Governor, others celebrate TC reopening milestones, resilience at local press conference
State, federal and local officials all gathered in Sandy Hook last Friday afternoon, where they celebrated the successful launch of a small business during a pandemic, another step for the state towards full reopening and a milestone national level that was reached before the planned date.
Governor Ned Lamont, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and US Senator Richard Blumenthal were greeted by Aquila’s Nest co-owners Neviana Zhgaba and Ardian Llomi for an afternoon press conference at their Sandy Hook winery. The March 19 event also shed light on local business partnerships that have already formed since the Albanian couple opened their Pole Bridge Road vineyard in October.
Zhgaba and Llomi also hosted state officials Raghib Allie-Brennan and Mitch Bolinsky; David Lehman, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; Bryan Hurlburt, commissioner, Connecticut Department of Agriculture; Rosemary Bove, regional industrial outreach manager, Connecticut Department of Tourism; Andrea Gartner, Board Member, Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut; Briggs Tobin, Chairman of the Board, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation; and Charles Mallory, CEO and Founder, Greenwich Hospitality Group.
The owners of the vineyard have lit a fire in the wood-burning stove inside the interior visitation space and refreshments for their guests upon arrival.
Just five months after they opened, the couple were excited, they said The Newtown Bee, to welcome the group of officials. They had a very good first season, they said.
“We stayed open all winter,” Zhgaba said. “We didn’t expect to be able to do it, but we had a lot of people who wanted to come here and enjoy the fireplaces and the view. They came even in the middle of the snow.
“We shoveled paths to the homes,” she added, laughing. “We are really looking forward to warmer weather. “
The couple partnered with a few local businesses, some of which were also part of Friday’s event. John Boccuzzi, co-owner of BD Provisions; Loree Ogan, of Loree’s Kitchen; and Melissa’s Flowers employees were among those who attended last week’s event.
“We have teamed up with other businesses in Newtown,” Zhgaba said, “which attracted more people here”.
Zhgaba and Llomi gave the invited officials a private behind-the-scenes tour of the vineyard work area. They then led the party outside, where other friends and supporters awaited the press conference.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal joked about the size of the rally, saying “it looked like they brought the entire Hartford contingent here.”
Governor Lamont congratulated the hosts on their openness. He noted that Aquila’s Vineyard was one of several businesses that opened in the state last year.
“More new businesses started up last year than in previous years,” he said.
The governor also complimented the couple’s business plan, saying he liked “that you did this yourselves, with farmland”.
Bysiewicz said it was exciting to celebrate a recently owned business, a business jointly owned by a woman, “especially during Women’s History Month.”
The Lieutenant Governor was the first to point out that the owners of the vineyard “had the courage to open a business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has had a terrible and devastating impact on our economy,” she added. “But at the same time, we’ve seen some very courageous business owners step into a time of challenge and open a new business.”
Bysiewicz said Zhgana and Llomi have created “a beautiful destination, a place where people can gather safely.”
She looks forward, she said, to new business openings as the state continues to lift COVID restrictions.
Blumenthal pointed out that the country had taken a step forward this afternoon, in that 100 million COVID-19 vaccines were “put in people’s arms.” President Joe Biden set a goal of reaching that number by his 100th day in office. The goal was achieved, Blumenthal pointed out, on day 58.
“We are at the cutting edge of making America safe,” the senator noted. “Today is very special.”
Connecticut continues to lead the curve, he said, in terms of safety and vaccination rates.
“It means more people will go to restaurants, visit retailers, all the public places that we missed,” he said.
“But here is the brutal truth,” he added. “We have no reason to be complacent. We are in a race against time and new infections. To be truly safe, everyone needs to be vaccinated.
Small businesses have received loans and grants, and will continue to do so, the senator also said. He announced that Aquila’s Nest had already benefited from some, including a loan of $ 125,000 for equipment and a loan of $ 3,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program.
The business, he said, is among those now eligible for help from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. This program will bring $ 28.8 billion to the state, he later added.
