The Heart of West Street Grill
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Charles “Charlie” Kafferman died on July 6 at Danbury Hospital after a long illness. He was the spouse of James O’Shea, his life partner of forty-two years. Together they brought modern American dining to Connecticut earning the coveted Conde Nast Top-50 Best New Restaurants in the United States award when they opened the West Street Grill in Litchfield almost 30 years ago.
He was born in the Bronx on May 20, 1931 to Joseph and Celia Kafferman. Charlie served in the Army, and joined his uncle in the fashion industry in New York City for over three decades. He was a man about town, living in the highly-fashionable 64th Street neighborhood west of Park Avenue. Elegant, urbane and the ultimate sophisticate, he was a successful designer and manufacturer, running several major clothing companies, including Leslie Fay. He created several trends, including the Chassey jumpsuits.
Charlie traveled the world making women beautiful with his work. He was inspired by fashion shows in Paris, knew the city, and shared its mystery and love. He had family in Paris who introduced him to the likes of Yves Montand and Edith Piaf. He scouted the London fashion scene, and later the food scene in Dublin. He met his dear friend Mia Farrow the night she became engaged to Frank Sinatra at Gatsby’s in New York. His interest in literature and art allowed him to form friendships with William Styron and Philip Roth, whose death last year Charlie mourned. He was able to maintain his New York and Hollywood friendships while entertaining weekend visitors from New York when they visited the Grill.
He loved concerts; Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, U2, and backstage with Mumford and Sons. Charlie also loved opera and saw Maria Callas, Pavarotti, Placido Domingo among others.
He was open and accepting and loved his full life, mostly because of the variety of people he met and appreciated. The stories he told thrilled children as well as adults who met him. He told a great joke, with flawless delivery, always. Despite his public face, he was a quiet man who loved to read, and he read voraciously. He recorded books for the blind.
Charlie maintained a presence in Litchfield County, first enjoying weekends on Lake Waramaug with James, and then in Warren, until they moved to Litchfield. Charlie became a permanent resident of Litchfield, a place he treasured as home. He became a fixture during the summer season on West Street in the center of historic Litchfield, sitting at an outside table at the Grill, most recently with his black Lab companion, Cashel. Everyone who passed by—friends, Grill regulars, illustrious area residents and first-time acquaintances—stopped to chat, give Cashel a belly rub, and walk away with a glow from the warmth Charlie radiated. He loved the Litchfield community, supported local charities and events, and was the source his friends Scot Haney and Kara Sundlun of WFSB Channel 3 chose to describe Litchfield’s “gems” for their “Better Connecticut” segment celebrating the town’s 300th anniversary.
He is survived by his near and dear first cousin, Ruth Glick and her sons Marshall and Howard, both of whom were Charlie’s godsons, all of New York.
A gathering to honor Charlie will be held at noon on Wednesday, July 10, at the Thurston Rowe Funeral Home, 283 Torrington Road, Litchfield. Friends may visit at the funeral home from 10 a.m. until noon. Burial will follow at St. Anthony Cemetery, 210 Whites Wood Road, Litchfield.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield.