By DAVID KRECHEVSKY, Republican-American
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) _ It was oh, so close, but the Brass City isn’t losing its chocolate factory.
Carmen Romeo, vice president and general manager of Fascia’s Chocolates Inc., told the Republican-American recently that the company has purchased a new location for its chocolate-making operation, which is currently located at 2066 Thomaston Ave. The new location is a vacant building at 44 Chase River Road that formerly was home to Flagship Mailing. Terms of the building purchase were not disclosed.
Fascia’s will occupy the front 12,500 square feet of the 20,000-square-foot building, significantly more room than it has in its current location, Romeo said. He plans to lease the remaining space in the rear, he said.
Finding enough room to house his complete vision for Fascia’s as a unique tourist attraction and party location was one of the key factors that nearly led to a decision to move out of Waterbury, Romeo said.
“That was a very, very good possibility,” he said.
“We were very fortunate,” he continued. “We were able to expand the 3,500 square feet (on Thomaston Avenue) to 7,000 square feet. We took over the space next door to us two years ago, and were able to expand.”
Romeo said the additional space was the “saving grace” that kept the company in the city. “If that hadn’t happened … I was ready to jump,” he said.
Leaving Waterbury would not have been an easy decision, he said, because the family owned business is preparing to mark its 50th year in the city and has become one of its signature icons.
“There were a lot of reasons to leave,” he said. “But our location and our heritage weighed in, and we didn’t want to lose customers.”
Still, the company had to find a new location because its five-year lease at its cramped Thomaston Avenue site expires in August.
“We’re moving in just the nick of time,” Romeo said.
He hopes the building on Chase River Road will be Fascia’s final home.
It was founded by John and Helen Fascia as a part-time business in their home in 1964. The couple then moved the business to a store on Meriden Road in the early 1970s, and about 10 years later moved to a larger location in Laurel Crest Plaza on Wolcott Street. Fascia’s relocated again in 1992 to Industry Lane, but was forced to relocate in September 2008 to its current Thomaston Avenue location when Ocean State Job Lot purchased the Industry Lane building.
John and Helen Fascia are still involved in the company, as are their three daughters–Louise, Lynne and Laurie. Romeo is Louise’s husband.
Fascia’s has big plans for its new home, which sits alongside both a railroad line and the Naugatuck River, where the city is designing a greenway.
Fascia’s wants to become a tourist destination, Romeo said, not just for greenway users but for those traveling to and through the city.
“The tourism piece is new, different and exciting,” he said. “We are planning a much larger factory and showroom, with dedicated party space. Tours, either reserved or walk-in, will happen every other hour. We will take people into the factory–we’re talking hairnets, the whole thing–and give them the option to make a chocolate bar.”
He said the business also plans to add gelato, the Italian ice cream, and sorbet to its signature chocolate confections, something that should also attract greenway users. But the opportunity to actually take part in making a chocolate treat is rare, he said.
“Nobody else is really offering tours, especially with the hands-on aspect, like we will,” he said.
Lynn Ward, president and chief executive officer of the Waterbury Regional Chamber, said Fascia’s decision to stay is “great news” for the city.
“Fascia’s Chocolates decision to relocate within the city means a longtime local company can continue to grow here, and provide new jobs as it does,” Ward said. “That their growth also includes plans to make production a tourism attraction is also very positive for the community.”
In addition to having room for parties and tours, Romeo said, the larger building will also allow Fascia’s to expand its retail partnerships.
“We have over 30 retail partners in Waterbury and throughout Connecticut,” he said. “With more people discovering us through the newly created tourism aspect of our business, we look forward to expanding our current reach, plus adding more gift, floral and supermarket stores as partners in areas we currently do not serve.”
Given all of these plans, Romeo said he expects his staff, which currently has nine employees, to double. He said Fascia’s recently received a grant from the state’s Small Business Express program that was used to add four positions.
The new facility is scheduled to open in mid-September, with an official grand opening weekend planned for Oct. 12 to 14 that will include tours, free samples and raffled prizes.
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com
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