By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – The Crown Market is heading into 2020 with two new co-managers and a slew of new food products. The West Hartford shop’s New Year’s resolution: Bring in more shoppers.
Jay Dollinger and Andrea Gussak have been named Crown’s new co-managers, replacing Jeff Ingber, who managed the store for the past two years.
“Whenever there is a change in management there is always a new – for lack of a better word – ‘personality’ that goes into the way things are done,” Dollinger says. “We are very busy working on employee morale and their interactions with the customers. We want to make the store much more product- and customer-focused, and so far so good.”
Both Dollinger and Gussak may be new to the manager’s post, but they’re well acquainted with The Crown Market.
Dollinger joined the Crown in 2012 as customer service supervisor, and has since as catering manager and IT manager.
In early 2019, Andrea Gussak joined the Crown team to head up operation of the store’s kosher kitchen. She brought with her a legacy of kosher cooking: For more than 30 years she worked at Margery Gussak Catering, the long-time kosher catering company operated by her mother.
Now Dollinger and Gussak are co-managing the entire operation.
“We have open and honest communication with each other, and bounce ideas off one another. We both have authority over everything here, but on a day-to-day basis he is doing more of the financial side of things and I’m doing the culinary side of things – catering and kitchen and deli and all of that,” Gussak said.
Dollinger said his responsibilities are “making sure customers are fully served, which is our biggest goal; making sure we have the right merchandise; coordinating all the department managers with regard to seasonal merchandise, and the cleanliness and appearance of the store in general; helping to bring in new products; working with Andrea on new food ideas; and controlling our costs.”
Over the past year, Gussak, who also acts as culinary director, has been busy creating new menu items.
“All of the new products that Andrea has been putting in the 5 O’Clock Shop, as well as the ‘Grab and Go’ section, are being greeted with cheers. People are just loving all of her new food,” says Dollinger.
Those new culinary delights include offerings like her chicken and mushroom strudel in a flaky dough, homemade polenta with a mushroom ragu, and Persian-seasoned stuffed boneless chicken thighs.
According to Dollinger, Crown’s popular sushi bar and pizza counter and the store’s Hebrew National section – all added in the past couple of years – have also been a great success.
The Hartford Kashrut Com mission (HKC) continues to certify Crown’s 5 O’Clock Shop (meat, dairy, pareve and salad and soup bar), the fresh fish counter, bakery, butcher shop, sushi and pizza counters and its outside catering.
“It continues to be my pleasure to work with the investors, leadership and staff of the Crown Market to provide our customers from near or far with excellent kosher options that are not only delicious but also conform with international kosher standards,” says Rabbi Tuvia Brander, spiritual leader of Young Israel of West Hartford, who serves as certifying rabbi of Crown.
“I look forward to seeing the Crown’s already robust offerings continue to grow and providing even greater value to the kosher consumer,” he adds.
More culinary offerings are on the way.
For example, Chinese food will be added to the store’s “Grab and Go” section, and they are looking for new recyclable packaging for Grab and Go hot foods that can be microwaved or popped into the oven right in the container.
Dollinger and Gussak expect the addition of new items such as these to increase Crown’s value to local consumers and thereby increase the number of shoppers.
Of course, for many of the market’s faithful customers, Crown is so much more than just a food store. They regard it as a touchstone for the Jewish community.
“The Crown Market is far more than a grocery store stocked with kosher food and Jewish delicacies,” said Rabbi Jim Rosen, spiritual leader of Beth El Temple in West Hartford. “It’s shelves and aisles are filled with Jewish memories and are, to this day, central meeting places where a diverse segment of the community gathers to meet, greet and strengthen relationships.”
Despite its place in the hearts of the local Jewish community, however, in February 2014 it appeared that the West Hartford institution might be forced to close its doors for good due to decreasing shoppers and lagging sales.
That was when a group of 49 investors, led by Jewish community leaders Henry M. Zachs, Alan Lazowski, Brian Newman, Ann Pava, Gayle Temkin, David Gelles, Andy Mandell and Bob Samuels, stepped up to save the beloved kosher supermarket. (Henry Zachs is also owner of Ledger Publications, which includes the Connecticut and Massachusetts Jewish Ledgers.)
In January of 2017, Crown launched a grand reopening of the kosher supermarket to celebrate its redesign and renovation, as well as the addition gluten-free and Israeli products, prepared-food bars, a gourmet cheese counter, and a newly designed produce department offering organic items.
Now, Crown is counting on the community to show their support by becoming steadfast Crown customers.
“Outside of Jerusalem, the Crown Kosher Supermarket is the ‘go-to place’ for delicious kosher takeout, baked goods, salads, pizza, sushi and so much more,” said Rabbi David Small of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford. “Crown Kosher Supermarket is a wonderful resource in the Jewish community.”
“We are grateful to the stores funders who cherish the role the Crown has played in our community,” Rabbi Rosen said. “We would all do well to support it so that it might continue to be a special gem in our midst.”
Main Photo: Andrea Gussak and Jay Dollinger, Crown Market’s new co-managers.