During a recession, some sell and retreat; Curtis Packer and Bill Readey buy and expand.
There has long been a coffeehouse on the corner of Chapel and Orange Streets. But Packer and Readey took over its management in December 2008 with a new name, Bru , and plan to turn the business into a restaurant serving sandwiches, soups and salads, in addition to coffee. The restaurant’s previous owners had been slowly downsizing their business as the economy declined, but Packer and Readey hope to increase their customer base in that same tough environment.
While working at a paralegal service on Elm Street years earlier, Packer and Readey noticed that the corner coffee shop, named Koffeehouse, was drawing a dedicated stream of customers, even as the store downsized its operations and closed as early as 1:30 p.m.
Packer, who had run restaurants earlier in his life, decided in 2008 to make a risky investment. Under new management, the store is expanding and is now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week. The owners also plan to hire more staff to service what they hope will be more customers.
“We’re still in the implementation stage, but we have seen a slight increase in customers,” Readey said. “It’s going to take some time, but already we’re seeing the regulars continue to come, some old regulars who had gone away, and new people exploring.”
Indeed, at midday Wednesday, the restaurant was operating at roughly half-capacity with about fifteen customers.
“The goal is to be open until ten or even midnight serving many vegetarian, non-grease items,” said Readey. “We are getting a grill and may even bring back crêpes. We plan to display artwork on the walls and have music listening stations to attract more people.”
As for the recession, Bru’s owners are not worried. Readey said that sometimes, the best time to buy is during a recession.
Tony Poleshek, owner and chef of the Orangeside Luncheonette several doors down, agreed with Readey.
“People gotta eat,” he said, “and they’re going to want some variety, their coffee or our burgers.”
Anthony Gillis of the Greek-Italian restaurant across from Bru, Mediterranea, wished the new proprietors luck, but said he was unsure of the likelihood of their success.
“If they’re able to do it, that’d be great, but times are tough,” he said.
Neither restaurant saw Bru’s expansion as a threat. Gillis said the restaurant owners and employees often go to each others’ stores for a quick coffee or bite to eat.
But eight Yale students interviewed did not express much interest in Bru. All of them said they get their coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or the residential college dining halls.
“I get mine from Berkeley or Trumbull — whatever’s easiest,” said Yang Li ’12.
Readey said they are counting on business from nearby offices and the next-door construction of New Haven’s largest apartment building.
And the neighboring businesses are hoping that Readey’s and Packer’s gambit pays off.
“Anything that increases foot traffic in this area is a good thing for the city,” said Poleshek.