Saugatuck Sweets to treat Fairfield to candy crush ... and more
Al DiGuido may be one of the sweetest guys on earth.
Not only is the Westport resident opening a second sweets shop — this one in downtown Fairfield — but for years he has dedicated much of his time to raising money for children with cancer and rare blood diseases, and those whose families suffer financial hardships. His philanthropic group has been dubbed “Al’s Angels.”
DiGuido’s shops are both called Saugatuck Sweets, and are designed to be community gathering places where ice cream, baked goods and friendliness are offered, DiGuido said recently outside his new outlet at 28 Reef Road.
The Fairfield shop, across from the Sherman Green gazebo and adjacent to Firehouse Deli, is slated to open before Valentine’s Day, he said. His original sweet shop at 575 Riverside Ave. in Westport has been open nearly two years.
“It’s much more than an ice cream shop,” he said of the enterprise. “We’re trying to be a throwback to how life used to be.”
His Westport shop hosted Girl Scouts selling cookies on a recent weekend, for example, and before last weekend’s storm, had lined up a “blank-athon” at the Fairfield shop for women to knit blankets for hospitalized babies, which had to be canceled because of the weather. An upstairs room to host parties and charity events is a feature of the new location.
“We pride ourselves that we give back to the community,” DiGuido said.
DiGuido, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the son of a New York City police officer, has worked 15 years in the marketing and advertising business, specializing in digital advertising. He was the publisher of PC magazine and Computer Shopper before that.
But for the past 16 years, he has also been focused on Al’s Angels, a charity that started in his garage helping 30 families the first year. This past holiday season Al’s Angel’s provided Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas gifts and food for 3,200 families and 9,000 children, he said. Sixty percent of the fundraising helps families in Fairfield County and 40 percent goes to families in the Bronx, N.Y.; New Jersey and Long Island, according to DiGuido.
DiGuido’s charity work has its roots at a New York Giants game where a plea was made to help a 10-year-old girl dying from cancer whose family was in dire financial straits. “I said to myself, how is it possible that in the United State of America, parents have to run fundraisers in order to provide food and gifts for their sick children?” he recalled. He went home and, haunted by the plea, was inspired to organize charitable fundraising guided by this question: “What if that was you, what would you do to help your children?”
DiGuido, the father of three children and grandfather of six, said the plight of children facing such challenges really hit home.
It is that family and community connection that he hopes to re-create at his two sweets shops, he added, as well as in his fundraising efforts. Judging from comments by patrons at the Westport shop, next to the Saugatuck River, on a recent Sunday afternoon, he has succeeded.
“I love it, it’s such a sweet place to come to — it’s old-fashioned” Tracey Stidolph of Rowayton said as she enjoyed ice cream with her daughter, Stella, 4, and her parents, who were visiting from Pennsylvania. The family had come to Saugatuck Sweets after a performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. Stella was thoroughly enjoying her Oreo ice cream. “This definitely works for us,” her mother said.
“We have a lot of fun here,” commented Chris Di Guido, Al’s wife, as she served the frozen treat.
In addition to ice cream, Saugatuck Sweets serves what Al DiGuido calls “scooped yogurt (not frozen), and 100 different kinds of candy.” Baked goods including brownies, fruit bars and cakes are also on the menu, along with milk shakes, root beer floats and egg creams.
The businessman sees his sweets shop ventures also is a way to promote small businesses, and “a device to bring people … so tied to iPhones, iPads and social media … together in a different setting.”
The shops are “simply an old-fashioned place to hang out … no one walks away grumpy,” he said.