She’s always been a hustler: The Soofi family story

Imrana Soofi and her two sons, Ali and Shahbaz, are many things. They are Bengali-Americans, with Imrana immigrating here to the United States in 1981 as a young girl. They are Muslims. They are entrepreneurs, hustlers, inspiring hard-workers and, perhaps most of all, givers.

Songs in the key of healing: Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies offers hope

The emerging studies supporting the transformative capabilities music has on human cognition are the basis for the Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies’  distinctive, thoroughly trained approach.

For the many clients the center takes, this creative wonderland is a space for community and healing. The center “is a small, functioning family unit,” says Kayla Daly, owner and director of the cozy, multi-sensory therapy space in the 255 Park Ave. office complex.

Since the center opened in 2013, it has incorporated a dynamic duo of board-certified clinical musicianship and licensed counseling to provide a multi-disciplinary therapy approach from a staff of highly trained clinicians. The four session rooms and sprawling studio room are filled with instruments, drawing desks, toys and more to create an atmosphere that’s immediately comforting.

The center functions as a family, Daly said, to provide “multi-sensory” clinical treatment with diversely trained counselors. It works with a mindset that uniquely approaches the challenge of incorporating counseling and music therapy. Each clinician at the center is well-equipped to rise to the challenge, because extensive certification and training in multiple fields are required.

Watch: Worcester Center for Expressive Therapies promotional video

Nothing usual about The Chameleon opening on Shrewsbury Street

The restaurant space at 166 Shrewsbury St. is changing its name — not to mention its owners, concept, menu and decor — again.

And under its new banner, at The Chameleon the changes will keep on coming.

Planning a June 26 opening, The Chameleon — which will feature a distinct menu and concept for each of the four seasons — will take over the space briefly occupied by The Usual after years of success, and ensuing moves to larger homes, by Niche Hospitality Group’s Mezcal Tequila Cantina and The Fix Burger Bar.

(The restaurant was also expected to attempt a soft opening last night [June 20] for the annual Taste of Shrewsbury Street event.)

The Usual, billed as a creative sandwich eatery, closed on May 28, about six months after opening, amid fallout from the arrest of Kevin Perry, who owned the property and whose wife, Stacey (Gala) Perry, is listed as the restaurant’s owner.

Patrick Sargent / For Worcester Sun

The Chameleon, 166 Shrewsbury St.

Kevin A. Perry Jr. is accused of using millions of dollars in illicit drug profits to buy several properties in Worcester and Millbury, including 166 Shrewsbury St. and The Blackstone Tap at 81 Water St.

Cutting to the chase: Ronnie Caldwell, barber to the Patriots, plans to open shop in Worcester

From the gridiron of Gillette Stadium to the bright lights of Hollywood, master barber Ronnie Caldwell Jr. is building a who’s who clientele from coast to coast, and that global success has led to local ambition with plans in the works to open a barbershop at the corner of Suffolk and Franklin streets.

Caldwell, born and raised in Worcester, is the personal barber to New England Patriots offseason acquisition wide receiver Brandin Cooks, actor Brandon T. Jackson (known for “Tropic Thunder” and “Percy Jackson”), and Washington Redskins offensive lineman Tyler Catalina, a Wachusett Regional High School graduate.

Caldwell’s glitzy list of customers includes Patriots backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who signed a $65 million contract to join the team in March, as well as social media sensation (and former college football player) Landon Moss, and professional baseball player Chris Colabello, a former Assumption College standout and longtime Worcester Tornado.

Courtesy Ronnie Caldwell Jr.

Stephon Gilmore, one of the newest New England Patriots, quickly connected with Caldwell.

So how did Caldwell land such high-profile clientele?

It all started with a little hot tub eavesdropping.

For Live Action Escapes, unlocking success is no longer a mystery

“Uncle Henry is on vacation. He left behind a series of encrypted notes for his grandson, Mason,” says, Amanda Paquin, your host for the evening. “Help Mason unlock the clues to find Henry’s Gold!”

Before closing the door, the co-owner of Live Action Escapes lays out the rules of the game: “You have 45 minutes to solve the puzzles inside and escape the room.”

It sounds like the beginning of an Indiana Jones movie, with a plot twist that leaves the characters in the midst of a life-and-death situation. Instead it is a night at Worcester’s second escape-the-room game complex, with up to 10 daring people who paid $25 each to be locked in a riddle-filled room.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

It;s easy to find your way in to Live Action Escapes. Getting out? Not so much.

The clues and your collective cunning are the only way out.

Escape rooms — a growing entertainment business — attempt to breathe interactive life back into a world dominated by touchscreens, emojicons and digital communication.

Altea’s Eatery offers brunch lovers an everyday entree to France

On a cloudy spring day, Altea’s Eatery, a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant with a French twist nestled on a bustling stretch of Park Avenue, seems capable of transporting customers from the dark, cloud-covered streets of Worcester to the bright, minimalist flair of France.

The exposed brick walls, brightly lit and sparely decorated tables, and the soothing sounds of French music playing in the background gives one the feeling that Worcester has a few secret connections to Old Paree.

With wall-length windows beckoning the sun, the unrelenting street traffic and increasing numbers of Park Avenue pedestrians, Altea’s felt like the place to be on a recent Monday morning. Bright, full and in good spirit, the eatery represents a mini-break from the demands of the everyday.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Altea’s Eatery, 259 Park Ave.

