Whenever a new retail or hospitality business opens up, it’s like a vote of confidence in the surrounding community; a roll of the dice that the culture and economy of the area will support it.
Once one business takes root, others are more likely to follow, and so unfolds a successful revitalization effort, when all goes well. It’s often hard to find the intrepid entrepreneurs willing to take the first steps into risky territory, though, given the inherent risk to opening a new business even in an already-thriving area.
To that end, the city of Peabody, Mass., is undertaking a novel approach by heavily incentivizing a coffee shop for its ailing, underserved Main Street corridor downtown, paving the way for Salem, Mass.-based Jaho Coffee and Tea to step in as the managing partner.
With roughly $20,000 in grant money, an almost equal amount of value in buildout-related work and services, another roughly $10,000 in local funds and some volunteer labor as well, the shop has been built, equipped and made ready for Jaho to provide the staff, training, vision and, of course, top-quality coffee.
“I was pleasantly surprised they had a La Marzocco GB5, a Swift grinder, a Fetco, pretty ‘specialty’-related equipment,” Jaho owner Anil Mezini told Daily Coffee News of gear installed before Jaho was involved.
Terms of the public-private partnership have Jaho operating the new café for six weeks rent-free, after which time if it has proven popular and profitable enough, Jaho will stay on as a regular tenant to run the café permanently. However, the shop is not presently nor will it become in the future a regular Jaho Coffee and Tea location. The Peabody cafe is called the Coffee Experiment Peabody, and as it was built by the city before securing a coffee company to run it, it’s neither tailored nor equipped in the spirit of any other Jaho cafés.
“This is a much smaller store, there’s no proper kitchen and not much storage, so we’re running it very differently than we do our regular stores. There’s a more limited menu, and as a result for example we only have one coffee that we’re featuring per day,” Mezini said of the espresso, batch-drip and pourover program at the Experiment. “But we’re doing single-origins and education the public on the different coffees.”
Mezini said that while the first week of soft-opening has been promising, it takes a good three or four weeks to get a sense of week-over-week trends after the initial excitement about a new business dies down.
“Even with the incentives of this location, I did have to think about it before saying yes. The time investment is just like opening a new store. If you do it, obviously you’re going to have to do it well,” said Mezini. “I wouldn’t pick this location. But the idea behind it is to encourage more businesses to move in if it turns out to be successful.”
Mezini noted that the area has a lot of vacant storefronts, and the businesses that are there are mostly service-oriented. “The coffee shops, bars, restaurants that make people go out and spend time downtown are missing,” Mezini said. “The hope is that if it succeeds, it will encourage other people to look at downtown Peabody in a different light, and maybe be more willing to open something there.”
In stark contrast to the Coffee Experiment, Jaho’s other most recent shop to open was their fourth, last year, on the ground floor of a luxury apartment complex in downtown Boston. That shop features an impeccably well-equipped coffee bar, a full cocktail and whiskey bar component and a Loring S35 Kestral on site. As for what city or neighborhood they actually would choose for themselves for opening another Jaho — that would be somewhere in Tokyo, Japan.
“We are actively looking for a location in Tokyo, Japan, for an outlet over there,” said Mezini. “I’ve actually been able to visit a few locations. We haven’t really found the right fit but the search continues.”
Back in Peabody, in the space that formerly housed a barber shop at 67 Main St. across the street from the Peabody Institute Library, the Coffee Experiment is attempting to breathe new life into the district through fresh coffee, tea, smoothies and pastries, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.