This is a bitter sweet feature that will conclude the six month We Love Hartford Project by exploring the individuals who turned a vision into a reality. The WLHP allowed three lovers' of Hartford and creators of our own creative networks join forces and give back to our community. 
From left: Nick Cinea, Carmen Veal and Saige DuPont

Humans of Hartford Creator Nick + WLHP Photographer

I created Humans of Hartford because I was inspired by the photography and storytelling effects of Humans of New York. I loved how H.O.N.Y. reminds us of a very known yet forgotten fact: everyone has a story to tell. Simultaneously, I was looking for a creative art to explore, and the first thing that came to mind was photography. So in March of 2014, I started Humans of Hartford knowing that a place often deemed as a "scary city" would have many unique stories to share.

What I love most about Hartford is that I'm always surprised how many of its people are willing to open up and share their personal stories with me. I think that when walking down the streets of Hartford there's a certain sense of "keep to yourself," but once you show you're sincere and willing to listen, Hartford's people will open up! I'm even more amazed by how many people in Hartford have been through rough pasts, but are continuing to hold positive mindsets for the future. There's something beautiful about that.

Love Hartford Creator Saige + WLHP Coordinator

I started Love Hartford because as I was exploring Hartford I found limited sources of social media marketing highlighting the positive cultures, arts, and community news in Hartford.

I love the potential of this city! I love the history of Hartford and I see how it can be a platform to move our city forward.

Hartford Girl Creator Carmen Veal + WLHP Organizer

I created Hartford Girl about four year after moving to downtown Hartford. I would visit NYC to experience fashion, culture, art, and other fun and exciting attractions in the city.  As a small business owner building my personal and professional brands since 2009, I developed a respect and appreciation for working positively with others and community involvement.  My mission evolved to play an intimate role in Hartford's dynamic growth and encompasses special events production.  After celebrating my company’s 5-year anniversary in May of 2014, I felt the need for inclusive growth that would allow me to combine my talents, and evolve with my community.  

Hartford is a wonderful city with amazing people, historical landmarks, great food, creative arts, music and fun!  I'm proud of my hometown and am committed to playing an intimate role in it's dynamic growth.

But wait, there more!  Celebrate with us!

Tonight we will celebrate the completion of this We Love Hartford project and preparation of another amazing one.  The 2nd annual hARTford Art Crawl will be held Thursday Sept 17th. Full details are forthcoming.

    Happy Hour RSVP

This week’s feature is the Spiritus Wines which is the second to last piece of this wonderful We Love Hartford project.  Spiritus offers wine tastings twice per week on Thursday (4-6:30) and Saturday (1-4), fun and knowledgeable staff and a wide array of wine and liquors to choose from.  It was a pleasure to learn the history from the Owner, Gary Dunn
Hartford GirlWhy did you start Spiritus?
Gary: I purchased Spiritus Wines in early 2006 from the founder.  He and his wife had started the business in 1982, so we've been in business in downtown Hartford for more than 32 years!  In the early 1980's the wine market landscape in the area was essentially just package stores, no store was focused on artisanal, small production wine with a goal of identifying high quality, high value wines to offer customers.
This remains our mission at Spiritus today.  All of our wine selections are based on my daily tasting sessions with distributors in search of quality bottlings that deliver authentic characteristics of the grape varietal and the region in which its grown for an attractive price.  And we then personally assist every customer who comes in to the store to help them find the right bottle matching their taste preference and the occasion.

There are thousands of wines available in the marketplace.  In the U.S. we get wines from around the world.  It can be very confusing, not to mention they're not all worth you're hard-earned money!  Believe me, you don't need to see a thousand cabernets to choose from.  You're better off with 100 good ones in a range of prices.  That's the critical service that Spiritus provides.
Hartford GirlWhat is your biggest challenge with running Spiritus? 

GaryOne of the most significant on-going efforts we have is educating the general public about the value of small producers.  The U.S. wine market is dominated by big brand name, highly-marketed companies that produce millions of cases a year.  We prefer to feature small wineries, often family-owned and operated, that create wines born from their passion to produce the best possible wines from their own meticulously cared for vineyards.  And the value is superior because you're not paying for marketing campaigns or pricing based on brand positioning.  With small producers, it's all about the wine!

Fortunately, the wine culture in the U.S. has evolved significantly over the last 30 years.  The current generation of 20-somethings has embraced wine more than any previous generation.  And with the popular farm-to-table movement in food, people better understand the importance of the product source and artisanal production.  Plus, it's very exciting now with the recent explosion in numbers of craft beer brewers and small craft distillers of spirits.  The whole concept of small production by incredibly passionate folks is helping to nudge the market away from industrial products.

