Hartford Flavor Co. distills an expansion in the heart of downtown Hartford; ‘it’s gonna really jump’ – Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Eight years ago, Tom and Lelaneia Dubay rode on the momentum behind a revitalization in Hartford, launching their liquor and vodka distillery, Hartford Flavor Co., on Arbor Street in the Parkville neighborhood.
Now, as the city seeks to regain the energy sapped by the pandemic, the Dubays want to play a part again, this time with their most ambitious expansion yet: a cocktail bar in the middle of downtown on Pratt. Street.
“I hope we really have the Roaring Twenties,” says Lelaneia Dubay. “We can’t wait to be there, to be a part of it.”
The Dubays plan to bring their organic and all-natural spirits to a long-shuttered restaurant space at 54 Pratt St., combining mixed cocktails from their liquors and vodkas with a light farm-to-table menu of wooden boards. deli meats, salads and, most likely, personal sized pizzas.
At the back of the restaurant, the couple hopes to create a living room with an art deco atmosphere, eclectic furniture around a gas fireplace. The area would encourage board games – gin rummy and other card and board games – and as a place to “hang out”.
“We’re in a unique niche, but when you break it down, we’ll have fantastic cocktails and really fresh food,” said Tom Dubay.
The Dubays hope to open later this year or early 2023. The couple have signed a letter of intent, but they are still negotiating a lease with owner Northland Investment Corp.
If that happens, the Dubays expect to apply for funding from the city’s Hart Lift storefront revitalization program, which has already awarded $2.5 million in matching grants to entrepreneurs across the city.
The renovation of the former short-lived Rio Grill and Bar space is expected to run into “six figures, but not seven”, said Tom Dubay. Since the space was a restaurant, “the bones are kind of there.”
The showcase program, part of the city’s COVID-19 relief funding, is “able to make this happen for us, no doubt,” said Lelaneia Dubay. “Without that, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it. It is a blessing.
These grants are already helping four businesses open on Pratt: an upscale sneaker store, a bakery, a bar with live music, and a sports bar.
The Hartford Flavor cocktail lounge would be another sign of revitalization along Pratt, which connects Main and Trumbull streets.
Known for its attractive 19th-century architecture and brick-paved street, Pratt, by most accounts, performed below its potential for decades. But a recent push led by the conversion of outdated office space into apartments on the south side of the street seeks to change that.
The overall plan is to make Pratt Street a destination that will draw people to the city to help shift the local business customer base, especially as fewer office workers – a longtime mainstay – come into the city five days a week.
The Dubays’ cocktail lounge, Bloom Bake Shop and Rundown sneaker shop are on the north side of the street, largely controlled by Northland, where the storefronts have been vacant for years. The resumption of rental on this side of Pratt is encouraging for city and chamber officials eager to chart a new future for Pratt.
Northland, of Newton, Mass., declined to comment for this story.
“With what’s happening on the south side of the street, it’s quite exciting,” said Tom Dubay. “And when you put it all together, it’s really going to jump out.”
Lelaneia Dubay had been making batches of cranberry liqueur at home for years. But when she began to experience a food sensitivity to gluten and certain alcohols and chemicals, she returned to her kitchen. There she created a lavender version of her liqueur using fresh cuttings from her garden.
Today, Hartford Flavor now produces and distributes 11 all-natural liqueurs – cucumber, rose, lavender, birch, chai spices and roasted dandelion root, among them – and two vodkas, organic and vanilla, in nine states.
More flavors are now in development.
A responsible landscaper, Lelaneia Dubay said: “I get there, I take the plants and flowers that I like and preserve them in alcohol so we can have a delicious clean cocktail.
Lelaneia Dubay said 55% of what the distillery produces is stocked on the shelves of package stores – liquors under the “Wild Moon” label – and the rest in restaurants. The separation is intentional, she said, “so you can make really good cocktails at home. This is our goal.
While Hartford Flavor sales dipped a bit at the start of the pandemic, they came back strong in 2021, seeing a 30% annual increase, which is what the distillery has historically seen, Lelaneia Dubay said.
While the Dubays, who live in the city’s West End, are planning the downtown lounge, they are also preparing their tasting room and distillery in Parkville to serve cocktails mixed with their liquors and vodkas to the public.
A state law now allows distilleries — alongside breweries and wineries — to sell mixed drinks by the glass, and Hartford Flavor expects to be among the first. Previously, distilleries could only operate tasting rooms for visitors who were taking tours.
They hope to be open within the next eight to ten weeks, once they get their cafe license.
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The inspiration for the Pratt Street cocktail bar came after the Dubays failed to find a larger space for their distillery, tasting room and event space at 30 Arbor St.
Plans were actually made for a place that failed and “COVID delayed everything, and stuff,” said Tom Dubay. “So we put on our thinking hats and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be staying at 30 Arbor for a while, but let’s create a presence in another part of town.
The couple quickly landed on Pratt Street, not least because it caters to pedestrians and has attractive potential for outdoor seating, offering “four seasons of variation,” Tom Dubay said.
Tom Dubay said the addition of more than 2,000 apartments in and around the city center over the past decade was part of the Dubays’ thinking, especially with the prospect of more telecommuting in the ‘coming.
He said he believed the momentum derailed by the pandemic would “come back”.
“I’ve lived here all my life, so I feel like we’ve always had some kind of top-down momentum from big business and institutions,” Tom Dubay said. “But now it’s also sort of from the sidewalk up. This time he has the chance to meet in the middle and really fill things in.
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected]