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  • 10 Nov 2014 4:40 PM | Anonymous

    It was around 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 20 when Resa Spaziani entered a bodega on Albany Avenue accompanied by Hartford police officers, who were on a mission that morning to inspect several small storefronts suspected of illegal activity.

    The city, according to Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley, has a number of neighborhood markets that operate outside legitimate means violating liquor laws, peddling stolen goods, or even selling drugs.

    Spaziani was clad in a bulletproof vest, but she's not a cop; she's a member of the state Department of Labor's Division of Wage and Workplace Standards. The city police force asked Spaziani, and her Spanish interpreter co-worker Ariel Morales, to join their inspections because she has power they lack: the ability to shut down businesses that violate state labor laws.

    The strategy paid off. That morning Spaziani issued stop work orders on three separate bodegas undefined two on Albany Avenue and a third on Bellevue Avenue undefined for failing to pay wages and paying under the minimum wage. Each market was closed and faces thousands of dollars in fines.

    In recent years, state labor officials have ramped up efforts to crack down on unscrupulous employers that skirt labor laws by misclassifying workers as independent contractors, not reporting workers on their payroll, or failing to pay workers' compensation insurance or minimum wage, among other violations.

    Not only have the number of stop work orders increased, but inspections and fines are also up. More significantly, state labor officials have broadened their investigative scope. Traditionally, inspections were focused on the construction industry, but other businesses undefined ranging from restaurants, nail salons, small merchants, and even hospitals undefined are audited these days.

    The goal, according to Gary Pechie, head of DOL's Division of Wage and Workplace Standards, is to eradicate Connecticut's underground economy, which costs the state untold millions in uncollected tax revenue each year, and creates significant competitive advantages for businesses that break the law.

    "What's happening is that we are really starting to make an impact on this," Pechie said. "We thought our efforts were mostly going to focus on construction, but it has evolved into other areas. We've been asked to go inspect places we never thought we would."

    Efforts ramp up

    Connecticut's crackdown efforts ramped up about three years ago, when the state signed a pact with the U.S. Labor Department and Internal Revenue Service, to share resources and jointly go after unscrupulous employers. Since then, the state Department of Labor has forged other alliances with state agencies, including the Department of Revenue Services and Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, as well as local police departments and building inspectors, among others.

    Investigators have found that if an employer is breaking one law, it most likely is skirting other laws as well. That's what spurred the recent joint investigation by the labor department and Hartford Police, which eventually led to one of the three bodegas re-opening after complying with the law.

    By sharing intel and resources, Pechie said, they've been able to track and go after more law breakers.

    In 2011, for example, the state issued 245 stop work orders and levied $201,150 in fines, up significantly from the 160 stop work orders and $93,400 in fines handed out a year earlier.

    Since July, 1, 2013, the state has issued an additional 208 stop work orders and $301,600 in fines.

    Meanwhile, in the last four years the state labor department's Unemployment Insurance Tax Division has performed 8,554 audits and discovered 16,787 workers who were misclassified as independent contractors. That accounted for $244 million in gross wages that were underreported for unemployment tax insurance purposes.

    Pechie said when employers underreport their payroll or don't pay workers compensation insurance, other businesses and taxpayers are left to foot the bill if misclassified employees receive unemployment benefits or get injured on the job.

    Increasingly, employers, too, are being more vigilant about labor laws, knowing that when a competitor isn't playing by the rules, they are put at competitive disadvantage. Tips from business owners are a significant portion of the nearly 5,000 complaints the state DOL handles each year, Pechie said.

    More work to be done

    Connecticut's efforts to eviscerate the underground economy dates back about seven years, when lawmakers gave labor officials the ability to issue to stop work orders and fine companies that violate employment laws. In Connecticut, employers face a $300 fine each day they improperly classify workers as independent contractors.

    Enforcement efforts started slowly but ramped after the Great Recession, which had a dramatic impact on Connecticut's labor market.

    The downturn significantly increased the number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits, and gave some employers more incentive to cut costs by cheating the system. Originally, Spaziani said, the labor department's focus was on the construction industry, where misclassification of workers as independent contractors was widespread. Lately, the bigger issue has been employers leaving workers completely off the books, so they can avoid payroll taxes.

    That, along with tighter partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies and a greater volume of complaints from workers and employers alike, got DOL to broaden its investigations into more industries.

