John Palino is hosting and working the espresso machine. He's entertaining a single guest, yet takes the time to ground fresh coffee beans for the perfect scoop. He doesn't relegate the task to any of the workers bustling around and preparing for opening day. He doens't mind being host.
Co-creator and host of New Zealand series The Kitchen Job, which pre-dates even Kitchen Impossible, Palino has been in the restaurant and hospitality business since he was 13, he told Patch. The care and passion he's developed for the business in that time is evident when he hands off the drink he's created.
"This is a 'long black,'" Palino said. "It's what we called it down under. I've been living in New Zealand for the last 17 years. Then a friend introduced me to Joe Grasso. This friend knew he and I were looking to accomplish the same type of vision somewhere around New York and put us in touch."
This Saturday, Palino brings a little bit of European flavor right to the heart of Norwalk's Wilson Cove with the official debut of the SoNo Marketplace. It's a project that's received a lot of buzz throughout Fairfield County, despite a few false starts in August and October as crews continued to strive for perfection prior to opening.
"I met Joe last August and, for the next seven months, we were designing and planning over phone calls before I came over," Palino said. "We came here and looked at this space. All around the world, there's a movement to take these industrial spaces and create amazing communities within them."
That sense of community carries over to the shop owners as well. The market features more than 45 shops lining its open halls, with businesses ranging from big-name draws like Chocopologie to local names and styles like Wilton-based boutique Blue Star Bazaar run by Megan LaBant Abrahamsen or Stephanie Sullivan's Surreal, which represents art, furniture and nautical-themed items from a group of artists in Rhode Island.
"This is my first time with a physical location and I'm extremely excited," said Sullivan, who grew up in Norwalk and Ridgefield. "It's so fun that there's so many of us here doing it for the first time, together. I've met so many people, making business relationships and friendships. There's a mix of experience here, and those further along helping us who are just learning."
Some of those more experienced shopkeepers include Harry Ruffletti and Louis Polodioro. They are the proprietors of Wise Guys Pizza, which has a large space near the front of the market. They were in their shop Tuesday getting ready for the grand opening, but still finding time to cook up some lunch for all the other shop owners and laborers helping get the place ready.
Ruffletti has been operating Harry's Pizza in West Hartford for the last 17 years. Polodioro was the banquet manager for the Italian Center in Stamford for 15 years. He's also managed several restaurants in the city.
"This is down home Italian cooking you get at grandma's house," said Polodioro. "These recipes were all my grandmother's. This wasn't something hard to do. I love feeding people. It's not a job, it's something I love doing."
"We have really, really good food here," Ruffletti agreed. "Both at this spot and all the others in the market. [Getting ready to open at the SoNo Marketplace is not a scary endeavor because we've done it before], but it's not old hat either. It's a lot of difficult work."
The grand opening event will serve as the highlight of the marketplace's Holiday Arts and Craftsman Show, which will take place from Friday, Nov. 30, to Sunday, Dec. 2. In attendance will be Mayor Richard Moccia, Sen. Bob Duff and Santa Claus.
The show is currently scheduled to be a recurring event every weekend from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The marketplace itself will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wed., Thurs. and Fri., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sun. for the duration of the holiday season. Regular business hours will eventually become Fri. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The SoNo Marketplace is located at 314 Wilson Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854. There is a parking lot available.