By CONNOR SOLTAS
After a nearly two-year vacancy, the Little Silver Train Station is about to get a fresh coffee shop. And the new tenant believes it has a business model that will help it avoid the fate of its short-lived predecessors.
Rook Coffee Roasters announced a plan last Thursday to open its fourth retail store in the borough-owned station’s concession space this fall. Bagels, sandwiches and various baked goods will be for sale in addition to coffee, each cup of which is individually brewed to order, according to co-owner Holly Migliaccio.
Rook’s owners believe the keys to survival at the station lie in making the stand a draw to non-commuting locals and using wireless technology to expedite individual orders.
Light construction work is slated to start August, Migliaccio said, and is not expected to impede regular transit. The new store will include a counter running its entire length, one slightly larger than the existing concession counter.
Another coffee outlet, The Morning Grind Café, held the same space for barely a year, until late 2010, when the it went out of business. Since then, the concession area has remained empty.
Prior to the Morning Grind, a shop called Insomnia Coffee House had the space for almost three years, until it fell behind on rent and was squeezed out in a settlement with the borough.
For Migliaccio and business partner Shawn Kingsley, though, beating the precedent has been foremost in planning the new location. Their solution: winning more than just morning commuters as regular patrons.
“We intend to be a hub for the local community to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee as well,” Migliaccio said.
Rook’s new storefront will be open seven days a week and until 3 p.m. each day, long after the daily commuting rush has left the station, to help attract the additional demographic.
The borough was also concerned about the viability of a new coffee shop in the same location as the old. Central to the lease with Rook Coffee Roasters, said Mayor Bob Neff said, was a plan to increase foot traffic without spending town money.
“We want to try to provide that service for the commuters without subsidizing the business,” Neff said.
Following negotiations, the borough agreed to increase the number of designated 15-minute parking spaces from four to 12. Both the borough and the business are hopeful the additional open parking spaces will draw more customers throughout the day, when other spaces are normally taken by commuters.
“Otherwise, there’s nowhere to park,” Neff said.
Rook will foot the cost of the designated spaces, leaving Little Silver’s revenue unaffected.
Rook won’t stop there, however. The newest coffee shop on the Green will also be among the most high-tech., with a system that enables patrons order and pay by smartphone.
“If they text in their order and pay via smartphone, it could be a matter of ten seconds that they interact with us,” Migliaccio said. “So that, combined with everything else, we think will give us an edge over what was previously there.”
The specter of failure still looms large, however, especially in the opinion of Morning Grind proprietor Hanan Shauriki. Shauriki felt Rook’s streamlined ordering protocol could be difficult to promote widely enough to make a difference.
“I did all that,” he said. “But it’s not the type of crowd to adopt that. The station doesn’t produce enough sales, period.”
Still, Shauriki saw potential in Rook’s broader reach. His café’s clientele depended solely upon commuters, and so Rook’s idea to make a “community hub” of its coffee shop could spell success, he explained.
Regardless, Shauriki believed speed is king. “It wasn’t about quality so much as efficiency and the quickness of it all,” he said. “People can’t wait for a cup of coffee.”
“That’s the one thing I’d suggest to them,” said Shauriki.
Rook’s already-strong reputation and experience in the industry could also give it a running start in Little Silver. The business, though less than three years old, has retail stores in Oakhurst, Long Branch and Ocean Township, a roastery in Ocean Township and an online shipping service
“People [who commute from the station] have been saying for months now, ‘Come closer; come closer; come closer,’” Migliaccio said. “We know what works, we know what doesn’t work, what mistakes we’ve made in the past, and how to fix those.”
Some of the station’s commuters, at least, are optimistic.
“This coffee is so great, I know there’ll be new clients and everything,” said Warren Young, who drives to the station every weekday morning from Long Branch.
“Sometimes just being able to grab your coffee and get onto the train instantly makes all the difference,” Young said. “The convenience – you really can’t put a price tag on that.”