before the town made them get a permit. Then they opened it up to everyone. Offering a bit of advice to would-be plungers, Myers said, “You have to have a great sense of humor.”

Before leading the group into the brisk Sound waters, Myers announced, “You can hang out in the water as long as you like. No one’s going to kick you out today. But one thing – it’s not an official plunge until you put your head under.”

Emerging from the water after her dip, Jeanette Trujillo, from Norwalk, reported, “I ran a 5k first, so I got warmed up. The water was very shallow. You have to walk in far then dive.”

On Team Mossman’s wet, sandy heels were members of Temple Israel and their friends, who had organized an 11 a.m. Polar Plunge at the same site. Their effort supported the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Becca Allen, Chief Program Officer of the camp organization, said Temple Israel has been doing a plunge for charity for the past five years, choosing a different beneficiary each year.

There was no set entry fee, but there was obvious generosity on the part of participants and corporate groups that were tapped by temple members. Pre-plunge, Allen said about $60,000 had been contributed.

The collaboration between Temple Israel and the charity came about through a camper, Blake Katzman, 8, who has severe hemophilia. Blake had the distinction of giving the greenlight for participants to run into the water.

Paul Gordon, who made a sizeable contribution through his company and was plunging with his daughter Tess, said pre-dip, “In our experience, the warmer the air temperature, the colder the water feels when you come out.”

Post-plunge, David MacNiven, director of Team Hole in the Wall, said, “We’re thankful for Temple Israel for helping us kick off the year right. Their generosity will help send 25 kids to camp.”

New Post Office Stamps Into the New Year

New Post Office Stamps 
Into the New Year
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Ahh, there’s nothing like the smell of a new space. In this case, it was a blend of latex paint fumes being used for touch-up and the aroma of decorative poinsettias in the entry hall of Westport’s new post office in the Playhouse Square Shopping Center, 245 Post Road East.

The facility had its soft opening to the public first thing Tuesday morning, to the delight of the majority of customers. Dennis Kassimis, Postmaster for Westport and Weston, was on hand to welcome customers, who dropped in to visit their new boxes, mail letters and conduct retail transactions. An official grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in the coming weeks.

Since 1935, the Postal Service had conducted local mail operations down the block, at 154 Post Road East. After moving local mail-sorting services to a facility in Norwalk, however, the USPS determined that the 10,000-square-foot site was too large for its retail operations.

“There was a lot of unutilized space there,” said Kassimis. “For our current operational needs, it made sense to open a smaller facility.”

The 245 Post Road East office, which encompasses 2,700 square feet and was formerly occupied by the Derma Clinic European Day Spa, will accommodate only retail services. This includes regular retail needs, post office boxes, passport application, and parcel lockers for large package pick-up. Westport customers with P.O. boxes will not need to change those addresses, but will need to pick up new box keys.

Kassimis, who has been with the USPS for 26 years since beginning as a letter carrier in Stamford, said the move was a bittersweet one for him. “It’s sad to leave the old place, but nice to be in the new,” he said. “I just have to get used to it. We’ve been putting in a lot of hours getting things moved over and situated for opening day. New year, new beginning.”

Most of the first customers, like Westporter Kathleen Carey, were pleased with the new office. “I’m excited about this,” she said. “The parking situation is better, and it’s nice to have a new facility for a service we really rely on in town.”

Hannah Lissette, who was visiting her new P.O. box, agreed with Carey’s assessment and added, “The postal service in town in general is great. I usually stop in early and they always have my mail ready for me.”

Local plastic surgeon Ellen Mahoney commented that it’s just “great to still have a post office in Wesport” and she “would hate to lose it.” She added, “The people are friendly, patient and courteous… and the new office is near Organic Food Market and other shops, so I can get a few more things done.”

Charmian Valante brought in her daughters Olivia, 9, and Kate, 6, deciding it would be fun for them to see the new place. “We also came to mail thank you notes from Kate’s birthday party,” she said.