Co-owner Oriola Koci greets customers as they enter and frequently checks on patrons to see if they are “in need of anything else.”

The friendly, close-knit atmosphere is exactly what Koci set out to create when she opened Altea’s Eatery in October 2016 with her husband, chef Enton Mehillaj. The pair began their culinary journey in Worcester in 2013 by opening the popular Livia’s Dish near Leicester at the far end of Main Street.

Hidden Gem: Uncle Jay’s Twisted Fork

For George’s Bakery, bread is where the heart is

As simple as it is, this food has been around about as long as humanity.

It’s considered the poor people’s food, a symbol of communion, the foundation of many ethnic dishes, and even a curse for those on diets. Bread has many forms, and pita bread in particular is a must in the Middle Eastern culture.

George’s Bakery, a Grafton Hill staple tucked in at 308 Grafton St., sells freshly baked pita bread, along with typical Mediterranean pantry goods.

George’s Bakery first opened 61 years ago. The original owner — and original George — George Salloum sold his bakery to George Elhoussan 25 years ago.

Grace Dahrouj, an employee of George’s Bakery for 16 years, has become the face of the business.

“I cook, I sell. I do almost everything here,” she said.

Valentino’s has ambitious plans for heart of Shrewsbury Street

By taking the best of what Restaurant Row has to offer — including an iconic location — and adding the charm of an Italian coffee bar, a new, family-owned, cafe-style “grab-and-go” restaurant is aiming to attract a distinct Shrewsbury Street demographic:

Everyone.

Valentino’s Press and Pour, which plans to open in May [Editor’s note: They did open, on May 8.] at 154 Shrewsbury St. (the former long-time home of dessert and coffee bar Cafe Dolce), will feature a full bar and cafe, lottery, tobacco products, and a variety of to-go items including coffee, ready-made sandwiches and desserts.

“This street is still growing and there’s nothing that caters to the masses,” said Joe Stake, a partner who will manage the restaurant and tend bar. “You have to go to different places if you want different things. The street is very segmented.

“So we’re trying to offer all of it under one roof.”

Courtesy Valentino's

Valentino’s plans an upscale and upbeat vibe … with scratch tickets and Bloody Mary’s too.

Stake’s cousin, Luke DeWolfe, bought the building in 2015. He renovated the attached three-decker and originally planned only to be a landlord for the cafe space. Now he’s staring down a mid-May soft opening of his own restaurant, with a full-scale grand opening planned for some time in June.

Area artist molds a new career, city narrative with Mugged in Worcester

Worcester coffee drinkers and ceramic enthusiasts, beware.

You’re about to be mugged.

Mugged in Worcester, a ceramics company specializing in handmade, creative coffee mugs and beer steins, is making its mark across the city with Worcester-themed artwork showcasing landmarks like Union Station, Bancroft Tower and George’s Coney Island.

“If you’re willing to take a step out and and take in the surroundings, you might fall in love with this city,” said Jonathan Hansen, artist and owner of Mugged in Worcester, when describing what inspired him to create art reflecting Worcester’s history and people.

Hansen’s mugs also celebrate memories of iconic locations like the Miss Worcester Diner, Spag’s, Ralph’s Diner, Kelley Square, Paris Cinema and Hotel Vernon.

“Worcester is the first place I’ve lived that I had a connection to, ever. That was really the push for me — let’s get this city up and coming and try to promote it a little more,” Hansen said. “That’s really the basis of where this whole thing started for me.”

The “whole thing” started in 2014, stemming from his personal connection with Worcester and an interest in, of all things, Tiki mugs.

Cosmopolitan Club endures ever-changing landscape

The Cosmo is always looking for its next generation of regulars, which makes it a perfect fit for our Survivor Series showcasing Worcester small businesses standing the test of time.

At the crest of Hamilton Street’s rolling, mile-and-a-half span in the heart of Grafton Hill sits The Cosmopolitan Club, a neighborhood bar burrowed at the base of one of the area’s many three-decker homes.

From its beginning as a single two-lane dirt road, Hamilton Street and the surrounding area has undergone a number of transformations to accommodate travelers and neighbors alike as far back as the mid-1920s and as recently as last summer.

The one constant for the better part of a century has been “The Cosmo,” as it’s affectionately known by its regulars, which opened in 1935 as the post-Prohibition era poured into full swing.

In its 82 years of existence, the club has witnessed the wide lanes of Hamilton street in the heyday of the city’s trolley cars, and the subsequent addition of  “passing lanes” in the 1940s to replace the trolley tracks as automobiles became more affordable and kicked trolley service to the curb.

Courtesy George Cocaine Collection, Worcester Historical Museum

The Cosmo looked pretty much the same back in the black-and-white days (photo taken June 24, 1949).

“Up until recently, Hamilton Street was, like, a four-lane highway with cars speeding up and down. Now they’ve slowed it down and reconfigured it making it more neighborhood friendly,” Cosmopolitan Club owner Matthew O’Mara said, referring to last summer’s addition of bike paths narrowing of Hamilton Street to one lane on each side.

“The city is going to do a nice greenscape in the spring with trees and grass,” O’Mara said. “So you know things are going the right way. Hopefully, things continue in the uptrend.”

The Cosmo, it seems, is a place where many things begin trending upward.

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