Hartford Chamber of Commerce

Chamber of Commerce

Promoting, supporting and assisting the business and civic communities in Connecticut’s Capital City that create the true Hartford experience for residents and visitors alike 

Thank you for your interest in The Hartford Chamber of Commerce. As we continue to build content for this page, please visit the Chamber on Facebook at @HartfordChamberCT and on Instagram at hartfordchamberofcommerce. 

Julio_Concepcion Headshot_2019 cropped 539KWe welcome you to contact Julio A. Concepción, Executive Director of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce.

Julio A. Concepción
860.728.2282
jconcepcion@metrohartford.com







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BBQribsThe 10th Annual Hartford Rib Off

Hartford’s Largest Charity BBQ Event

Local small business owner Guy Neumann, Founder of GN Construction LLC, grew a backyard BBQ party into a charitable event that draws thousands of people to Hartford and has raised more than $150,000 since 2009.

The 10th Annual Hartford Rib Off includes a kick-off party, Kansas City Barbeque and New England Barbecue Society competitions, live music, and family fun. The event will take place at Hartford’s Riverside Park June 14 and 15, 2019 with 100% of the event’s proceeds supporting local charities: MARC Community Resources, Mayor Mike’s Foundation for Kids, and The Hartford Rib Off Scholarship Fund.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price got some background from Guy about the how the event came to be.

NAN PRICE: Tell us about the evolution from having a backyard party to creating an annual charity event.

GUY NEUMANN: It started in 2009 as a backyard BBQ at my home in the West End of Hartford. We asked friends to donate and, as the night went on and more people contributed, we realized we’d covered the costs of the party. We had an extra $1,000 and decided to donate it to Organized Parents Make a Difference, where some of us were doing some volunteer work.

The event was so successful, we decided to do it again the next year. Following that event’s success, I gathered a board of directors and we formed the Hartford Rib Off as a 501(c)(3). We are volunteer based. Growing the event and giving back to local charities became a passion for me—and for others. Every year, more people come out of the woodwork to help me and support the event. The generosity I’ve gotten from people is amazing. I never expected it.

The event is really for the community by the community. I think we’ve touched some lives and helped some people. I always believe you make bigger changes on a micro basis then a macro basis. I look for causes where I can impact an individual to change their world and change the world around them.

NAN: As a small business owner, you’ve already gone through the experience of launching a business. Was it a lot different for you to start this nonprofit organization?

GUY: I’ve launched several businesses. I worked in corporate America doing advanced planning on the insurance side of things for a few years after college, so I have some knowledge about the corporate structure and business planning in general, which was helpful in the process.

I know what it’s like to run a business. I’m comfortable with income statements, setting up QuickBooks, tracking accounts and expendables, and things along those lines. I also know a lot of people in many industries, so that helps. It was just a matter of good, old-fashioned audacity. Just ask.

NAN: Why Hartford?

GUY: I love Hartford. If I’m going to live in Hartford and raise my children in Hartford, I’m going to do my best to be good to Hartford. I think Hartford could use it. My goals with this event are to promote community, promote Hartford, and promote a cause.

This event draws people and families to Hartford from the suburbs. They’re coming to use some of the infrastructure that’s free and available on a daily basis. That’s an important part of the event for us—and we accomplish it. People tell us they’ve had a great day in Hartford

To some degree, employers use the event as part of their recruiting tool. They talk about the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz; local sports teams the Hartford Yard Goats and Hartford Athletic, which are involved in our event; and they can also mention in June we have the Hartford Rib Off, it’s a professional Kansas City barbecue event and it’s the only one in Greater Hartford.

Barbecue is a big thing in this country. It’s all American. For recruiting purposes, it’s nice to know that this part of America is also present here in Hartford.

NAN: Community is key to an event like this.

GUY: Yes. We’ve been fortunate to have community sponsors that help with the event: 102.9 The Whale, Radio 104.1, Miller Lite, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Pig’s Eye Pub, and GN Construction LLC. This year’s presenting sponsor is Hall’s Market of West Hartford.

I believe people can make big changes in the world around them by engaging the community. I couldn’t be where I am today without the team that helps me and the generosity of people who hear the word “charity” and want to get involved.

It’s a matter of tapping into that. You can help people feel empowered to make a change. That’s kind of how we built this little movement. People just want to help. In this case, they give a day of volunteering and it’s a fun day for them. They end up wanting to help the next year. It’s great to see the community so involved in an event that gives back.

