'Where Everybody Knows Your Name". Tony's Coffee Express in Thomaston. An example of some of the great features in the LCS Magazine.
If you want to feel like you just walked into a scene reminiscent of an episode of ‘Cheers’, that great television show ran from the early eighties to early nineties, just make a habit of walking into former Torrington boys basketball legend, Tony Turina’s place in Thomaston.
Tony’s Coffee Express, located at 19 Waterbury Road in Thomaston, is where you will find Turina, a coach who defined what it meant to be a Raider during his years as a player and then again as a coach.
Inside his current store (the business moved from a location across the street eight years ago), there is always a buzz, one you might expect in a place that welcomes you like Norm Patterson was as he strolled into the Cheers bar.
Tony’s Coffee Express has been in business since 2004 and has become a fixture off in the area despite bucking a trend by not having a drive thru.
Can you imagine Cheers with a drive thru? Just shouldn’t be, although Cliff Claven might have liked that feature.
It’s a slice of Americana with a cross section of folks, young and old, men, women and kids alike.
Over the years, it has become THE place in this small town where teams go before big games and in the case of the Golden Bears from Thomaston High School, they have even had drinks named for them after bringing home State Championships like Tony sells coffee.
The shop is Turina. A welcoming, upbeat place of care and warmth that takes you away from the daily grind, even if just for the five minutes you are in the store.
His sports story began some 53 years ago.
“I was a freshman in 1964,” Turina said. “That was the second-year Torrington High School was open. I graduated in 1968. I played baseball during my freshman year but basketball was always my love.”
Turina played under the guidance of one of the true legends at Torrington High School, Connie Donahue, who stopped coaching the year he graduated in 1968.
“I had the best coach ever to coach at Torrington High School,” Turina said. “I knew Connie Donahue not just as a basketball coach and a teacher, but I also knew him as a friend. His best attribute was what kind of person he was, not the success he had. He was also the finest gentleman you would ever want to meet.”
After his years at THS, Turina would go on to college at Benedictine College in Kansas, but was sent home after coming down with infectious mono and following a long recovery, decided to get a job which led him to his next mission that kept him on the court but in a different capacity.
“An old timer named Francis “Bummer” Pollock talked to me about getting into refereeing,” Turina said. “At the time the board was getting older and they were looking for some new blood. So, they asked me to do it but I questioned why I would want to do it since I really never liked them. I thought some of them were showman out there and I thought ‘who wants to do that?”
After some coaxing from Pollock, Turina took the test to become a referee and passed, starting his career back on the hardwood in a different but satisfying role.
“I loved running and I loved staying in shape,” Turina said. “My first game was at the old Washington School. I remember I went there and had the time of my life. I did a junior varsity game and I thought it was great. It was like playing, but I had total control and loved being part of it. I was there to make sure they played a good, smart game and did what they had to do. You didn’t look for fouls, you tried to avoid it if you could, but you made sure it was a well-played game.”
By his second year on the court, Turina found himself moving up the ranks quickly.
“I started to get varsity games at high schools,” Turina said. “Then I ended up doing college and even did two summers of pro ball down in New York. It was just a great opportunity. I just saw the best.”
His career on the hardwood keeping track of the action last 22-years until a once in a lifetime opportunity presented itself.
In 1992, there was an opening to coach boys’ basketball at the place it all started, Torrington High School.
“I thought to myself that the one thing I always wanted to do was coach,” Turina said. “Back then though, you had to be a teacher. Two years earlier though, they had started to open it up because a lot of teachers were no longer doing it (coaching) or they did it and then retired.”
Things were going pretty well for Turina as a referee at the time, he had been at his peak in his profession, having gotten himself all the way to the Division I level while being named the State Board President overseeing all the folks in stripes so why make the leap to the high school?
“I had worked so hard to get where I was,” Turina said. “I was also on an NBA list so I was hoping to get a chance to do that but when the high school job opened up, it was the only job I would have ever wanted to have when it came to coaching.”
His love for Torrington High School is deep and profound, you can hear it in his voice when he talks about what’s on the front of the jersey.
“I just have such pride when I talk about Torrington High School,” Turina said. “And I wish the younger kids could experience what I did growing up because I played during the greatest era of all with so many great people.”
The family environment that flows from his coffee shop is reflective of how he feels about where and how he developed as a person.
“I consider every person that I played sports with at Torrington High School to be part of my family,” Turina said. “Whether you go to weddings or get togethers, it’s like you never left the person. I look at my life and I understand how lucky I am to have played and coached when I did.”
Leaving the game took some adjusting.
“Up until I was 59-years old,” Turina said, “I never knew a winter without basketball.”
During his 17-year career as head coach of the Raiders, Turina led teams made it to three State Championship games, winning one in 2006.
Torrington made it six times to the semi-finals during that time and also took home a Naugatuck Valley League crown to boot.
The Raiders made the State Tournament every year Turina coached, 17 straight.
Turina has never been about the statistics, he only knows he coached 400 games because when his team played in the finals at Mohegan Sun in his last season, a message was posted on the board and it was announced that this was his 400th and last game.
One accomplishment that his team earned sticks out from the rest and Turina takes great pride in talking about it.
“The best one I have,” Turina said. “Is the fact that five times we won the Litchfield Board # 7 Sportsmanship Award. I think we got three or four in a row. I was proud of that because it goes back to our basic rules. You don’t go after officials, you don’t go after opposing players and you don’t ever go after your teammates. Those awards meant more to me than any other.”
Tony’s Coffee Express has been home for many present and past athletes who worked the counter from all over the area, along with most of his family.
In the present location it’s an impressive list, including Brittany and Sciarra Brandt, Abby and Gabby Hurlbert, All Stars at Thomaston High School.
Nephews Michael and Bruce Ciesco manned the counter at times, as did his daughters Caitlin and Beth.
Joe Mazza, Beth’s husband, is currently at the store, taking on more of the day to day operations as Turina takes more time to be the outstanding ambassador he has always been for his business.
So, if you want to get that Cheers feeling while dealing with someone with far better principals than Sam Malone did behind the bar, make your way down Route 8 from Torrington and go to a place where everyone might just know your name.