70 New Park Ave., Hartford, (860) 233-2235
Hartford is about to lose one of its little food gems. A gem of a little-food place, in fact. Tastease, a donut (they serve mini, teensy donuts) and sandwich shop on New Park Avenue in Parkville, is set to close up shop at the end of month, according to owner Tony Mendes.
The little shop opened in 2004 and quickly earned a loyal following for its distinctively cute diminutive donuts. They also served a pretty mean Cuban sandwich and a tasty Portuguese sausage breakfast sandwich. But — following a confusing run-in with the city over regulations, which, according to Mendes, caused a would-be buyer to jump ship at the last minute — the pint-size shop with the adorable donuts will make its last dozen at the end June.
Mendes says a prospective buyer was “five days away from closing” when he was told by a city inspector that, because the restaurant doesn’t have restrooms that are accessible to its clients, the two small tables which together can seat six people were not allowed according to city regulations. When the would-be buyer learned that, says Mendes, the deal was off, because the loss of the seats presented a potential loss of revenue.
Ultimately, following a series of exchanges with the city, the tables at Tastease were allowed to stay because of a grandfather clause. But it was too late to salvage the plan to sell. “I watched $110,000 drive away,” says Mendes of the deal that went south.
Now Mendes, 67, and his wife Susan are riding out June, cruising toward a donut milestone. As of late May they had made — according to their tally — roughly 950,000 mini donuts over the last eight years. “I wanted to hit the million-donut mark,” says Mendes.
Though there have been a few interested parties, Mendes doesn’t expect to sell the business.
“We’ve had a couple people we’ve spoken to, but talk is cheap,” says Mendes.
“I’m ready to retire,” says Mendes. The early hours of a donut maker, and the fact that it’s a mom-and-pop shop mean that success ultimately means excess effort. “The more we sell, the more I work,” says Mendes.
Though he’s something of a donut master now, when he started Tastease, Mendes didn’t have any donut experience.
“There’s a lot of mistakes that were made along the way, but we smile about it now,” he says.
“Some of our first donuts were butt-ugly. They’ve come a long way. The designs are better. They look better. They taste better.”
The German chocolate mini donut is a best seller. But if you want to sample the little treats before the end of the month, get there early. Supplies are often sold out before midday.
Though Mendes says he’s ready to retire and hit a few golf courses, he’s got fond feelings for the little business that’s right next door to their home.
“Will I miss it? Hell yes,” he says. “We started this thing. No one was doing what we’re doing. Our idea was ‘Bite size is right size.’ Everybody was trying to make hubcabs; we don’t believe in that. It fit in with the time when everyone was trying to right-size and downsize.”
If Mendes and his wife can’t hit the million-donut mark, he’s still hopeful that someone might arrive on the scene to pick up and succeed where they’re leaving off.
“Someone can come in, and take it over, run with it. Make a million dollars. Make it grow. It’s our little baby; it’s almost a teenager now,” he says. “It’s time to let it go.”
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