To learn more about the Hartford Rib Off, visit hartfordriboff.com.

 

Part VI

Rush_Bowls_insideRush Bowls of Hartford

The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Arzu and Carlos Stetzelberg, owners of Rush Bowls Hartford, to find out more about the franchise’s first Connecticut location.

When and why did you start your business?

ARZU STETZELBERG: We opened in February 2019. I had been in finance working at a bank. Ten years ago, when our second child was born, I decided to take some time off. Fast forward to two years ago, I was thinking about going back to work and I didn’t want to go back to an office job or a big company.

Carlos and I explored different ideas. When we decided to start our own business, I knew I wanted to do something with healthy food. We looked into franchises and found out about Rush Bowls, which uses natural, nutritious ingredients.

Tell us a little about the process of starting a new business.

CARLOS STETZELBERG: Part of the challenge of being a new business owner is the unknown unknown—you don’t know what you don’t know. You want to make sure you’re following all the right steps and not missing something big that can suddenly become a problem.

The franchise was very supportive, because we are store number 11. That was part of the reason why we joined this franchise instead of one with a similar concept but with more maturity, which may not be so vested in every individual store. We got a lot of help from Rush Bowls, but they are headquartered in Colorado so, they can help us with certain things, but others we had to figure out ourselves.

ARZU: We did our own research and learned along the way. For example, we researched and found our realtor, lawyer, contractor. It’s all a separate process.

Many businesses downtown create an economic impact by providing new job opportunities. How many employees do you have? Do you hire local students?

ARZU: We have 10 to 12 mostly part-time employees. They are mainly locals who live around Hartford. We have hired a few students from the University of Connecticut and we want to build a relationship with UConn.

How are you marketing and building a customer base?

ARZU: The franchise helps us with marketing by pushing out ads and emails. From a local perspective, I do the social media, posting with a lot of pictures. We’ve also visited some businesses and hotels in the area to let them know we’re here and give them our menus.

Why Hartford?

ARZU: The reason we’re here is to offer a healthy option for the downtown community. We looked at locations in other cities and saw there was a lot of turnover. We want to have staying power. We’ve already gotten positive feedback. There’s not a lot open on Sundays downtown and we are open. Throughout the week, there are plenty of students and businesses around. It’s a good mixture of people, not only residents. That’s another reason why we chose Hartford.

There’s been a lot of activity in the city lately, too. I think that’s why we ultimately wanted to be here. This part of downtown is coming up nicely. There are a lot of good restaurants and we see people walking around on the weekends. Hartford is building up residence, too. So, we hope things are only going to improve from here.

CARLOS: Hartford has a lot of potential. We feel Front Street can be a catalyst for that. It can be a destination within Hartford. What we like about Front Street is, as Arzu said, there’s a great variety with students, professionals, and residents. It’s a complementary type of customer base.                                                 

What’s next? Do you plan to expand?

ARZU: Yes. We’re planning to open two more locations in Connecticut. We haven’t decided where yet. We want to make sure this one is running smoothly. Then we’ll focus on looking for other locations.

Learn more about Rush Bowls Hartford

VISIT: rushbowls.com/hartford
FOLLOW: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Small Business Week 2019 Impacts Greater Hartford Community

By Nan Price, Content Manager, MetroHartford Alliance

Small Business Week 2019 takes place May 5 through 11. The annual event recognizes the important contributions of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and small business advocates throughout the country.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities,” says Julio A. Concepción, Executive Director of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. “The Hartford Chamber of Commerce collaborate with organizations in and around Greater Hartford to help local businesses succeed and thrive.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and small businesses make up 97% of Connecticut’s total businesses.

The Alliance asked several business owners to share their thoughts about what it means to be a small business owner in the Greater Hartford region:

“The Greater Hartford region is ripe for entrepreneurship. Connecticut small business owners in every industry—from high tech, to research, to manufacturing—are taking risks, embracing new ideas, and most importantly, creating jobs.”
Michael Keiser, Co-Founder of the Entrepreneur Circle, Manchester, CT

“We’ve discovered hives of energetic, excited, mutually supportive individuals and organizations in our community. They’re the drivers of forward-oriented thought and they’re always game to collaborate and create together. This willingness to explore synergies creates momentum and energy that attracts like minds and feeds our ability to bring positive impact and change to our clients in this region.”
Ellen Feldman Ornato, Founding Partner The Bolder Company, West Hartford, CT

“Independently owned businesses and the smallest of businesses deserve praise and support. These are folks who often take on huge personal risk to do what they love for a living while staying in Greater Hartford. They’re not moving outside the area in search of other opportunity. They are creating opportunity for themselves here.”