Hartford GirlWhy did you choose Hartford as the home for Spiritus?

GaryWhen Spiritus first opened in 1982, the Hartford area in general was under-served for boutique wine.  After purchasing the business in 2006, I pursued relocating it to a busier, more centrally-located spot in downtown to better serve our Hartford customers (and have much better curbside parking!).  But Hartford also works well for us in serving our numerous suburban customers who receive our monthly newsletter with a dozen new wine features every month.  We have also always offered free delivery service so a central location helps us reach out in all directions.
Learn more by visiting Spiritus Wines located 500 Asylum Street downtown Hartford.  And don't forget to check out the Spiritus Wines feature post on Humans of HartfordHartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!
The next We Love Hartford Project feature isn't just a gem in the city of Hartford, it is a place like no other!  And I am thrilled to highlight a fun free opportunity offered at this beautiful facility.  The Hartford Public Library's (HPL) main branch is simply amazing!  The capital city is fortunate to have such a beautiful facility and powerful resource in the heart of Hartford.  It is a strong foundation for other Hartford branches as well as the individuals who work, live, learn and play here!  Have you seen this great promo reel for HPL?  A place like no other:
What I am most excited about (though there are many reasons to love this place) is the FREE Salsa Social classes held the 3rd Tuesday of every month (next date June 16th at 6pm).  Check out photos taken by the We Love Hartford Project's very own photographer Humans of Hartford:
Open session welcomes dancers of all levels and are free of charge.  Dancing and teaching for over twenty year, Instructor Ray Bermudez shares his passion for salsa at these open dance sessions.  I have marked my calendar and look forward to participating on Tuesday, June 16th at 6pm.
There are other awesome events on the HPL calendar including Art Exhibition, Story Telling Clubs and much more.  In addition to being a tradition library, you can enjoy services such as U.S. passports, Workshops, ESL Classes and The Kitchen at the HPL (Monday-Friday 8-4).  I'm personally a fan of the HPL and have held my monthly Not-So-Typical Autism Support Groups here for two years.  I hope you will visit and take advantage of the wonderful opportunities offered by the Hartford Public Library.
Learn more by visiting the Hartford Public Library located 500 Main Street Street downtown Hartford.  And don't forget to check out the Hartford Public Library feature post on Humans of HartfordHartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!
Sunberry Cafe' is what's new and popping in downtown Hartford.  Situated on Pratt Street with a killer menu, Sunberry Cafe' is the place to be.  This place is owned and operated by a husband and wife team which makes it really unique!  They sat down with me and gave me the scoop of what inspired them to operate in Hartford.
According to the co-owner and wife Kay, Hartford seemed like a great location to explore.  Both she and her husband are originally from New York City and wanted to offer a café with a specialized menu in a growing community.  I asked her what she thought would help her business succeed and continue to grow in Hartford, to which she replied that "word of mouth" advertising is always best.
They're opened on weekends and offer an awesome breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert menu.  Customers can dine in or takeout.

They offer my (now) absolute favorite berry blend smoothie and ginger lemon tea!  Here's to great success and prosperity at Sunberry Cafe'! Let me know your take on them :)
Learn more by visiting Sunberry Café 65 Pratt Street downtown Hartford.  And don't forget to check out the Sunberry Café feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!
This week the We Hartford Project is highlighting a hidden gem that represents the arts in Hartford. Learn more about Eric Benkiki and his small works EBK Gallery. 
Hartford Girl: Why did you start EBK Gallery
Eric: I've been producing exhibits for some time now as EBK Gallery. In March of 2014, I was able to rent a perfect little space in downtown Hartford on Pearl Street to set up as a small gallery.  I call it EBK Gallery [small works].  I've had this particular idea for a while and was incredibly fortunate to find a space that matched what I think is a unique model. There is this traditional model of gallery shows that I think hasn't adapted to today's times. 

What if you can bring the pace of how long gallery shows last closer to the pace of how we get most of our visual information i.e. websites, email, social networks, streaming platforms and such. The "pop up" concept of doing things (which I have done many) are to me art events.  But galleries, exhibits, museums, and all of that, are arts infrastructure.  It’s infrastructure that has difficulty accommodating the volume of incredible art being produced.  