The only dissenter in the crowd of early visitors seemed to be Morley Boyd. “This is grim, sort of prison-like,” he said about the appearance of the new space, trimmed in blue and white. “I feel like I’m out on parole. It’s sterile and ahistoric. The old facility was wonderful, though undermaintained.”

But even Boyd, in his grumpy New Year’s demeanor, had to agree that parking was more efficient.

Westport’s new downtown post office will be open 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday, and 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The facility is closed on Sunday and Federal holidays.

Pequot Library Caroling Party Ho So Fun

Pequot Library Caroling Party 
Ho So Fun
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The halls of Pequot Library were decked with good cheer as the much loved Southport neighborhood anchor held its annual Caroling Party and Open House late Wednesday afternoon.

Despite an all-day drizzle, over 200 parents and children turned up to enjoy a stocking’s full of activities, held in and around the grounds.

In the reading room, the Russell brothers and Sam Kingston, of Kingston Family Vineyards, served eggnog with a splash of bourbon to chase the chills away, while the very finely tuned Darien High School Tudor Singers led a gathering in crooning Christmas carols.

The main auditorium featured arts & crafts tables, at which children made everything from bird feeders and holiday pins to penguin ornaments and candy cane cookies.

On the great lawn in front of the library, a bonfire roared, though no chestnuts were present, while along Pequot Library a pair of horse-drawn carriages took folks for a jaunt around the village and back.

Christmas Southport-style had officially arrived.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Brings Gourmet Fast Food to Fairfield

Chipotle Mexican Grill Brings Gourmet Fast Food to Fairfield:
Freshness, quality and integrity defining cornerstones
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Fairfield welcomed another new eatery to town last month and already it has become a favorite destination for locals.

In mid-November, Chipotle Mexican Grill began dishing up its award-winning gourmet burritos, bowls, tacos and salads at 340 Grasmere Avenue, near Kings Highway and Kings Highway Cutoff, in the King Crossing Shopping Center, anchored by Whole Foods Market. The 2,275-square-foot space, which seats 44 inside and eight outdoors, is the second Chipotle in Fairfield County (Darien opened in Dec. 2010) and is among six others in Connecticut. There are over 1,100 Chipotles across the U.S. as well as locations in France, Canada and Great Britain.

A driving reason for the chain’s popularity is its fresh, high-quality food and standards of integrity, a foundation created from the beginning by Founder, Chairman and CEO Steve Ells. This year, Chipotle expects to use over 10 million pounds of produce from local family farms within 350 miles of the restaurants where it will be served. In addition, all the pork and chicken Chipotle serves is naturally and humanely raised (an all vegetarian diet, no added hormones or antibiotics, and responsible animal husbandry). Its beef is also naturally raised, and sour cream and cheeses made from milk that is free of bovine growth hormones. Further, 40 percent of the black and pinto beans that Chipotle purchases are organically grown.

The mission Ells established for Chipotle is to change the way people think about and eat fast food, said spokeperson Katherine Newell Smith. “Food that is served fast doesn’t have to be a typical fast-food experience,” she said. To that regard, Chipotle pioneered offering gourmet-level ingredients to make great tasting meals in a quick-service environment.

Ells almost stumbled upon the decision to use premium ingredients in his burritos and tacos, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s. There, he was working alongside Chef Jeremiah Tower at San Francisco’s Stars restaurant and began to think he could use the same kind of ingredients he used at Stars to fill burritos and tacos. Chipotle was born and he opened his first restaurant in Denver in 1993.

Market-fresh herbs, fresh batches of marinated meats, and house-made tortilla chips seasoned with freshly squeezed lime juice and tossed with kosher salt became the order of the day. Ells has even taken his principles a step further, incorporating sustainable architecture in all new building projects since 2001.

At the Fairfield location, as in other Chipotles, diners will find a hip, clean dining room, great music and gourmet food you can eat with your hands, all for about $7 a plate.

“We are committed to cultivating a better world one burrito at a time,” said Smith.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is located at 340 Grasmere Avenue, Fairfield. Open 7 days a week, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Phone: 203-255-7665. For groups or parties, burritos can be ordered by the box, at $9 per person. A kids menu is available.