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Brewing a coffee alternative in Fairfield

Fairfielders tired of what Tony Inzero calls the “burnt-tasting” coffee at large chains can avail themselves of a homemade alternative: Inzero’s own Candlewood Market coffee shop.

“We have our own small-batch roaster, and can keep close track of our roasting,” Inzero said at the shop, which opened in December at the Sportsplex@Fairfield on 85 Mill Plain Road. “Coffee is very complex, like wine — but unlike wine, coffee gets worse with age. And it can keep cooking once you’ve taken the tray out of the roaster.”

Purveyors roasting in large batches, he said, run risks with flavor, as it can be difficult to cool the end product at a consistent rate. In addition, old coffee sitting around is subject to “picking up the properties of all the other stuff in the room,” he said.

Harold Fischel, chairman of Fischel Properties and creator of the Sportsplex, said he had sought Inzero out after hearing good things about his Brookfield operation.

“We had a tenant move out, and I thought it would be a good idea to bring a real coffee shop in” to the 125,000-square-foot complex, Fischel said.

“And,” he chuckled, “the coffee here is a lot better” than one can get at places where the java is mass-produced.

Inzero, who grew up in Newtown and operated a similar coffee shop in Sterling, Colorado, called Bean There, returned to the area about 10 years ago, opening Candlewood Roasting Co. near Candlewood Lake in Ridgefield, where he lives. When Fischel pitched him the idea of expanding into Fairfield, he said, “It sounded like a good idea.”

Its coffee — sold by the cup or by bean- or ground-bag — has such whimsical names as Smooth Sailing (medium roast), Deep Waters (dark roast) and Pardon My French (a vanilla-flavored brew). The 1,800-square-foot store also features a Nitro Bar, which serves a variety of cold-brew beverages, including various teas and kombucha — the fermented, sweetened black or green tea drinks that “aren’t really my taste,” Inzero said, “but they sell really well.”

Indeed, business has been steadily growing at the Fairfield location, Inzero said, though its lack of visibility from the road — Candlewood Market is housed behind several of the Sportsplex’s other buildings — is a source of frustration.

Nevertheless, a continuing “work in progress” vibe is helping to build word of mouth, Inzeo said. Those offerings include live music, book readings for children and a host of other activities, as well as outsourced food offerings from various higher-end vendors, including baked goods from Brooklyn’s Colson Patisserie and organic candies from New Milford’s Torie & Howard.

“That kind of stuff adds value, since for the most part you can’t find it anywhere else,” Inzero said. “We want to be a part of the community, like we are in Brookfield, so we’ve put in a chalkboard wall to give little kids something to do while their moms are relaxing here, and I want to put up a bulletin board where people can post announcements.”

Candlewood further distinguishes itself from its Seattle-based competitor, Starbucks, by listing its serving sizes as compact, sedan, and limo.

“I’m Italian, and even I can’t get the hang of (Starbucks’) ‘Venti,’ ‘Grande’ and so on,” he laughed. “One night my kids and I were sitting around trying to think of something besides ‘small, medium and large’ — which makes me think of McDonald’s — and I came up with the car sizes.”

Inzero noted that two of his children, Marie and Tony Jr., work in the Fairfield store as managers, and that most of the four others have expressed interest in putting in hours.

But that will wait until Candlewood Market is fully established, Inzero said. “We have a good base of customers, and we’ll eventually be at the break-even point,” he declared. “I learned in Colorado that turning something like this into something that’s profitable takes some time. We’ll get there.”



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