What’s new and different is the exhibit rotation is on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule.  Since last March I have done 35 small, solo-artist exhibitions. This new gallery space is perfectly suited for presenting contemporary artwork in a really approachable way. The available work shown is also an introduction to each artist’s ongoing body of work.  When each show is installed, the web page for that particular exhibit goes live and stays live indefinitely. What this does is make the "bricks and mortar space" and the "digital web space" integrated and dependent upon each other, having substance, content, and accessibility. So this link, [small works] gallery is a page of links to each exhibit one can view in full.

Right now, I have shows on a two-week rotation (they were weekly for a bit) with the art receptions occurring in the middle of the show on Saturday evening.  So every other Saturday, I host an old school art reception and try to sell some art. Every show I choose, I can't wait to set up because the work these artists produce is just amazing.

Hartford Girl: What is your biggest challenge with running EBK Gallery?
Eric: Biggest challenge?...Showing and selling Art in this region outside of the traditional venues such as museums, university galleries and other non-profit orgs. There hasn't been a downtown commerce based, independent art gallery showing contemporary art for a long time. Because of that it will take some time to become more visible to people who have a passion to buy art and also collect it. Hmm...another biggest challenge is doing this with a staff of one/me. A challenge I really really enjoy by the way.
Hartford Girl: Why did you choose Hartford as your home for EBK Gallery?
Eric: About a year and a half ago I moved my Picture Framing and Art Services biz ( West Hartford to Park St in Hartford. The art dealing is a separate beast altogether and a logical place for me to think about where a gallery should be is in an urban downtown setting. Cities have galleries. They're supposed to have galleries. Right?
Learn more by visiting EBK Gallery on their website here.  And don't forget to check out the EBK Gallery feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!
The "Hartford Girl"
This week the We Hartford Project is highlighting a talented, dynamic duo!  Brothers Gary and Michael are the owners of Fourteen G Photography Studios.
Hartford Girl: Why did you start Fourteen G?
Gary: Fourteen G was started a little over three years ago for a many reasons.  One of the main reasons we decided to go into business for ourselves is because both my brother and I previously worked for larger companies in the past.  We have always felt that these companies put a limit on our growth and creativity.  The types of projects we were assigned were not always the most exciting and we’ve always felt that we could do more.  In our spare time we would help out our friends and family with graphic and programming work.  It was a very rewarding process to see a project through from beginning to end and genuinely help someone.  We both have degrees in technology.  I have a degree in computer science and Michael has a degree in graphic design.  When the opportunity presented itself, we decided to make the jump from employee to entrepreneur.  We wanted to use our technical skills to help businesses with their graphic and web design work.  We have since expanded to include operating a photography studio that we use for projects and rent out to clients.  Networking with all of the different entrepreneurs and business owners in this area is one of the biggest perks of our job.  Hartford is a growing market for small business and we are happy to be a part of it. 

Hartford Girl: What is your biggest challenge with running Fourteen G?
Gary: Our biggest challenge with running Fourteen G is probably not that different from any other company out there.  We are always looking for ways to find new business.  The methods to get your company’s message out to prospective clients is forever evolving.  At the moment we are a team of two, so balancing existing work with going out to find new business is a huge challenge.  We found that one of the most effective ways to get quality referrals is to network and build quality relationships with other businesses.  Small business especially relies on its community and reputation for survival.  We are trying to establish a good relationship in this community by being honest and delivering a quality service.
Gary: I think Hartford is a market with an enormous amount of opportunity for small business.  I’ve lived in and around Hartford my entire life and I think that the Hartford area is a great place to live and run a business.  In my opinion, there are not too many dominant players in most industries in Hartford, which provides a unique opportunity for new businesses to grow and seize the market.  You also have fast and easy access to neighboring cities and states with minimal traffic.  One thing that has pleasantly surprised us is the number of entrepreneurs in this area.  We hope to work with as many of them as we can and be a part of their businesses development.

Learn more by visiting Fourteen G on their website here.  And don't forget to check out the Fourteen G feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!
The "Hartford Girl"
The We Love Hartford spotlight is on Toasted- a modern “sandwich revolution” with a vision to enhance the way America eats sandwiches! The Toasted truck is one of my favorites to visit during Spring and Summer festivities in Bushnell Park. I am thrilled to share they are nestled in a new home right in the heart of downtown Hartford!
Hartford Girl: Why did you start Toasted?