Annisa Teich, Co-Owner, West Hartford Coworking

Part V

FASTSIGNS of Hartford

FastSignsThe Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Neelu Warikoo, Owner of FASTSIGNS® of Hartford, to find out more about the franchise’s new Hartford location.

When and why did you start your business?

NEELU WARIKOO: I had worked at United Technologies Corporation for more than 12 years and decided to embrace my entrepreneurial drive. My husband Sandeep and I always wanted to do something of our own. Sandeep is my business partner, but he’s not involved in day-to-day operations.

We did a lot of research and decided on the franchise model. There are some set guidelines to work with, great people and network support, and the business model has a proven success record. FASTSIGNS was a perfect match. We opened for business October 2018.

Why Hartford?

NEELU: Hartford is a very welcoming place to do business. People are very helpful, open, and always eager to reach out and work with local, small businesses.

Hartford is home for us—we’ve lived in Greater Hartford for the past 16 years and frequently visit Hartford for meetings, shows, dining, and entertainment. We’re looking forward to building our new venture along with our own community, friends, and family.

Have you been involved with local small business resources?

NEELU: We joined the MetroHartford Alliance and the Business for Downtown Hartford earlier this year. FASTSIGNS of Hartford has already attended many Alliance events, including State of the City: A Conversation with Mayor Luke Bronin, A Conversation with Governor Ned Lamon, and Breakfast with the Hartford Yard Goats.

I attend all the monthly Business for Downtown Hartford meetings and recently have been inducted as a Board member—which is a great honor.

On Tuesday, we hosted a Grand Opening event with a ribbon cutting, which was well attended by local business owners, as well as supportive friends and family members. We were grateful to have Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and FASTSIGNS International, Inc. CEO Catherine Monson there to celebrate with us.

Where do you see the future for Hartford?

NEELU: Over the last few years, Hartford Downtown has been experiencing strong growth. Several exciting projects are coming our way in and around Hartford downtown. The UConn campus in Hartford has definitely brought in a lot of energy and freshness and there are a lot of new businesses and accelerators, like MakerspaceCT, the Hartford InsurTech Hub, and the STANLEY+Techstars Accelerator. Many new apartment buildings and restaurants have come up, too, which signals a lot of positive energy and growth in the Hartford area.

What’s next?

NEELU: Our team is looking forward to growing stronger in 2019 and actively working toward having a strong brand presence in the local community. I have to give a big shout out to our team, as I believe you’re only as good as the team you work with.

As far as our future, we’re growing, and we plan to make it FASTSIGNS a well-known brand and franchise in the Hartford area.

Part IV

Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford

The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Carol “CJ” DeVido Hauss, Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford (LVGH), to learn more about the organization’s contribution to the Hartford-area community.

Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford started over 40 years ago—how has the organization evolved?

CJ: LVGH opened 47 years ago as a small, grassroots volunteer tutoring service, providing one-on-one tutoring to less than 100 adults in Basic Literacy, reading, and writing for native English speakers. Students and tutors met in libraries, community centers, coffee shops, and church basements.

Today, LVGH teaches more than 900 adults each year in our Hartford and East Hartford Literacy Centers, and trains and supports 225 volunteer tutors annually. Nationally recognized by the Library of Congress with a Best Practices Literacy Award, we continue to provide small group instruction in Basic Literacy, along with English for Speakers of Other Languages, Digital Literacy, Math, U.S. Citizenship, and high school completion preparation.

Launched in 2015, our Career Pathways program addresses the issues of unemployment and under-employment among low-literate, Hartford-area adults by providing literacy instruction, career counseling, job training and placement.

LVGH also provides our employer partners with the ongoing support to help ensure our graduates are successful, productive employees.

Tell us about the impact Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford has on our region?

CJ: A volunteer-based program committed to best practices in both adult education and volunteerism, LVGH provides quality, cost-effective adult literacy services. At the same time, LVGH provides community members with enriching and engaging opportunities for volunteerism.

