Nearly two years ago, The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center opened for business in the heart of town, transforming the former food center into a popular eatery and catering business. More than simply building a business, co-owner Jason Iglesias brought his trademark enthusiasm, vision, and energy here, where he has created a community hub.
Whether it’s offering up The Marketplace as a sidewalk collection point, such as the Jan. 21 collection that helped give eSight glasses to Guilford’s Alex Russello, helping craft creative packages complete with venue and catering for charitable auctions, backing a community dog park, encouraging employees to give their tips to “Change for Charities” (nearly $30,000 has been raised, to date, for local charities), or even buoying the success of other businesses by co-chairing Taste of the Shoreline, Jason’s willingness to help others hasn’t gone unnoticed.
This month, Jason was named as one of Connecticut Magazine’s “40 Under 40” business members making a difference in their community. On Thursday, Jan. 26, Jason will be honored by the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce (SCC) as Volunteer of the Year at SCC’s annual Awards Dinner.
“It is an honor. I didn’t see it coming and I don’t think I’m deserving of it—I think a lot of people do a lot of great work with the Chamber. So it’s really nice to be recognized,” says Jason.
Jason grew up in Guilford (Guilford High School Class of ‘97) and started his career in New York City. After gathering 11 years of experience helping other businesses grow working in retail operations/visuals and restaurant front of house, he was ready to start his first business, and knew he wanted it to be in Guilford.
“I knew that at some point I would want to come back to Guilford, and I was waiting for the right opportunity,” says Jason, who opened The Marketplace in 2015 with co-owner Dee Jacob.
“I think this is a natural progression of what was here,” says Jason of the casual space created within the tiled walls of the former Guilford Food Center. “Guilford is about community, and what better spot for that than on the Guilford Green? So it’s been really well received. I’ve had friends who’ve moved here from the city or relocated from the West Coast who are very excited about it, as well as people who grew up here and have been living in Guilford for 50 or 60 years.”
He adds the success is supported by the “amazing” store staff of nearly 50, combined with the support of regular customers.
“The staff in the store is amazing. Most of our employees are local, and mostly from Guilford, and they do all the work,” says Jason. “And then there are our amazing regular customers. Without our regulars, we’d close down tomorrow.”
In the nearly two years The Marketplace has been open for business, Jason has not only developed community connections, but paid attention to what’s working for his business. The company’s website (www.themarketplaceatgfc.com) and Facebook page (here) keep customers up to speed on what’s available and what’s to come.
“It’s growing every day and it’s changing as we grow, because we offer what people want,” says Jason.
Big focuses for 2017 will include building The Marketplace’s catering business and once again extending store hours in the summer to encourage more dinner customers (wine and beer are served) as well as families looking for an affordable, enjoyable casual dinner experience.
To help make summer evenings at The Marketplace a family dinner destination, Jason and company are planning to offer a gourmet burger bar, mac ‘n cheese bar, and milkshakes and ice cream.
The Marketplace’s catering businesses is growing rapidly and a lot of that is based on word of mouth and the cachet created by events both on-site and off-site. Folding those events into offerings that help charitable causes has become a sort of specialty for Jason. Right now, he’s putting that effort into helping non-profit Lea’s Foundation with the inaugural Madeline Guarraia Celebration of Life Gala, set for May 13 in New Haven (for more details, visit www.leasfoundation.org). Jason grew up with Madeline’s mom, Amy. Her daughter inspired the shoreline and the nation help the tiger-loving little girl “Roar” to battle leukemia. Sadly, Madeline passed at age nine in April 2016.
“Amy and I were best of friends, so this is a cause that’s really near and dear to me,” says Jason, who’s partnering with wine and spirits distributor Slocum & Sons to offer an event auction item of a cocktail party for 100 people.
Jason’s had great success in teaming with other businesses to offer events as fundraising prizes to help charities. The help has reached local non-profits such as Women & Family Life Center and CFMS Fund Foundation and individual groups such as last fall’s fundraising Fair Street Stroll for Kidney Cancer Research (in memory of former Fair Street resident Libby Hollingsworth). In one case, Jason had to multiply an auction item on the fly.
“It was supposed to be a private dinner for 10, but people were fighting over that, so I stood up and said, ‘Okay, we’ll do a dinner for 20,” and people were fighting over that, so I said, ‘Okay, we’ll do two of them!’ And we raised over $5,000,” says Jason. “So those are the sort of fun things we can do for these charities. One person alone is one person, but a bunch of different companies or stores coming together is fun.”
Jason’s also working on a possible collaboration with another eatery with community-minded ideals, Branford’s The Stand.
“We don’t know what it is yet, but we both love each other’s businesses so much that we know we need to find a way to partner on something this summer,” says Jason.
One of the new roles Jason has taken on to help others in the shoreline business community is as a member of the SCC Board of Directors. Jason says he wants to reach out to the membership to help other businesses recognize SCC’s power to collaborate and assist them.
“The Chamber has been great. I get what the Chamber is, and I think a lot of business might not,” says Jason. “No one is ever going to do your work and get your customers. The Chamber is kind of there as your assistant. It’s a great resource, but you have to put something in. You only can get out what you put in. And that’s kind of the same with everything in life, don’t you think?”