“It’s a billion, with a B,” he repeated.
The senator also praised Zhgana and Llomi for their efforts and what they have already accomplished.
“I’m not a drinker, I admit it, but I’ll be back here,” he said. “This place is exquisitely beautiful.”
Blumenthal said: “Today is a monumental day. It’s a ray of hope amid the sadness and heartbreak, and justified anger over what happened this week in Atlanta. “
Although it was very cold and windy on Friday, the senator told those gathered that “spring is definitely coming. Today is a day to celebrate a wonderful opening of a family business. Many families will celebrate here, for many years to come. I am really proud to be here today.
Rosenthal said the awareness already seen by Aquila’s Nest is what Newtown is.
“The residents have always cared for each other, and the community has looked after each other,” he said. “I knew Neviana and Ardian would quickly find their way into the fabric of this community. It’s great to see how they have worked with and in the business community.
When she spent a few minutes on the microphone, Zhgana shared part of her family’s background. She also recalled that opening up during the pandemic posed challenges.
“It also allowed us to change our goals and commit to them even more,” she said.
She and her husband, she said, “are so proud to be a part of the Newtown community.”
Working with local businesses, she said, “will allow this corner of Fairfield County to continue to grow.”
Lehman made brief remarks, saying in part that “reopening the state today and continuing vaccines is key to everything.” He praised Zhgana and Llomi for demonstrating that “small businesses are resilient”.
Hurlburt agreed, saying “a lot of provisions in our economy are reopening.”
He’s excited, he said, “and looking forward to doing a lot more of these celebratory events.”
Per Bove, a recent Tourism Board survey indicated that eight out of nine Americans are willing to travel again and that 63% of those surveyed are “very comfortable” with outdoor events, especially fairs. , carnivals, concerts and other similar gatherings. She said she can’t wait to add the Sandy Hook Vineyard to the Connecticut Wine Trail.
Bolinsky said the word that best describes the new venture is “inspiration”.
“Not only did they open during a pandemic, but they did so with a bang,” he said. “This installation is what Newtown is: resilience, neighbors, excitement. “
Allie-Brennan applauded Zhgana and Llomi for their wit and hard work.
“As the son of an immigrant, I understand the sacrifices you have made for your family,” he told them. “I congratulate you on this beautiful place.
Telling them that he is looking forward to “Ubering here with my friends”, he turned around and offered Zhgana and Llomi “Brohoritje” or “Cheers” in Albanian.
Governor Ned Lamont provides an update during a press conference at Aquila’s Nest Vineyard last Friday afternoon. The March 19 event celebrated small businesses, women-owned businesses and another set of relaxed pandemic guidelines. Among those present at the press conference, behind the governor, were US Senator Richard Blumenthal, vineyard owners Ardian Llomi and Neviana Zhgaba, CT Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt and first Selectman Dan Rosenthal . —Bee photo, Hicks
Opening their business during a pandemic has been a challenge, residents of Sandy Hook and Aquila’s Nest Vineyards co-owners Neviana Zhgaba and Ardian Llomi said on Friday afternoon. Zhgaba, at the microphone, said that she and her husband were able to adapt, which made their dream of opening the vineyard come true. —Bee photo, Hicks
Lt. Susan Bysiewicz said on March 19 that the vigilance of so many Connecticut residents to maintain COVID-19 restrictions over the past year “allows us to begin lifting more guidelines. We look forward to more successful business launches, ”she said on Friday afternoon. —Bee photo, Hicks
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, left, and BD Provisions co-owner John Boccuzzi, Jr, spoke in the vineyard’s staging area before stepping out for Friday afternoon’s press conference. —Bee photo, Hicks
Governor Ned Lamont listens as Neviana Zhgaba, co-owner of Aquila’s Nest Vineyard, speaks with him shortly after the governor’s arrival at Sandy Hook for a press conference and reception on Friday, March 19. In the center is the Commissioner of the Ministry of Agriculture. Bryan Hurlburt. —Bee photo, Hicks