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.

More Survivor Series

You bet your purdy neck, Worcester loves its Bushel N Peck

Often nestled in the nooks and crannies of major cities, the classic American deli can sometimes simply be overlooked in these days of style over substance.

Maybe even by a local food writer who doesn’t get up to The Summit very much.

Better late than never!

Besides, plating iconic lunchtime favorites and holding the line on affordability appears to be a formula that will be keeping Bushel N Peck around for a while, no matter who’s in charge. Putting their customers first is, indeed, the top item on the menu (though loyalists might make a case for the signature Italian — either wrapped and ready or made to order).

“We are at an advantage with our customers as we can connect with them one-on-one every day. We are always open to discussing any new ideas or issues they may have with our locations,” says Michael Bartosiewicz, who bought two locations, at East Mountain Street and Tatnuck Square, in 2005 from Tom Sr. and Elsa Oliveri.

“We engage with our customers through social media, which is a vital tool for us. Through this, we learn what dishes work at each Bushel N Peck and we offer different options depending on the location and the wants of the customers.”

Check out Bushel N Peck on ‘Phantom Gourmet’

Bluefin Technology connects with customers, Worcester

When a company decides to “do the right thing” and stay with it, good things can happen after all.

For founding partners Jay Cahill and Michael Po, the entrepreneurial escapades of Bluefin Technology Partners eventually landed them in downtown Worcester in 2013. The company has 12 employees in a recently renovated building which was the former home of the Telegram & Gazette.

After several forays spanning eight years as a team with ventures in the States, Cahill and Po built a mobile application in the social media space for Instagram in Shanghai during the late 2000s that was solely for the Chinese market.

Because they had established their business before the Chinese government crackdown on social media, they were grandfathered in and allowed to pursue their business.

“We had millions of customers on the platform and we eventually sold the company to SINA Corp. of China, which has a Weibo platform that hosts their own social media content of its users,” Po explained.

After the sale Bluefin struck out as a consulting organization.

“A lot of people were tapping us for our … experience in developing large-scale applications for consumers that can handle millions of customers on the back end,” Cahill said. “That was what our pedigree had been, and we connected with Josh (Croke) and brought in a lot of the user experience design and a back end piece with our mobile experience.”

As the team was working within these parameters, the IoT (Internet of Things) market emerged as the next wave. So that’s when they established residence in Worcester.

When Worcester’s best chefs compete, everybody wins

Worcester’s “Foodie Renaissance” is well-documented. New restaurants of all shapes and sizes continue to elbow their way into the mainstream, all while collecting accolades and ratcheting up that friendly neighborhood competition along Shrewsbury Street, in the Canal District, across the city and beyond.

That one-upmanship will be at its zenith Sunday, Jan. 29, when Worcester’s Best Chef Competition, featuring top cooks from many of the city’s and region’s most popular eateries, celebrates its 10th anniversary by inviting all previous winners back to Mechanics Hall for an “Iron Chef”-style battle royale.

“I love participating in this event,” says Christopher O’Harra, executive chef of Flying Rhino Café & Watering Hole on Shrewsbury Street.

O’Harra, winner of the People’s Choice award in 2015, is among 14 returning competitors who have either won the event’s “Iron Chef” title or been named a people’s or judges’ choice winner. One notable name will be absent from the impressive roster.

Hidden Gem: Belmont Vegetarian a true calling for owner — and its many fans

Whoever said bacon makes everything better has obviously never eaten at Belmont Vegetarian, a diminutive and distinct eatery nestled in the first floor of a three-decker on a bustling, sloping corner of Bell Hill.

Between the plentiful vegan and vegetarian dishes and the island-inspired flavors, coming in for lunch will not leave you wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

At Belmont Vegetarian, 157 Belmont St., the term vegetarian is about more than taking advantage of a trendy buzzword-turned-lifestyle that continues to grow in popularity. Instead, for owner Stephen Jones, it’s an homage to his mother, how he grew up and a way of life to which many in his current neighborhood can relate.

“I was raised in poor circumstances and meat was expensive,” he says. “My mom did the best she could with what she had and meat wasn’t always an option, so she raised me to be a vegetarian through no fault of her own.”

Hidden Gem: Uncle Jay’s Twisted Fork

When he is in full-blown chef mode, Jay Powell can be heard from the kitchen — yelling out specials and giving shoutouts to his patrons, making sure everyone knows they are appreciated.

And when his business, Uncle Jay’s Twisted Fork bistro, closes for a week, everyone notices that, too.

Nestled in the Cherry Valley section of Leicester, the Twisted Fork stands as a local staple known for its authentic hollandaise sauce, eggs Benedict and outspoken chef. But when the doors stay shut for too long, regulars are left wondering why.

Chef Jay Powell, center, and his teammates at the recent 2016 World Food Championships in Alabama.

Courtesy Jay Powell / Facebook

Chef Jay Powell, center, and his teammates at the recent 2016 World Food Championships in Alabama.

“My hiatus a few weeks back was for good reason,” explains Powell, Twisted Fork’s owner and chef. “I was in Orange Beach, Alabama, participating in the World Food Championships event and it was great. The chef who initially beat me in [Food Network’s] ‘Cooks vs. Cons,’ Chef Vita Jarrin, called me to set up as teammates for the recipe challenge.”

“The best part was that the recipe category was focused on Benedicts!”

Hidden Gem: Eggroll Lady & Fish Shack

While the city of Worcester is experiencing a food renaissance with the addition of several high-end and trendy restaurants over the past year, there is something to be said for the places that have held their ground away from the spotlight of revitalization.

The places in the corners of the city that feel a little like home. Eggroll Lady & Fish Shack, at 609 West Boylston St., is one of them.

eggrolllady_main

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Phuong Lam, the Eggroll Lady

Visiting the Eggroll Lady for lunch or dinner is like dropping by your grandmother’s house — it’s filled with laughter, comfort food and tradition. The sweet (egg roll) lady in the kitchen doesn’t worry about how much money she makes, but instead focuses on the quality of her foods and the love with which she makes them.

“When I started this, it wasn’t about making money. I wanted to do this because it was my way of communicating my traditions and my gratitude to the people of America that welcomed me when I arrived here. This is my way of showing my appreciation,” said Phuong Lam, the Eggroll Lady herself and the shop’s owner.

Local Business Spotlight: More than a century of sweet sounds at Union Music

You cannot deny it. There is something special about walking into a store and being greeted by absolute professionals in their business. So it is with Union Music. And it starts at the top, with the president and owner of this 116-year-old family enterprise.

Caring is the operative word in this world – caring about the instrument and your connection to it, the audience (even if it is one), and of helping others find their rhythm, which may be accompanied by a rash of blues, for those who make a living in music.

Carl Kamp, owner and president of this three-generation family business, recounted the history of Union Music, beginning with his grandfather.

Carl Kamp, owner and legacy at Union Music, a business in the city for more than 100 years.

Art Simas / For Worcester Sun

Carl Kamp, owner and legacy at Union Music, a business in the city for more than 100 years.

“Originally my grandfather, Samuel Cashner, who emigrated from Russia, started a pawnshop and music business on lower Front Street in 1900 (where the Peoples Bank is today, before the construction of the taller buildings).

“My father, Leon Kamp, started working for him and married my grandfather’s daughter … and a few years later, I came along in 1946.