LaSalle owners look to enhance customer experience, retain eatery’s vibe
Group says venture is also an expansion of supporting disability community
By John Fitts
COLLINSVILLE – The non-profit organization that now owns LaSalle Market & Deli has added features such as a new point of sale system, online ordering, improved WiFi, and engaging social media posts.
And while those at New Britain based CW Resources are excited about other ideas to serve both the disabled community and LaSalle customers, owners say the restaurant’s comfortable atmosphere will remain.
Bill Green, president of the not-for-profit organization that has supported people with disabilities since 1964, considers items such as those listed above as enhancements. The heart of this Collinsville institution will not change, he said.
“We are stewards of this institution now. We’ll add our touches to it but keep LaSalle, LaSalle,” Green said. “There are so many regulars here; it’s their place so that’s why you don’t make too many changes but …. we really want to see what the local clientele would like to see from us and try to accommodate that as best possible.”
“We’re trying to keep the same wonderful vibe and presence and everything that LaSalle offers to the community and find ways to make it a little fresher and a little more modern.” added Stacy Walsh-Demonte, Marketing coordinator at CW.
The 104 Main St. location was once home to Keney Market, operated for many years by the late Salvatore P. Cecere.
State records show the LaSalle Market and Deli was registered with a Collinsville address in November of 1984 by members of the Mainello family, who, for many years, had operated LaSalle Market on LaSalle Road in West Hartford.
Both LaSalle locations ran simultaneously for a time and the Collinsville location was run by John Mainello through 1997.
Members of the Mainello family, including John’s grandfather Frank, had originally operated a fruit and vegetable business in Hartford, as early as the 1920s or possibly earlier, said John Mainello’s wife, Gale.
Decades later, when the Sinatro family was developing business locations on LaSalle Road in West Hartford, they built a store for Frank’s sons Robert and Dom Mainello, she said. Naturally it was called LaSalle Market.
(The LaSalle name, according to historical accounts, came from Allen Seth Griswold, who - after 1926 - renamed a portion of West Hartford’s Arapahoe Road to LaSalle Road - after his favorite automobile).
John Rainey took over the reins of the Collinsville LaSalle Market & Deli circa 1997, according to town documents. While it had already been successful deli, Rainey greatly reduced the grocery space at the location, and expanded the restaurant operations and seating, a trend that continued under the subsequent owners, Scott and Eileen Kaminski, who took over in 2007.
CW Resources took the reins of the eatery – and purchased the 104 Main St. building – in late December of 2023.
After closing for just a couple days, the owners reopened the doors to LaSalle and have continued offering its trademark sandwiches, pizza slices and other offerings, with a new tagline of Tastes Good, Does Good.
Beer and wine sales have been on hold as the company is applying for a liquor license – a state requirement due to the change in ownership. Nearly all the previous employees stayed on.
The new owners said the open mic, which will include an enhanced sign-up system, is set to resume the first Friday in February. CW is also looking at other opportunities to support the community in the spirit of the long-running Give Back Series – which involved monthly Saturday night concerts to raise funds for those in need.
CW is also hoping to expand hours of operation. One focus is Mondays. The restaurant has long been closed Mondays, but CW would like to open its doors that day – but with a different type of experience and perhaps a limited menu. While the details are a work in progress, the idea is to use it as a training tool for those in the disability community that might be interested in the restaurant business. Green said it could be an extension of the company’s efforts to help special education students transfer from the classroom to the workplace.
“We are thinking of using this as part of that program to allow these individuals to learn about the food industry, learn what it’s like to make a pizza, learn what it’s like to work the line, learn what it’s like to be the dishwasher… what it’s like to run the cash register …. and see if this would be something they’re interested in,” Green said. “Not only could we serve the community and be open, but we can provide probably dozens of students the opportunity to be exposed to food service – because it’s hard to make a decision on what you want to do when you’ve never had the opportunity to work. So, this is a great opportunity, and the people here are just so supportive and friendly. It will be a great environment to introduce them to.”
The hope, he added, is to get that program going sometime in the Spring and it could potentially lead to employment opportunities if positions open up or new ones are created through additional operating hours.
“It will be disabled and non-disabled workers here side by side but if we do our job correctly, you won’t notice it. They’re just integrated and productive members of the LaSalle team,” he said.
