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Buster’s Big Bash

Sole Proprietor's Buster... the history of Worcester's favorite crustacean icon.

The conventional gift for a 25th anniversary is silver, but Robb and Madeline Ahlquist are anything but ordinary. Anyway, it’s not their relationship that needs celebrating (though it is pretty remarkable how the duo single handedly erected three of Worcester’s flagship restaurants.) This anniversary is actually on behalf of an inflatable crustacean who has graced The Sole Proprietor for 25 years and counting. His name is Buster. And, if you don’t know Buster, you don’t know Worcester.

Countless families make their yearly treks each July to pay a visit to Buster the Crab who was conceived a quarter of a century ago when the Ahlquists were forced to close The Sole Proprietor’s doors for a week’s worth of renovations. They knew the restaurant would require a “jump start” to ramp up business after the hiatus, and took to brainstorming innovative marketing ideas that might get new customers through the door.

The Ahlquists weren’t expecting that their three weeks with Buster that first July would outpace their entire month of sales from the previous year. After Buster’s first summer, they knew they would have to bring him back. When the inflatables company that owned Buster finally went out of business, the Ahlquists decided it was time to adopt him officially. They purchased the rights to Buster and the rest is history.

“We start getting calls every Spring asking when Buster will go up on the roof. The numbers are still better every year than they were the year before,” says Robb Ahlquist.

Long ago, The Sole Proprietor treated Buster’s homecoming as a celebration. “We used to blow him up in the parking lot and bring in fun games. It was as much for our employees and their kids as it was for anyone else,” Robb Ahlquist remembers. On July 1st from 11 a.m. – 1p.m., the tradition returns.

For Buster’s 25th, The Sole Proprietor will serve up a special menu of hot dogs ($2) and Crab & Corn Chowder ($2) with all proceeds benefitting No Kid Hungry. “Buster will be inflated on ground level so kids can crawl in his claws and on his arms for pictures,” Robb Ahlquist explains. Face painting and balloon artists will also be on site.

If you’re wondering about Worcester’s other favorite inflatable, Orson the Polar Bear of Polar Beverages, he promises to make a guest appearance in mascot form. At 1 p.m., Buster will be hoisted up to the roof, and by 4 p.m., crab specials will dominate the menu.

Along with The Sole Proprietor’s crab-centric fare this July, the eatery will also encourage young visitors to pay homage to Buster via coloring contest. Robb Ahlquist says, “We post every single picture inside the restaurant; by the end, the walls of our entryway are covered in hundreds of kids’ creations. It makes for great art!”

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VIA Celebrates a Decade of Success

Every day is a celebration at VIA Italian Table, but Thursday, April 13th, will mark a special achievement as the restaurant observes its 10th anniversary. Owners, Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist opened VIA with one particular goal in mind: to capture all of the experiences and memories they shared together in Italy. A decade later, VIA is still inviting guests to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine among friends on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester.

In its history, VIA has been granted countless titles, ranging from Worcester’s Best Restaurant to Worcester’s Most Romantic Restaurant, but it should be acknowledged that ten years of success in the restaurant industry is an accolade in and of itself. VIA has done more than just survive in an industry where 80% or restaurants fail in their first five years, it has continued to thrive as a contemporary Italian kitchen. Armed with a chef-driven philosophy and a pool of culinary talent, VIA will undoubtedly tower as a Shrewsbury Street institution for decades to come.

Each of the Worcester Restaurant Group’s establishments are intentionally very distinctive. General Manager, Keith Carolan says, “I think being the youngest of three, VIA has worn that moniker with a badge of honor. We relish being the youngest and I think the vibe and makeup of the restaurant really shows that.” Carolan thinks of One Eleven Chophouse and The Sole Proprietor as beloved older siblings. As the youngest, VIA is proud to provide customers with a more lively and energetic atmosphere.

Many of VIA’s staff members have been part of the team from the beginning. Assistant General Manager, Brad Leveillee, began his career as a server and has grown alongside VIA as a valued leader. Kevin Clancey has also been a server from the start and continues to offer his invaluable veteran presence. The same can be said of Bar Manager, Jon Odgren, who started as a barback and has never failed to lead by example. Ednelio Flores, Wilfredo Rios and Viveca Neyra are valued as the backbone of the restaurant. They show up each morning in the dark to prep everything for the day of service. Carolan notes, “They are the model of consistency.”

VIA takes great joy in serving as a destination for Worcester’s families who have chosen to celebrate major milestones at 89 Shrewsbury Street for ten years. On April 13th, customers will receive 10% off the purchase of their lunch entree (before 4:00 pm) or dinner entree. Customers can also take part in Wine 101, a class hosted by Ciro Perone of Horizon Beverage. The course will consist of tasting ten select wines from Italy with “small bites” pairings, and will be open to the first forty students who sign up. A gift card will be raffled off at the end of the evening. Guests can enter by making a reservation for April 13th.