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  • 12 Dec 2014 12:48 PM | Anonymous

    Connecticut employers will be hit with the highest unemployment insurance tax in the country next month as the state continues to repay interest on federal loans taken out five years ago to cover jobless benefit payments, a state Department of Labor official confirmed.

    The highest-in-the-nation rate is related to Connecticut labor officials, unlike those in seven other states that have similar outstanding loans, declining to seek a waiver to exempt Connecticut from an additional 0.5 percent increase in its federal unemployment tax rate that took effect for this year's payroll period.

    The increase, called a benefit cost ratio add-on, applies to any state that has had an outstanding balance owed to the federal government for five years. Connecticut, which has a $432 million balance, now falls into that category.

    The add-on, as well as 0.3 percent interest rate increase tacked onto the outstanding balance each year, will cost employers $161 per worker when bills go out in late January. That figure is the highest of any state, said Carl Guzzardi, DOL's unemployment insurance tax director.

    The tax now amounts to 2.3 percent of the first $7,000 of each worker's income for 2015.

    If the loan were paid off, Connecticut employers would only have to pay a 0.6 percent tax, or $42 per employee.

    By declining to seek the waiver that other states sought, Connecticut will reduce its outstanding balance by about $45 million, Guzzardi said, which means employers will pay less in the end, because interest costs escalate each year.

    "Next year when we go to bill employers for interest, there will be less money to pay interest on," Guzzardi said.

    In addition, he said the state's unemployment insurance fund has started over the past year or more to take in more revenue than it pays out in benefits. He said that bodes well for making future debt payments.

    "We don't see the [$432 million] going up," he said. "It will continue to drop."

    The state hopes to pay off its outstanding balance by 2017, he added.

    House Republican Leader Themis Klarides criticized DOL's decision not to seek the waiver in a statement this week.

    "Hidden, unexpected taxes like this one compound the problem, especially for small businesses struggling to get by,'' Klarides said.


  • 10 Dec 2014 10:31 AM | Anonymous
    Tyler Anderson

    SIMSBURY undefined Connecticut celebrity chef Tyler Anderson has one more award to add to his Food Network accolades undefined Connecticut's Chef of the Year.

    "It was a great honor because the award was from my peers in the business," said Anderson, the owner and chef at Millwright's Restaurant.

    The winner of the award, given by the Connecticut Restaurant Association, is chosen by both CRA members and the general public, Anderson said.

    Anderson is known for winning the Food Network's "Chopped" and most recently appeared on Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay." He made it to the second round of the competition, but judges chose Flay's dish over his.

    This year, CRA members nominated four chefs, including Anderson, for the Chef of the Year award undefined Renato Donzelli, of Basso Café in Norwalk; Neil Fuentes, of Jojoto Restaurant in Branford; and Jean Pierre Vuillermet, of Union League Café in New Haven.

    The public was then asked to vote on the nominees. The four chefs were honored at a Mohegan Sun banquet on Dec. 2.

    "We have a team that is extremely passionate," Anderson said. "For just a chef to win an award doesn't speak to everything else that has to go on."

    Last year, Millwright's was nominated for the CRA's Upscale Restaurant of the Year award, but lost to the Oyster Club in Mystic.

    Anderson said Millwright's menu is unique in that it is inspired by locally grown products and old New England techniques.

    "We only use things here that could have been used in Colonial times," he said, adding that foods such as pineapples or avocados are banned. "We use lemons and limes and that's are far as we go."

    Millwright's Director of Operations A.J. Aurrichio said what sets Anderson apart from other chefs is that he is true to himself. Anderson is quality driven and pays great attention to details, Aurrichio said.

    "The award speaks to the talent of the building as whole," he said. "They all take pride in what they do and it shows because of the product we put out."


  • 08 Dec 2014 11:48 AM | Anonymous

    MaryEllen Fillo

    Hartford Courantfillo​@courant.com

    Among those at the CRA annual awards dinner were Bob Cooke from Max’s Oyster Bar, left, Mark Signor from Oyster Club in Mystic, Mike Moreau from Integrated Employer Solutions, CRA board memb er Dan Meiser from Oyster Club and Engine Room in Mystic, and CRA Board memb er Billy Grant from... (Brian Ambrose Photography)

    Which Hartford Restaurants Fared Well at the CT Restaurant Association Awards Dinner?

    Restaurant Bricco, Millwright's Tyler Anderson and Derek Vitale of Max's Oyster Bar in West Hartford fared well at the Connecticut Restaurant Association (CRA) Salute to Excellence Awards dinner this week at Mohegan Sun.

    Anderson was named Chef of the Year, Billy Grant's Restaurant Bricco named upscale restaurant of the year and Vitale, mixologist of the year.

    The Cialfi Family's Peppercorn's in Hartford was inducted into the 2014 Hospitality Hall of Fame, with

    State Sen. John McKinney receiving the 2014 Friend of the Industry winner. James Martin of 85 Main in Putnam was honored as the 2014 Restaurateur of the Year.

    Others receiving awards were Falvey Linen, Vendor of the Year; Lenny's Indian Head, Branford, Hospitality Hall of Fame; A Thyme To Cook, North Stonington, Caterer of the Year; Nancy Tighe, Fresh Salt, Saybrook Point Inn, Old Saybrook, Server of the Year and Dog Watch Café, Stonington, Casual Restaurant of the Year.


  • 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 http://ctrestaurant.fbmta.com/a/0/2153466572/2148401730/default.aspx.


    Read more: http://www.norwichbulletin.com/article/20141028/News/141029530#ixzz3HXVMoi5B


  • 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

    http://www.ctnow.com/food-drink/ctn-connecticut-restaurant-and-beer-week-oct-1319-20140922,0,7075166.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 atctrestaurant.org; 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 beerinstitute.org: 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 http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/best-oyster-bars-in-america/14. Please visit us at www.OysterClubCT.com 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. 

    _____________________________

    Lunch

    Fri 12:00pm - 2:00pm

    Saturday 11:00am - 2:00pm

    Brunch

    Sunday, 11:00am - 2:00pm

    Dinner

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

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

    ______________________________

    860.415.9266

    www.OysterClubCT.com  


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