Green, a current Avon resident who formerly lived in Canton, has a little experience in providing jobs, having been at CW Resources for approximately 40 years, starting as a job coach and working for many years in the contract services division. The non-profit, for example, is a large federal contractor, providing custodial, food services, grounds maintenance and other services at several military bases. It also runs a large federal commissary program providing receiving, custodial and shelf stocking services. There are other ventures as well.
“We currently have over 1,500 people with significant disabilities on our payroll – all earning competitive wages,” Green said, adding that the non-profit’s reach is as far west as Anchorage, Alaska and as far south as Key West, Florida.
The company also works with private businesses to employ people and is continually looking to expand its reach. CW, however, acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to get a business to come on board.
“We are looking for new opportunities so that people with disabilities and socio-economic issues have opportunities other than those lines of business,” said Wendy Schrlau, Communications Manager for CW. Some of their clients do have limited schedules or require special accommodations but CW facilitates those needs.
“Anyone with a disability that needs any special accommodations – we’ll do that. We’re not asking the employer to go out of pocket; we will take care of that,” she said. “But what we’ve found is that is does scare off a lot of employers. So, by purchasing our own businesses, we are now providing new opportunities.”
Green said businesses who do contract with CW find it especially rewarding but he doesn’t begrudge those who have hesitated.
“Employing people with significant disabilities is challenging. Asking an employer to hire someone with special needs and making accommodations is difficult and although we are successful doing that and we do that on a daily basis, we find it much easier to become the employer,” Green said. “If someone needs to only work a couple days a week, needs additional breaks, needs additional support, we don’t have to ask permission. We’re the employer, we can accommodate them.”
Last November, CW purchased Lucky You Flowers, a company that started in Simsbury. CW is currently running the business at its headquarters in New Britain and, as more people are trained and on board, will likely move it to its West Hartford facility.
As for LaSalle, Green found out it was for sale and thought it a great opportunity as well.
“I’ve eaten here countless times over the last 30 years, but I was actually going through businesses for sale as part of our strategic plan and I saw LaSalle pop up and I immediately gave Eileen [Kaminski] a call,” he said.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity for the organization. We’re looking to diversify – provide different jobs and different opportunities and that’s how Lucky You falls in. Not everyone can work in a restaurant, not everyone can do grounds maintenance, but I have people who are interested in flower arrangements, that can help decorate the boxes, can help with the shipping or billing. People with disabilities are just like everyone else. They have different interests, different skills, different dreams, and the more jobs we can create, the more diversity we create – the more opportunities for the people we serve.”
Green acknowledged that there are a lot of costs associated with purchasing and maintaining the building and business but he is optimistic it can be sustaining and make enough to support it and other efforts.
“We hope that this endeavor not only pays for itself but actually can help support other activities, like our Meals on Wheels division,” he said. “Every year we lose hundreds of thousands of dollars feeding the elderly but it’s an important job. It’s an important thing we do, so we continued to do that. We’re only able to do that because we have other resources to support that.”
But Green is keenly aware that some in the area struggle themselves and one aspect he’s looking to add are items to the LaSalle menu that cost less than most offerings. The non-profit is also looking at its current offerings to see if any prices can be tweaked in the customers’ favor.
“Food costs have gone through the roof, and it’s driven the cost of the items up, but we can look to provide at least an option on a daily basis – so someone can come in and get a reasonably priced meal,” he said. “Having reasonably priced options is important to us. We are researching our pricing and seeing what we can do.”
Another menu tweak based on requests is a vegan sandwich – complete with a social media contest to help design it.
“The winning sandwich will become a menu item,” Schrlau said.
Other possible additions in the work include delivery and more readily available to-go items.
Green also noted that there might be some additions to the market side of LaSalle with more tie ins with local food producers.
“The market piece of LaSalle we’re looking to reinvent that a little bit and showcase more local products,” Green said.
CW is also excited about staying involved with community organizations like Canton Main St. Inc. and support its activities such as the Collinsville Farmers Market and summer concert series.
“We also want to get involved in the town. The previous owners did a great job with that,” said Walsh-Demonte. “We want to be just as involved.”
LaSalle Market & Deli
• 104 Main St., Collinsville
•https://lasallemarket.com (Online ordering can be found here/ site to be updated in time.)
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