Our work also brings together segments of the community that may not otherwise engage with each other, nurturing connections between residents of Hartford and its suburbs that lead to a better understanding on both sides.

Why Greater Hartford? How did you decide on the location for your business?

CJ: Our Hartford Center is located at 30 Arbor Street in Parkville, a diverse neighborhood in Hartford—and arguably its most creative. We’ve been here since the 1990s. We needed a place that was accessible to students and volunteers. Our Center is available via two city bus lines, CT FasTrak, and a bike route and has lots of free parking. Many students live within walking distance.

In East Hartford, we are located off Burnside Avenue at 16 Church Street, in the educational wing of New Covenant United Methodist Church. We’re on a bus line with plenty of free parking, in a neighborhood where many students live within walking distance. In addition to ESOL classes, the practical component of our food services job-training program is located here, with trainees gaining experience preparing and serving free community dinners twice a week, under the direction of a chef who works for our employer partner, Sodexo.

What is the best thing about Hartford?

CJ: The best thing about Hartford is its diversity. I love being in a community where so many languages are spoken and so many countries and cultures are represented. This is what makes the city interesting and engaging, a place to learn and stretch outside one’s comfort zone.

Where do you see Hartford in the three to five years?

CJ: Hartford is emerging. It’s a very different place than it was when I moved here 37 years ago. My hope is that its transformation won’t be a solitary one, and that surrounding communities will transform along with it.


Part III

Piggy’s Cafe

PiggysCafeThe Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with the Malick family, owners of Piggy’s Café, to find out how they revitalized a 40-year-old Hartford mainstay.

Give us a little background.

JOSEPH MALIK: I’d worked at a bar prior and I knew I wanted to own my own business. I grew up on Albany Avenue in Hartford and I lived in Hartford at the time. I remember driving by and I really liked this bar.

The building was a supermarket in 1910. A Hartford cop bought it in the 1920s and made it into a restaurant. When it came up for sale, I had two business partners. We offered an additional $10,000 for the property so the owners wouldn’t accept offers from any other buyers.

When she first walked in, my wife Carol cried. The place was a dump! But we turned it around. We opened in October 1979. I remember it was a Friday night and it was packed.

JOELA MALIK: He always had a good crowd until he got ALS. He put the bar up for sale in March 2018 and it closed in April. We had some discussions and, in June, I decided to take over management and try and revitalize Piggy’s. I have sales experience and have worked in restaurants—but I had never worked for my dad.

Tell us a little about that transformation.

JOELA: Dad always had pub-style bar food. I updated the food and bar menu and we changed the interior, too. Since we reopened in November, I’ve been learning how to manage the business—what works and what doesn’t work.

Piggy’s used to have pool tables and stay open until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Now we have set hours and we host different events like open mic night to bring more in people in. We have musicians play here too, and they bring a following. We also have happy hour every day.

How else are you building a customer base and marketing?

JOELA: It’s great having Aetna close by. And having CVS pledge to keep them in Hartford for the next 10 years, is definitely going to help. Already Aetna teams have some meetings here and they’ll bring an entire department.

The Hartford Public School systems having meetings here too, as do some law firms on Farmington Avenue. And we’ve also had students from Trinity College rent our space to host events.

With marketing, it’s been word-of-mouth. Piggy’s also has a website now and I’ve been doing social media.

Have you been collaborating with any local businesses?

JOELA: The owners at Hartford Flavor Company are great. They did a taste test at Piggy’s and they donated a package for the ALS benefit we did in March. We’re trying to figure out a way to get our food over to Hartford Flavor. There are some details to work out, but that may happen in the future.

Where do you see the evolution of Hartford?

JOELA: It’s improving and there have been a lot of changes. There’s new development coming. I like the idea of the Parkville Market. I can’t wait for that open.

The city of Hartford did a fantastic job updating the light posts and sidewalks on our street. I think more people are taking pride in their property around here.

Part II

Thomas W. Raftery, Inc.

The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Rob O’Connor, President of Thomas W. Raftery, Inc., to learn more about the local business community in the City of Hartford. Find out what we learned...

When and why did you start your business?

ROB O’CONNOR: Our business was started in 1963 by Thomas W. Raftery. While selling fabric in New England, he came upon the opportunity to supply draperies and seized upon it. Over the years, the business has concentrated on manufacturing a good product and supplying commercial contract industries including the U.S. military, colleges, schools, hospitals, and corporations.