    Meanwhile, the state's financial woes provided added incentive to step up enforcement efforts and get more employers on the tax rolls, legal experts say. Besides battling huge budget deficits, the state's unemployment insurance fund, which is funded by employer payroll taxes, went broke in 2009 forcing the state to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government. That money is still being repaid and has resulted in extra levies on businesses to cover interest payments.

    "Whenever the Department of Labor or Revenue Services decide they need a little extra money [increasing enforcement efforts] is sort of the low hanging fruit because people are constantly misclassifying folks," said Hartford attorney Hugh F. Murray, III.

    Murray, an employment lawyer with Murtha Cullina, said he advises his clients on a regulator basis to audit their workforce to make sure employees are properly classified.

    Construction industry still a focus

    The business community doesn't always take kindly to a tougher regulatory environment, but Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said the state's heightened labor law enforcement efforts are pro-business.

    When contractors cheat the system to lower costs and win project bids, it creates an unlevel playing field for companies that play by the rules.

    Shubert said he is happy with the state's added aggressiveness in recent years, but the issue of worker misclassification is far from being solved. With only four full-time employees who spend about 50 percent of their time on the issue, the state Department of Labor still doesn't have enough manpower to go after all the violators, Shubert said.

    "For a lot of contractors this is still just considered the cost of doing business," Shubert said.

    Shubert points to an example earlier this year, when the state shut down construction of the Apple Store in Westfarms Mall, after an inspection found five construction workers weren't covered by workers' compensation insurance.

    But the contractors and subcontractors undefined all from out-of-state undefined ignored the order and continued working because it would have been more costly for them to miss their deadline than pay a $1,000 fine for each day they defied the stop work order, said Pechie, the labor department official.

    "The [contractors] flat out said 'We need to finish the work and pay the fine,'" Pechie said. "It made us think maybe our penalty isn't big enough."

    The construction industry still remains an important focus for inspectors. The recession ratcheted up competition for jobs, particularly public-sector projects where contractors are chosen based on lowest competitive bids.

    Since 2009, Shubert said, there has been a race to the bottom on project bidding, which has eroded industry profits undefined putting many contractors out of business undefined and added extra incentives to shave costs.

    "You have aggressive project owners who are trying to get every job out there," Shubert said. "Many times the only way to hit that low price is to cheat."

    Dan Filomeno, owner of East Hartford drywall-interior construction contractor Acoustics Inc., said he's seen questionable bidding practices firsthand. His company, which he founded nearly 30 years ago, hoped to do work on UConn's new $32 million basketball practice facility earlier this, but their project bid came in 25 percent higher than the winning contractor.

    In February, when state investigators paid a surprise visit to the construction site in Storrs, they found many of the workers hired by subcontractors Intext Building Systems of Glastonbury and East Hartford-based J&V Construction were undocumented, being paid in cash, and weren't receiving a prevailing wage, which can cost employers as much as $65 per hour, when taxes are included.

    A stop work order was issued, and Acoustics was eventually brought in to perform some work on the facility, Filomeno said.

    "This does happen, and it's not good for anybody," Filomeno said. "There hasn't been a lot of work, so everyone just keeps lowering their numbers. There are no profit margins; you're lucky if you can cover overhead costs."

    Matt Capece, a representative of the general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters who investigates payroll fraud, said Connecticut's efforts to combat worker misclassification compares well to most other states, which are also ramping up their enforcement efforts.

    One thing Connecticut should improve, however, is holding general contractors more responsible for who they hire, Capece said.

    Typically, contractors are shielded from legal retribution if one of their subcontractors breaks the law, he said. "There needs to be some liability and accountability up the contractor chain," Capece said.

  • 29 Oct 2014 9:14 AM | Anonymous
    James Martin, who is the chef, owner and general manager of 85 Main in Putnam, has been named as Connecticut Restaurant Association's Restaurateur of the Year and will be honored in December, the Putnam Business Association announced Tuesday morning.

    Martin, a self-taught chef, opened the fine dining restaurant in June 2005 located at its namesake 85 Main Street in Putnam.

    The Annual Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner will be held Tuesday, December 2 at Mohegan Sun Ballroom and UConn coach Geno Auriemma will be the event's keynote speaker. Past Industry Award recipient Larry Cafero, State Representative, CT General Assembly, will be the event's Master of Ceremonies.

    Voting has also begun for the Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner for the following categories: Upscale Restaurant, Casual Restaurant, Chef, Caterer, Mixologist and Server of the Year.  Prime 85 is a finalist in the Upscale Restaurant category.

