Hartford Organizations Collaborate to Create Unique Experiential Dining Experiences
Lumi Agency and weHartford Founder Melissa Melonson loves supporting Hartford, from its restaurants and theaters to its local parks and historic buildings. She’s also passionate about creating innovative experiences. With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting many local businesses, Melissa was determined to collaborate and create new ways to boost fun and help Hartford’s economy. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Melissa about some of those projects.
NAN PRICE: You’ve helped develop several ideas to bring people to downtown Hartford over the last few months.
MELISSA MELONSON: Yes! It’s important to me because I want to help people gather safely and see the community come together again. After being stuck inside all winter and spring, I knew that if we used a little bit of imagination and innovation, we could still bring people together. That’s how the idea for Picnic in the Park began. So many people were looking for ways to help support businesses that have been struggling downtown, I knew we could work together to find a way to bring everyone together safely.
I got together with Hartford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Julio Concepcion and Bushnell Park Foundation Manager Mary Zeman to brainstorm the idea I had for a public picnic to give people something unique and fun to do in Bushnell Park, which is such a great asset for the community. And I wanted to partner with local restaurants to give them some much-needed attention.
Everyone loved the idea, but we had a couple of barriers to get it off the ground. Given that it was the first larger-scale event to happen in Hartford since the pandemic, the city didn’t quite know what to do with it. Luckily, we were able to get it approved and passed through as a permitted event with a lot of careful thinking in terms of safety and guidelines to ensure we provided a safe environment for everyone.
We partnered with the Hartford Yard Goats, which created these 16-foot social circles. We got to support some local musicians, too. A different local musician performed at each of the Picnic in the Park events. We had nearly 1,000 attendees at six events. We successfully created a safe area for everyone to enjoy and the restaurants and community really benefited.
When those events were over, I immediately started thinking: What can we do next? The weather was getting colder. But I knew if we put our heads together and started collaborating with some other organizations and businesses downtown, we could come up with some ideas that would work for the winter, too.
NAN: Tell us about what you’ve been working on.
MELISSA: Lumi and weHartford partnered with Hartford Chamber of Commerce and TheaterWorks for a virtual series called Dinner & A Show – Hartford At Home, which took place at the end of December. The idea was to take a Hartford holiday tradition we know and love and package it up in a way where people can enjoy it safely from home.
TheaterWorks had been streaming its production of “Christmas On The Rocks,” so we paired a discounted ticket price for the show with a holiday-themed meal curated by one of four downtown restaurant partners, Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, Republic at the Linden, Salute, and Vaughn’s Irish Public House. It was a great way to support Hartford with a Hartford-themed dining and entertainment experience.
NAN: You’ve also got an exciting experience you’re rolling out in January.
MELISSA: I’ve always loved that little Pearl Street neighborhood—there’s the Goodwin Hotel, Terreno Restaurant, and TheaterWorks. I started thinking about a way to combine some of these things. I’ve seen Chef Tyler Anderson and TheaterWorks creating magic on their own with Chef Anderson creating dining solutions at his other restaurants and TheaterWorks continuing a full schedule through this winter. So, obviously they’ve been able to innovate and think and pivot.
With Terreno temporarily closed, I approached Chef Anderson and Theaterworks and asked if we could work together to create a progressive dining experience. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, which is why I wanted to bring all the genius together and see what we come up with.
And as we started talking, the idea came together. Chef Anderson noted that the hotel is very slow right now and suggested taking over 21 hotel rooms and converting them into private dining spaces—so we can keep the experience COVID-19 safe. That’s where the Room Service at The Goodwin idea came out. We decided to pair a three-course chef’s dinner from Chef Anderson with a mystery room/dinner theater progressive dining experience called Yes-or-No-Morgan, which launches January 8. There’s also a discounted rate for those who want to stay overnight at the Goodwin Hotel.
It was definitely a joint collaboration and it’s going to be very unique. We did some research and we haven’t been able to find anything else like it at other hotels. I’m really excited to see how it all plays out and what people think of it.
NAN: It seems like the creativity will keep flowing into 2021! What’s next?
MELISSA: Right now, these things are pilots, but I hope to evolve the concepts. With the mystery room/dinner theater experience, perhaps we can create additional stories. With the Dinner & A Show idea, if we see success in December, we definitely want to continue to pair the TheaterWorks productions with Hartford restaurants. The restaurants are struggling so badly right now, so, we’re collaborating to come up with creative ways to encourage more people to get takeout and enjoy Hartford safely.