Debra: We chose to start Toasted because we felt there was a need in the quick service restaurant industry for a new sandwich concept.  There are many others out there, but none quite like Toasted.  We are revolutionizing the sandwich industry by the way we create our signature sandwiches and the variety of what we serve. 
Hartford Girl: Why did you choose Hartford as the home for Toasted?
Debra: We chose Hartford as our launch city for our concept because I am born and raised in West Hartford and had always gone to Hartford as a child to experience the cultural things that it had to offer.  I believe in the city's future and know that Toasted will revolutionize the way Hartford eats sandwiches!  I also worked at the Hartford Culinary Arts Academy as the Director and became very involved with many youth organizations in Hartford.  As a Hartford based company, we employ mostly Hartford residents and some of my former students.  Economic growth and job creation is key to the success of the city and my vision for Toasted is that we can be a part of that process. 

Hartford Girl: What is your biggest challenge with running Toasted?

Debra: One of the biggest challenges since we opened the Toasted storefront has been the weather!  We depend on foot traffic to drive our daily sales and when the weather is bad it definitely hinders people from venturing out.  We need to get the word out that we offer catering services and delivery (to local businesses for small deliveries) and that customers can also reach us via the sky bridge from Cityplace.  Another challenge is the weekend business.  We are open on Saturdays and hope that other local businesses will follow trend and create a weekend environment downtown.  We already have seen an increase in the weekend business from the support of the Downtown dwellers and events going on at the XL center. 

Learn more by visiting Toasted on their website here, in the Hartford Girl black book here. And don't forget to check out the Toasted feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!

I hope to see you in new Toasted location (or at their awesome Toasted truck) soon!  

-Carmen "Hartford Girl" Veal
Learn more about the We Love Hartford Project created by three lovers' of Hartford: Humans of Hartford, Love Hartford & Hartford Girl, here!
I am honored to feature another gem in Hartford that is owned by a colleague and friend, Myeicka Gittens. The Suite Spot Nail Lounge & Boutique is a hip, lounge style nail salon located in Hartford CT.
HG: Why did you start the Suite Spot?

Myeicka: I worked in customer service/sales field for over 12 years and when I went to the nail salon, I felt I was spending my money on place that didn’t cater to me. Their customer. Although I would leave with a great manicure it was at a cost. I sat in uncomfortable fold up chairs, breathed in strong acrylic fumes, and if I came with a friend…if we didn’t get the same service, you could forget catching up, because we’d be in a separate room.  I decided to look for a place that was chic and socially oriented, where friends could hang out and get a quality manicure at an affordable rate. (wine would be a plus!) I was also seeking a healthier option to the walk in salons because I believe you shouldn’t have to breathe in potentially harmful chemicals just to look good. When I couldn’t find one, The Suite Spot was born.
HG: Why did you choose Hartford?

Myeicka: I was born and raised in Hartford and so it has a special place in my heart. When I was younger my uncle, who is a former NBA player use to run his basketball camps in the summer in Sands Apartments (where I lived) and donated free turkeys for Thanksgiving and I remembered how proud I was to be a small part of that. Looking back it meant a lot to the community. This is the reason why The Suite Spot is so involved in our community and why Hartford is still important to me now.
HG: What is your greatest challenge with running the Suite Spot in Hartford?

Myeicka: In other towns, there are a variety of green and eco – conscious nails salons. In Hartford there is an abundance of walk-in nail salons on every corner and all offer acrylic services. Deciding to base The Suite Spot (which is a natural nail salon who does not offer acrylic services or artificial nails) in Hartford meant to create my own customer base from scratch. It wouldn’t be as easy as putting up a sign that says “We do nails” because now we have to educate our customers about who we are and the value of our service. We’re more than nails and your health is important to us. We offer a great experience on top of superior customer service and quality nail care. We’re perfect for small groups to have private parties, for Girls Night Out, or just because. Our mission is to raise the bar on your expectations at the nails salon…not the price tag.

Hartford residents and visitors can enjoy a buy one get one 50% manicure special at Suite Spot Nail Lounge by using code "We Love Hartford"! Learn more by visiting the Suite Spot Nail Lounge website here, in the Hartford Girl black book here or just stop in. And don't forget to check out Suite Spot Nail Lounge feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!

I hope to see you in beautiful Suite Spot Nail Lounge location soon!  