    For more information or to vote, visit

    Read more:

  • 28 Oct 2014 11:11 AM | Anonymous

    The Connecticut Restaurant Association gathers once a year to honor the best of the best in the Connecticut restaurant scene. This year they are gathering on December 2 at Mohegan Sun for their Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner. If you’d like to attend tickets are $150 per person or $130 if you’re a member, but the reason we’re writing you today is for you to get out there and do some voting! 

    Just click through the image up above or here and get your votes in for Upscale Restaurant of the Year, Casual Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Caterer of the Year, Mixologist of the Year, and Server of the Year. Voting is now live and goes until 11/10 at 5 pm. Remember that there’s only one vote per e-mail address, though!

    And, wouldn’t you know it, but Fairfield County is well represented here with The Whelk up for Upscale Restaurant, Geronimo and Local Kitchen up for Casual Restaurant, Chef Renato Donzelli of Basso Cafe up for Top Chef, Marcia Selden Catering for Top Caterer, and Adam Patrick of Match for Top Mixologist. Great restaurants, great people…now vote!

    Here’s the list to peruse, btw…

    Upscale Restaurant of the Year

    • 85 Main, Putnam
    • Oyster Club, Mystic
    • The Whelk, Westport
    • Restaurant Bricco, West Hartford
    • Union League Cafe, New Haven
    Casual Restaurant of the Year
    • Dog Watch Cafe, Stonington
    • Willimantic Brewing Company, Willimantic
    • Flanders Fish Market, East Lyme
    • Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill, New Haven & Fairfield
    • Local Kitchen & Craft Beer Bar, Fairfield & Norwalk
    • Joey Garlic’s, Newington & Farmington
    Chef of the Year
    • Renato Donzelli, Basso Cafe, Norwalk
    • Neil Fuentes, Jojoto Restaurant, Branford 
    • Jean Pierre Vuillermet, Union League Cafe, New Haven
    • Tyler Anderson, Millwright’s Restaurant & Tavern, Simsbury
    Caterer of the Year
    Mixologist of the Year
    • Adam Patrick, Match Restaurant, South Norwalk
    • Derek Vitale, Max’s Oyster Bar, West Hartford
    • Mary Bowler, Red Hen Restaurant, Old Saybrook
    Server of the Year
    • Bruce Mazy, Sage American Grill & Oyster Bar, New Haven
    • Nancy Tighe, Fresh Salt, Old Saybrook
    • Pam Evans, Birch Hill Tavern, Glastonbury
    • Jon Forsythe, Stonebridge Restaurant, Milford

  • 30 Sep 2014 11:10 AM | Anonymous,0,7075166.story

    The annual Connecticut Restaurant Week, hosted by the Connecticut Restaurant Association, will have a new component when it kicks off Oct. 13. In conjunction with the Connecticut Beer Wholesalers Association and CT Beer Trail, diners will also see specials and promotions for the state's craft beers. 

    "Restaurants, brewers and customers alike benefit from this great week of meals and deals," said Nicole Griffin, executive director of Connecticut Restaurant Association, in a statement. "Connecticut is home to so many wonderful varieties of cuisines and craft beers and Restaurant & Beer Week is a fantastic way to showcase them." 

    Participating restaurants will offer fixed-price menus for either $20.14 or $30.14. Menus will be posted; check back for more information.

  • 23 Sep 2014 2:10 PM | Anonymous

    See the Map HERE

    Yuengling beer is now available in some bars in Connecticut, and it will soon be for sale in your neighborhood package store.

    Will its buyers prefer cans or bottles?

    Overall, Connecticut residents are split, according to the most recent data compiled by In 2012, about 45 percent of beer in Connecticut was sold in bottles, 44 percent was sold in cans, and 11 percent was sold on draught.

    More than half of all beer sold in the U.S. in 2012 was sold in metal cans. It's been that way every year since 1981, except for a 7-year stretch in the mid-2000s when bottled beer gained popularity. Southern states have been particularly fond of beer in cans through the years.

    That trend is retreating slightly even as a debate wages over which method, cans or bottles, is the best for keeping beer fresh and tasty.

    Samuel Adams, Long Trail, Brooklyn Brewery and other craft-style beers are now producing some of their run in cans, which advocates say can be better for the beer, cheaper to produce and more environmentally friendly to transport.

