story & photos by Alexis Ann
The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce rolled out the red carpet on June 21 for honorees, Paul Donahue, Citizen of the Year and Joe Cugini, Key Award recipient at its annual membership banquet. Venice Restaurant was the perfect venue to host this extraordinary event on a gorgeous first day of summer.
The cocktail reception featured live music by The Westminister Youth String Ensemble outside on the terrace where all enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres to complement one’s favorite libation. The evening was a #10 weather-wise. The gentle whispering of cool breezes off the near-by mighty Atlantic was a welcomed addition. Inside the lounge area, people bustled about the silent auction making sure to keep an eye on their coveted items donated by an array of local businesses.
This event, a favorite ‘sell-out’ for the Chamber every year, acts as an official preamble to summer especially for our ‘snow birds’ just returning from sunnier states. For our seasonal business owners, it’s a time to renew acquaintances and discuss predictions for an upcoming bountiful summer season. You can feel the excitement in the air and the roar of laughter increases as the bartenders become more and more popular!
Soon, the crowd of 230 is guided upstairs via stairway and elevator to the Renaissance Ballroom. The round tables of ten are linened and decorated with fresh flower centerpieces. Lisa’s team, Ocean Chamber staff Erica Agnello, Administrative Assistant, Lou Martocchio, Events Manager, Maria DiMaggio, Membership & Operations Director, and Angie Smith, Board Member and Great Escape Auction chair person, have this event organized to the max. Our choices were chicken or salmon as indicated on our name cards.
Everyone is seated and Bruce Morrow, general manager of Valenti Subaru and Chairman of the Chamber’s Board, welcomes all and introduces Eddie Morrone, emcee. After the introduction of current board members and recognition of those completing service, installation of new board members, including Kerin DaCruz, L&M Hospital, Jim Traskos, Traskos Manufacturing Co., Alexis Ann, The Resident, and John Allen, Ivory Ella; and new executive board members, including Bruce, as chairman, Beth Frenette, Washington Trust Co., First Vice Chair, Jen Brinton, Grew Sail Brewing of Rhode Island, Grey Sail Tap Room, Second Vice Chair, Mike Benevides, Benevides & Turano, LLC, CPA’s & Business Advisors, Treasurer, Maria Allen, Bella Vita, Secretary, and Angela Thoman, Paddy Beach Club, Past Chairwoman, are called to the front of the room for a photo op.
The effervescent Lisa Konicki, Chamber president for the past 20 years, officiates the year-end report and the pro auctioneer extraordinaire Dan Stanavage begins and we all remember another reason why we’re here—to raise monies for this worthwhile organization that acts as a catalyst for increased value to the Westerly-Pawcatuck and two-state region.
Key Award recipient Joe Cugini is announced. This award was established to honor those whose selfless actions have helped the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce achieve its mission. If you know Joe Cugini, you know that he is dedicated to serving the Chamber and this community. He served as president of the Westerly Community Credit Union for 40 years and began his chamber affiliation working on the Town of Westerly Tercentenary. Joe always takes great pride in supporting community programs. Behind the scenes he continues to be a source of advice and guidance to the Chamber and those who ask. He will serve on a committee with the Chamber to help plan events for the Town of Westerly’s 350th Anniversary in 2019.
Citizen of the Year 2017 is Paul Donahue, owner of Westerly Paints. If you know Paul, you know he’s an Olympian for giving to his community.
As spoken, “Paul is a true gentleman, a generous non-profit supporter and loyal community advocate. While exhibiting an incredible work ethic running a successful business, he stays engaged with the everyday challenges and opportunities faced by his beloved Town of Westerly.”
Paul champions our community image with contractors, customers, and national companies with whom he conducts business. “We cannot imagine a more humble citizen yet a more consistently engaged citizen than Paul Donahue. He is an incredible volunteer, but even more important, an extraordinary human being. The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce is deeply proud to honor Paul Donahue as its 2017 Citizen of the Year.
by Karen Koerner
True to his word, Guy Fieri stopped in for a visit to his Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Restaurant Kitchen and Bar June 1, to talk food, demonstrate how to unmold his famous “Trash Can Nachos,” and to visit with friends at Foxwoods Casino Restaurant.
First the food. As guests watched, Guy carefully finessed a mold from layers of nacho chips, cheese, onions, hot peppers and more, leaving a crispy, cheesy stack of nachos where every bite is delicious. He joked with Lena Sternburg, a nearby Food Instagrammer, that she had to eat it all. “I’ll be back in five minutes,” he said. “They’re really good!” Lena exclaimed.
Guy, famous for visiting down-to-earth eateries around the country in his popular show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” was diplomatic when asked to recommend restaurants. “It’s impossible,” he said, but then got serious. “Go and look,” he said, advising the group around him to experiment with all types of restaurants and foods.
Conversation soon turned to one of Guy’s favorite topics: the Best Buddies program, which is the world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Guy Fieri’s Foxwoods Restaurant Kitchen and Bar employees Best Buddies to give these people with IDD a chance to be a productive part of society. For Guy, it’s a personal commitment.
“I had a cousin with an intellectual disability,” he explained. “I have first-hand understanding of how misunderstood people with intellectual disabilities are.” Guy supports the Best Buddies fundraising efforts and loves spreading the word about the charity. “When you work hand-in-hand with the Buddies you get to see their energy and sense their involvement,” he said.
Guy was in New England to participate in the Best Buddies Challenge weekend at Harvard Stadium in Massachusetts. During the June 2 kickoff of the event, Foxwoods presented a donation of $100,000 to the charity.
This is Guy’s first visit back to his restaurant since the ribbon cutting ceremony last fall. He took a quick tour with Felix Rappaport, President and CEO, Foxwoods Casino and Guy’s long-time friend, checking out the changes in the stylish eatery since he was last here.
Guy’s Foxwoods eatery features his famously big burgers, crab fondue, explosively-flavored entres, spectacular drinks and more. It’s everything you would expect from a visit to Flavortown.