How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?

ROB: Our business is all about the people who work here. Our employees bring different skills and backgrounds to work here—from working with fabrics and sewing to sales, marketing, and customer relations.

Why Hartford?

ROB: Our business was founded selling to Hartford companies like Travelers Insurance, manufacturing window treatments for large office buildings, schools, and hospitals. We have occupied a few locations, all in Hartford.

We’ve been in our historic Frog Hollow building since the late 1970s. There are many advantages to the neighborhood including logistics, proximity to the highways, employees living nearby, and even potential customers.

What is the best thing about having a business in Hartford?

ROB: I’m not sure there is one best thing about working in Hartford. I like to think that, unlike the old New England saying, “you can’t get there from here,” in Hartford, you can get there from here. A business has challenges here but can flourish with hard work. Hartford has great cultural resources and a lot of history.

How are you marketing and building a successful customer base?

ROB: We supply our products all over the world, to many different commercial customers. We are a GSA Contract holder, supplying all the branches of the U.S. Military, Coast Guard, and Veteran’s Affairs Hospitals. We also sell to colleges and hospitals, as well as commercial facilities like corporate office buildings.

We’re hoping to impress upon the large corporations in Hartford that there is a local manufacturer that can supply shades, draperies, blinds, etc. right in their backyard.

What key elements are necessary to start and run a successful business in Hartford?

ROB: I think you have to believe in your products and services to start and run a successful business. Take challenges and turn setbacks into lesson to do better. You must be determined to succeed, and you have to make personal connections.

Where do you see Hartford in the three to five years?

ROB: I’m hoping in three to five years Hartford continues to get more and more people to come live in the city. That means better walking and cycling opportunities and a more livable city, amongst other things.

I think Harford needs to take a look at cities our size and adopt some of their successful ideas, without taking years to implement. Hopefully, Hartford will be closer to better financial health and with a lower tax burden for small businesses.

And where do you see your role in the city’s progress?

ROB: Our business sees a role in doing this, making our neighborhood better by employing people, and contributing to the community by providing free space for the Police Activities League’s boxing program, for example. We’re also active in Frog Hollow SAFE (Safety Alliance For Everyone), which is developing a safety plan for Frog Hollow and it’s residents and businesses.

Part I

The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently spoke with Yvon Alexandre, President of Vbiz Uptown, to learn more about the local business community in the City of Hartford. This is what we learned...

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When and why did you start your business?

YVON ALEXANDRE: ACA/Uptown Foods was started 1991 and has been in Hartford since March 1992. The business was started to support and service the growing Caribbean population in the Greater Hartford area.

Vibz Uptown started in December 1999 and has always been in Hartford. We started the business to provide a much-needed banquet/rental and entertainment/space in the community.

How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?

YVON: My education and previous business experience provided me with the background and skills necessary to run my businesses. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Business Administration in International Business from the University of New Haven. I also had 15 years working experience in corporate.

Have you been involved with any business resources in the Hartford-area?

YVON: Yes. I am a member of the MetroHartford Alliance. I was involved with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce Board for more than 12 years and served as the Vice Chair and Chairman for four years. 

How did you decide on Hartford as the location for your business?

YVON: I decided to locate my business in Hartford because of its dynamic core and its diversity. Hartford provided the opportunity for growth and a growing customer base.

What is the best thing about living/working in Hartford?

YVON: Working and running a business in Hartford has been rewarding in many ways. I’ve been able to be part of a neighborhood and caring community. Although there are many challenges, there are also opportunities. The diversity in Hartford’s people is profound and unique.

How are you marking and building a successful customer base?

YVON: I find customers will be loyal if they know you care about their needs. Being involved in the community where you serve is key to keeping your customers.

What key elements are necessary to start and run a successful business in Hartford?

YVON: To run a successful business you must first identify a need for your product line or services. A thorough and well-defined business plan is crucial in developing a successful business.

Where do you see Hartford in the three to five years? And where do you see your role in the city’s progress?

YVON: There is opportunity for major investment in Hartford, but fiscal responsibility is paramount.

MARCH MADNESS INFORMATION

March Madness is coming to Hartford! Eight teams will extend their season into March and visit Hartford and the XL Center March 21 and 23 for the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship First and Second Rounds.

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Learn more about Hartford's neighborhoods: 
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Learn more about the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives:
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