-Carmen "Hartford Girl" Veal

Learn more about the We Love Hartford Project created by three lovers' of Hartford: Humans of Hartford, Love Hartford & Hartford Girl, here!
I have had the pleasure of working with the lovely ladies of another not-so-hidden gem in Downtown Hartford. Rory is one part owner of Hartford Prints!, which is a one–of-a-kind place that plays an intimate role in the Hartford community.
Hartford Girl: Can you share the history of Hartford Prints!?
Rory: Hartford Prints! is an urban goods brand that is all about handmade and homegrown love. Addy (Older Sister), Callie (Middle Sister), and Rory (Younger Sister) joined forces in 2012 to create letterpress stationery that is modern and fun. Very quickly, our printing prowess, killer style, and graphic genius grew our family. Today, at Hartford Prints! you can shop for stunning wedding invitations, offbeat greeting cards, unique streetwear, and one-of-a-kind gifts. And with the opening of our flagship store in downtown Hartford in 2013, Hartford Prints! embraces the idea that a company can both make and do good things. We strive to be an active space, using the power of our press to create positive vibes about our local community. Come visit us, we think you’ll want to be part of the fam too!
Hartford Girl: What is your greatest challenge with operating Hartford Prints! in Hartford?
Rory: Running a business is hard, especially a small business. Our biggest challenge has been hiring and finding a pool of talent that's committed to our mission. Since we're in the early stages of growth we're looking for team members that are ready roll up their sleeves, work hard and become a part of our growing family. The other challenge comes from landlords and the inflated price of rents in downtown Hartford. With all the vacant retail in downtown Hartford we would hope that landlords would be open to negotiating rents and keep costs at affordable rates. 

Hartford residents and visitors can enjoy a 10% off discount at Hartford Prints! by using code "Hartford has it"! Learn more by visiting the Hartford Prints! website here, in the Hartford Girl black book here or just stop in. And don't forget to check out Hartford Prints! feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts!

I hope to see you in beautiful Hartford Prints! Pratt Street location soon!  

-Carmen "Hartford Girl" Veal

Learn more about the
We Love Hartford Project created by three lovers' of Hartford:
Humans of Hartford, Love Hartford & Hartford Girl,

It was such an honor and  privilege to get to know Phyllis and Teresa during our meeting!  Beautiful souls that are down to earth and dedicated to continuing Fran’s legacy.  I also had the pleasure of having a wonderful lunch prepared by Phyllis and Teresa.
Photo taken by Humans of Hartford
Hartford Girl: How was City Fare Catering created?

Phyllis + Teresa: City Fare Catering was started by Franseca Reale.  Fran, along with her sister, Phyllis Reale Risley and, Teresa Preziosi, opened City Fare in Hartford’s South Green Neighborhood in 1988.  Subsequently, Fran founded and served as Creative Director of the Children’s Culinary Institute of Connecticut in 1992.  In January 2011, we lost Fran to breast cancer. Today we offer catering and private dining (forty max in our store front location).  City Fare continues to give back through fundraisers, donations, children culinary classes, and volunteer work.  We take pride in our community and are always looking for new avenues to keep ourselves “busy.”
Photo taken by Humans of Hartford
Hartford Girl: Why did you choose Hartford?

Phyllis + Teresa: Fran loved Hartford!  We’ve been in this very location for the past 26 years. Our hope is to continue Fran’s legacy by sharing her love of cooking and community involvement within the Hartford community.  City Fare has such a great space. It’s just a struggle now. We hear it time and time again that  people do not want to come into Hartford for various reasons.  We would love to do meals to go again, but it’s just location, location, location! 

Photo taken by Humans of Hartford
Hartford Girl: What is your biggest challenge with running City Fare Catering in Hartford?

Phyllis + Teresa: Culturally for music and arts, nothing happened in Boston or New York unless it happened in Hartford. It was like if it happened and survived in Hartford, it could happen and survive anywhere. Things are no longer the same. When Fran had the meals to go, Hartford was definitely alive!   There was foot traffic from doctors from Hartford Hospital, attorneys and judges. It would be wonderful if we had a second location for foods to go.  That would sustain our catering business. 
Photo taken by Humans of Hartford

 I’m looking forward to planning a group cooking class in their amazing kitchen and hope to see you there soon!  If you are interested in booking a cooking class with City Fare, check out details here:.

You can support City Fare Catering by hiring them to cater your special event or by taking a group cooking class with Phyllis and Teresa! The two hour hands on cooking class will begin on weekdays between 5:30-6pm and end after dinner about 9:30pm. Classes include light hors d'oeuvres and a hands on pasta and fresh marinara cooking class followed by dinner, dessert and coffee. Dinner will include the pasta and marinara sauce (or optional vegetarian sauce), salad, house made tuscan white bread and dessert. Price per person is $75 without tax and gratuity. 

Check out City Fare Catering black book listing here to book your class. And don't forget to check out City Fare Caterings feature post on Humans of Hartford, Hartford Girl and the Love Hartford Instagram accounts.

-Carmen "Hartford Girl" Veal

Learn more about the We Love Hartford Project created by three lovers' of Hartford:
Humans of Hartford, Love Hartford & Hartford Girl, here!an