  • 19 Sep 2014 3:16 PM | Anonymous


    Oyster Club Named One of Travel + Leisure's 

    Best Oyster Bars in America



    Oyster Club is proud to announce that we have been named one of Travel + Leisure magazine's Best Oyster Bars in America. Travel + Leisure's experts scoured the country, from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific, searching for "restaurants that take a more stylish approach" to the modern oyster bar. According to Travel + Leisure, the quality that sets Oyster Club apart from the other twenty awardees is that we source our "seafood exclusively from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, yet...use it in eclectic, globally influenced dishes."


    Long Island Sound boasts some of the freshest seafood in the country, and in keeping with our commitment to locally sourced ingredients, our oyster selection consistently includes the "Holy Trinity" of southern New England: Fishers Island, Noanks & Ninigret Nectars. We are so lucky to have access to such spectacularly fresh product, and we share this honor with our oyster farmers, dedicated staff, and loyal guests. We thank you for your continued support and look forward to seeing you at our table soon.


    The write-up on Oyster Club and full list of awardees can be found at Please visit us at for news, menus, and events. 

    Credit Erin Kestenbaum

    Courtesy of Erin Kestenbaum Photography

    Happy Hour available in the bar & on the patio nightly from 4pm-6pm, featuring $1 Noank Oysters. 



    Fri 12:00pm - 2:00pm

    Saturday 11:00am - 2:00pm


    Sunday, 11:00am - 2:00pm


    Open every night at 5:00pm - 9:00pm.

    Friday and Saturday the dining room is open until 10:00pm.



  • 05 Aug 2014 4:44 PM | Anonymous

    A bipartisan group of House members has introduced a bill intended to change one of the many confusing aspects of the Affordable Care Act: its two definitions of “seasonal” employment.

    The problem: Restaurant operators who hire seasonal staff face confusing rules under the ACA. That’s partly because the law defines “seasonal worker” and “seasonal employee” differently. One definition helps businesses with seasonal workforces understand whether they’re “applicable large employers” who are subject to the ACA’s employer mandate. The other helps large employers determine which full-time seasonal employees must be offered health care coverage.

    It gets complicated: Figuring out whether an employee is full-time under the ACA is tricky, and that’s especially true to for seasonal employees. To help employers figure it out, ACA regulations give large employers the option of using what’s called a “look-back measurement method” to assess the full-time status of any employee who works in a position for which the customary annual employment is six months or less. Because of the way the method works, many seasonal employees are unlikely to qualify as full-time for purposes of health care coverage offers.

    But employers use a different seasonal-employment standard to determine if they’re “applicable large employers” under the ACA. Under current law, employers include seasonal workers’ hours of service to determine if the business hits large-employer status (for 2015, this covers employers with 100+ full-time-equivalent employees; for 2016 and beyond, 50+ FTE employees). If it turns out seasonal workers push the employer into large-employer status, the employer may qualify for an exception to the employer mandate. But the calculation is complex and the definition of seasonal worker is vague.

    Employers near the 50- or 100-FTE employee threshold are caught in the middle, since they now need to use the seasonal worker definition to run the large-employer calculation and the seasonal employee definition to understand which seasonal staff are eligible for health care coverage offers.

    The fix: The “Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act” (H.R. 5213), recently introduced in the House of Representatives, simply applies one definition of “seasonal employee” across the health care law, both for determining employer size and for determining  offers of health care coverage. The STARS Act defines “seasonal employee” as an employee who works less than six months in customary, annually recurring work at certain periods of time in the year. The bill removes seasonal employees from the calculation to determine if the employer is large. This simplifies the calculation and reduces the chance that an employer could inadvertently violate the law by using an incorrect definition. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

    Why we like it: The ACA’s two definitions of seasonal employment, and the rules that have been issued to explain the law, are already causing frustration and confusion, especially for smaller restaurant operators who employ seasonal staff.

    “The ACA’s ‘seasonal worker’ definition is vague and continues to confuse small employers as they work to comply with the law,” said Scott DeFife, NRA executive vice president of policy and government affairs. “By passing STARS, Congress can ensure that smaller seasonal employers with limited human resources capabilities have the tools and understanding necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act and to continue to grow their businesses.”

    The NRA, along with 51 state restaurant associations and other business groups, wrote to Congress in support of the STARS Act.  Read our letter and our statement.

  • 30 Jul 2014 2:55 PM | Anonymous
    Full Article:

    Travel and tourism bill moves to Senate

    July 23, 2014

    Congress could be headed toward a rare moment of agreement. And it’s on an issue that has a profound impact on restaurants: travel and tourism.

