Norwich — The aroma of baking dough wafting through the City Hall plaza is signal enough that a new eclectic pizza and craft beer restaurant now is open, but much more than that is cooking in the historic original Otis Library building at 80 Broadway.
There’s a synergy that combines the excitement of chefs, line cooks and wait staff for the ability to find new and enjoyable jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic that had put several of them out of work at previous jobs with the determination of a business entrepreneur pledging to make the former Otis Library building into a hub for creative businesspeople.
Upstairs from Pie Hops Bar & Restaurant, Peter Helms, 36, of Manchester has converted former office space into Helms Media, a professional home for his growing digital marketing company, Ideal Solutions, and an internet radio studio, where he produces local programs that range from sports to news talk, culinary arts and even a show with young women giving their perspectives on the dating scene for women in their 20s.
“I want to develop a culture of entrepreneurship to give creative talent an outlet to share their ideas and grow their brands,” Helms said Friday.
Helms was born in Norwich and grew up in Griswold. He overcame substance abuse addiction in his teens and 20s, straightened out and attended Three Rivers Community College and Eastern Connecticut State University. At ECSU, he fell in love with business and marketing, leaving college to try his hand.
He launched his Ideal Solutions on a laptop at his home afterhours as he worked at various jobs. He went full time with it a year ago, and business boomed as more and more companies sought new ways to market and survive the pandemic, he said.
As he continues to help local businesses market themselves during the pandemic, Helms is expanding the internet radio business and is working with some high-placed partners to produce a line of TV shows.
Former Griswold state Rep. Kevin Skulczyck, a conservative Republican, jumped at the chance to host a conservative talk show, “News Rocky,” with the slogan: “fighting fake news.” The show runs Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. On Friday, he featured special guest Angela Adams, executive director of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce. Adams explained how the chamber is working with local businesses to get them through the COVID-19 pandemic. She also promoted upcoming holiday shopping events.
Helms hosts his own show with Global City Norwich liaison Suki Lagrito. The show, “Hustle Reports,” highlights business owners and their creative ideas for running and promoting their businesses.
Two other local hosts, Ray Dupoint and Chris Nott, co-host “Du-Nott Sports,” conversations about sports that run Tuesday through Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. Their enthusiasm for golf has landed them a key sponsor, Great Brook Sports in Groton. Helms is seeking other sponsorships, including some national sports brand products.
“If the audience is a good fit, it works,” Helms said. “Pie Hops is a great sponsor. They welcomed us into their space in the heart of downtown Norwich.”
Skulczyck promotes the restaurant during his talk show.
Pie Hops Bar & Restaurant, owned by Bill Nielson and run by Chef Mark Vecchitto, offers specialty pizzas, creative hamburgers, nachos and sandwiches and an extensive craft beer selection.
Both Pie Hops and Helms Media opened in 80 Broadway two weeks ago and immediately started filling the internet radio timeslots.
Vecchitto, former executive chef at the Mystic Marriott, is one of those who was laid off during the pandemic. He is classically trained in fine dining and wants to bring something new to blue-collar Norwich with creative specials, such as Friday’s feature: pizza with camembert cheese, fuji apple slices and caramel.
“Bringing food like this to Norwich is going to be fun,” Vecchitto said.
Vecchitto also is trying his hand in Helms’ business upstairs, hosting an internet radio show called “Walk In,” introducing the audience to a behind-the-scenes look at running a restaurant. The show will launch on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Downstairs at lunchtime Friday, the café started jumping, with customers at several of the well-spaced tables and others placing takeout orders for several 10-inch pizzas.
“We’ve been busier than I thought it would be during COVID,” said waitress Allison Guay, 25, of Lebanon. She had lost her job at Friendly’s in Willimantic, which closed because of the pandemic, and was thrilled to find a new restaurant opening.
Sous chef Mike Joyner, 28, of New London had been working with another restaurant that had tried to open in Niantic but couldn’t make it during the pandemic. He met line cook Kyle Cook, 23, of New London there. Now both are thrilled to have landed at Pie Hops.
“We are really lovin’ it,” Cook, said. “We even came in on our days off to help set up the place.”