By MONICA POLANCO | The Hartford Courant
February 12, 2009
MANCHESTER - — While her siblings were busy playing outside on cold winter days, Dotti Cannon was in the kitchen, learning to make savory chicken pot pies, sweet strawberry jam and hotpepper relish.
Those culinary discoveries would later fuel Cannon's transformation from a back-office manager in Hartford to the chef and owner of Brown Sugar, a newly opened full-service catering company.
Cannon's business, in a building at Hilliard Mills at 642 Hilliard St., is also playing a role in the building's gradual reincarnation as a modern business space.
"I think that we go hand-in-hand," said Cannon, 61. "I think I was meant to be in that space."
Peter Bonzani Jr., Sean Hogan and Alan Verrastro bought the old mill in 2006 on a hunch.
Bonzani, of Manchester, had been looking for an office to rent for his engineering consulting business and toured the building even though its owners were not interested in renting it out.
Bonzani looked past the World War II-era barbed wire fence surrounding the building and the smashed windows and cobwebs that had taken hold inside and saw a structurally sound building that was worth saving.
Hogan thought Bonzani was crazy. He changed his mind after spending a couple of hours in the old textile factory.
"I pulled him aside, away from the real estate dealer, and said, 'Yeah, let's buy it,'" said Hogan, who lives in Glastonbury.
Unlike the well-capitalized developers who typically renovate mills, the trio — all first-time commercial owners who bought the building for $365,000 — have been figuring things out as they go along.
"Instead of starting out with a two-family house, we started off with something small," Bonzani joked. "If I sat down and thought about it, it is kind of nuts."
The men kept their day jobs — Bonzani and Hogan have an engineering consulting business, and Verrastro, of East Hartford, is a roofer — and spent a year and a half cleaning up the mill. They loaded 61 dumpsters with the rubbish that had accumulated inside the building. They painted, installed tile and sheet rock and met with town officials to figure out how best to bring the building back to life.
Their lawyers steered them to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which gave them a $148,500 loan to clean up coal ash on the property.
They have retained many of the building's original features, including its wooden floors, which bear the indentations left by factory employees who worked long hours standing up, and heavy iron doors.
They have five tenants and are hoping to attract small businesses that started out like theirs — at home. They've reserved the second floor for businesses that might only need 200 square feet each. They hope incoming tenants will attract newcomers who will eventually fill the building.
Mark Pellegrini, the town's development director, said the cluster strategy can help buildings reach a tipping point.
"I think if you can persevere long enough ... eventually, you'll be there when the market breaks," Pellegrini said. "All of a sudden, you reach a place where it becomes a better-known facility and rents go up."
Cannon was the first new tenant.
Bonzani had stopped in at Bogner Meats for a steak when he noticed a flier advertising Cannon's business. Bonzani, who envisions creating a banquet hall on his property, thought having an on-site catering company would become a selling point for his future clientele.
The timing was right for Cannon, then in her late 50s, who was ready for a career change. She had been cooking for people out of her home in her spare time, and had run out of space for the growing number of catering requests that came her way.
The building's character persuaded her to move her business there in December.
"It's been such a learning experience to see my child grow," she said. "I don't know where she's going next, but it's a ride I want to continue."
Source: Topix.com - Manchester, CT - via Agreement with OurTown.com
Original Source: http://www.courant.com/community/news/ec/hc-manmill0212.artfeb12,0,6082456.story