    With the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the Travel Promotion, Enhancement and Modernization Act on Tuesday and the Senate Commerce Committee’s approval of the bill on Wednesday, Congress took a major step toward reauthorizing Brand USA, a global marketing program to promote the United States as an international tourist destination. The program, which the legislation would reauthorize, is funded through a fee paid by international visitors.

    The National Restaurant Association supports the reauthorization of Brand USA and sent letters urging members of the House and Senate to vote for the bill.

    “The restaurant industry relies on travel and tourism and the success of our member companies is closely tied to the promotion of Brand USA around the world,” said Scott DeFife, NRA vice president, policy and government affairs. “We urge the swift passage of the Travel Promotion Act in the Senate as Brand USA must continue its critical work in promoting the U.S. abroad and attracting international travelers to our shores.”

    Tell the Senate to support America's restaurants and renew Brand USA!

    Passage of the bill would be a big win for restaurants. About $1 of every $4 spent in restaurants comes as a result of travel and tourism, and international travel is a big part of the picture. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that international travelers spent $15.4 billion on travel to and tourism activities within the U.S. in March 2014. According to the U.S. Travel Association, overseas visitors spent an average of $4,455 over 18 days during visits to the U.S. in 2012. The same year, the U.S. was the destination for 66.6 million international travelersundefined37 million from Canada and Mexico and 29.6 million from overseas. The number of overseas travelers increased by 7.7 percent in 2013 and is expected to increase by another 5.3 percent this year.
  • 30 Jul 2014 2:51 PM | Anonymous

    Full Article:

    Ten Connecticut fast-food workers flocked to Chicago this weekend, where they joined thousands of other fast-food employees at a labor gathering to demand a $15-an-hour pay rate as well as the right to form a union.

    During the two-day convention, which was held just four miles away from the McDonalds headquarters,1,200 fast-food workers from around the country engaged in leadership trainings, strategized about how to escalate the campaign and shared their experiences in their fight to raise the wage floor for the nation’s 4 million fast-food employees to $15 per hour.

    “We talked a lot about civil disobedience,” Samuel Velez, a McDonalds employee from Hartford, said. “What we’re doing; fighting for our rights is really important. It was very good that a whole bunch of workers came together as one and spoke about what we’re going to do next, and that we got feedback about how we’re doing.”

    The workers in attendance were joined by activists and elected officials from over 50 cities, including Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber II and President of the Service Employees International Union Mary Kay Henry, all of whom packed into a nearby suburb’s expo center to rally around their “$15 and a union” motto.

    “A selfish few at the top are using their power to hold down wages, no matter how much that hurts families and communities across the country,” Henry said during her keynote speech.

    The campaign, known as the “Fight for $15” campaign, is centered on the belief that fast-food workers are entitled to a larger portion of what The Statistics Portal defines as the fast food industry’s $200 billion dollar income.

    “I fight for fifteen because I have a son, a family” Velez said. “I’ve been working at McDonalds for six months, and I haven’t been able to afford an apartment. I walk to work everyday. I work for a million dollar company undefined they can afford to pay fairly.”

    Though the convention was the first time that fast-food workers across the country united under one roof to fight for a common cause, the Fight for $15 campaign has been in effect since November 2012, when New York City fast-food workers first walked off their jobs after demanding a higher pay rate. Since then, similar campaigns have held a multitude of daylong strikes outside of various fast-food chains, three of which occurred in Connecticut.

    For the industry itself, the “Fight for $15” mentality has been at the forefront of several large-scale corporate meetings. According to McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, how to address the fast-food workers’ demands was a topic discussed at McDonalds’ annual shareholders meeting this past May.

    “We respect everyone’s right to voice an opinion,” Barker Sa Shekhem said in a statement. “McDonald’s respects our employees’ right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully. If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts. We value our employees’ well-being and the contributions they make to our restaurants, and thank them for what they do each and every day.”

    Though Barker Sa Shekhem said that McDonalds restaurants “respects their employees right” to protest, the Fight for $15 campaign website suggests that such treatment is not always the norm for fast food employers. In the “Know Your Rights” section, the site lists several legal rights that fast-food workers employees have when it comes to protesting.

    “They try to put pressure on a lot of workers when they’re working,” Velez said in regards to his workplace. “They don’t want us to fight for 15. They’ll cut hours, try to scare other employees away from the movement.”

    Velez and others said that the attendees of the convention were committed to escalating the tactics discussed at the convention, and that they expect to see more labor gatherings in the future.

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