Coffee has been an interesting and somewhat heated (dare we say “piping hot”?) topic on Springfield Avenue for the past several years.
In September 2003, NetNomads moved from Baker Street in the Village to the corner of Springfield Avenue and Prospect Street and got people buzzing about the re-emergence of Springfield Avenue. When Café Meow proposed opening across the street in 2005, some were skeptical that the Avenue could support two coffee houses in such close proximity. As a result, Café Meow’s owners navigated a somewhat more lengthy and costly approval process, needing to show proof that there were sufficient parking spaces to support their café and existing businesses.
After Café Meow opened in summer 2006, the two coffee houses developed a polite rivalry and their own distinct clientele, with Café Meow serving lunch and offering lots of space for young mothers, their small children and other groups. NetNomads trended to an older, quieter crowd and offered design and printing services. The competition meant more work for the owners and staff at both locations but the coffee-drinking, café-loving public was the winner – at least for a time.
As of mid-March neither NetNomads nor Café Meow will exist on Springfield Avenue, technically speaking.
This past Saturday, the two businesses’ differing fates were on view. At Café Meow, friends and family were helping to empty out the Café Meow space before the lease is formally terminated on March 9. Across the street, Kari Capone, the new owner of NetNomads (soon to be called “Kari’s”), was carrying a comfy armchair into that café as her 6-year-old son Andrew held the door.
As most Maplewoodians know, Café Meow closed its doors last fall. At the time, a collective groan could be heard around town from those who had made it their living room away from home. Owners John and Christine Muccigrosso cited the faltering economy—lunch business had fallen off steeply and small business loans were impossible to obtain—as well as plain-old exhaustion from having to cut staff and be on their feet (at least in Christine’s case) for 14 or more hours a day. Over the past few months, the Muccigrossos have heard from several potential buyers but nothing has panned out.
NetNomads owner Deanne Landress is likewise looking forward to a change of pace. With her son Jonathan now off to college (pursuing a degree in physics and engineering through a joint program at Vassar and Dartmouth), Landress is free to travel. She will explore getting involved with Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women and other programs that help women entrepreneurs. Her Stanford MBA will come in handy. “Women entrepreneurs feed and nurture a community in a way that men do not,” says Landress, and she points to the renaissance of Springfield Avenue as an example. Fans of Deanne can also take heart: Landress will continue to offer her design and printing services from her home (www.maplewood.net).
The new café owner, Kari Capone, lives across the street above Stories in Motion, and says she will officially re-open as Kari’s in mid-March, but that there will be no interruption in hours or service.
Many in the neighborhood know Capone already from her part-time work at Knitknack at 1914 Springfield Avenue. And knitting is something that Capone will be bringing to Kari’s, with the blessing of Knitknack’s Meera Kotari Cho. While she will continue to rely on the breakfast bagel and coffee trade as her bread and butter, she will introduce tea parties and knitting parties for girls on the weekends.
Regarding the look of the café, Capone admires the clean lines and uncluttered space of NetNomads, but she says she will definitely be changing the décor to reflect the new focus on tea and parties.
“My vision is that you step into a secret garden,” says Capone. “We’ll have lots of plants, lots of photography on the walls.” But don’t expect sudden and drastic changes: “We’re a new venture. I’m leery of businesses that change everything right away. I’d rather change slowly and not go under.” Capone does plan to have “beautiful” signs in the mode of local salon Fringe affixed to the façade in the near future.
“Kari has an interest in retail,” says Landress, who will stay on for a bit to help ease the transition. “She’s going to add more retail items. She’s interested in exploiting the visibility of this location.”
And what of the Muccigrossos? Is there hope for Maplewoodians who are struggling to get through the day without their Café Meow ginger scones, morning glory muffins and wild rice chicken salad? Yes. Well, maybe. Christine is pondering writing a Café Meow Cookbook, but she vows never to own or operate a restaurant again. “I'm off to get retrained in something that doesn't make me stand for 14 hours a day, something that pays and has benefits and sick days.” That, plus she hopes to spend a year in Italy with her family while husband John is on sabbatical from his teaching job at Drew University.
As the owners of NetNomads and Café Meow pursue their new endeavors, one thing is for certain: café lovers in town are wishing Kari’s much success.
Full disclosure: The author of this article worked for the Springfield Avenue Partnership in 2005 and 2006. The Partnership supported the granting of a variance for Café Meow and the author testified to the Maplewood Planning Board in favor of granting that variance.
NOTE: In the original version of this article, we identified Knitknack owner Meera Kothari Cho as Meera Kotari. We regret the error.