The country’s smallest state could have its largest coffee shop by next summer.
At least that’s David Levesque’s plan, following Warwick City Council second passage Monday night of a zoning change. The change allows him to convert the Range Rover dealership on Bald Hill Road into the state’s fifth Brewed Awakenings Coffee House.
Levesque believes it will be the country’s largest coffee house.
“I looked all over the country and the largest I could find was a Starbucks in Texas,” he said Monday at City Hall.
The San Antonio Starbucks was 5,900 square feet. Considering the planned outdoor seating, Levesque said the converted dealership would offer more than 8,000 square feet and provide seating for about 200 patrons.
Levesque, who grew up in Johnston and now lives in Narragansett, isn’t taking his latest venture lightly. He sees it as extending the Brewed Awakenings brand and as a springboard to increased business at his existing stores and perhaps more stores in the state.
Levesque is budgeting $1.5 million to convert the dealership, which has been vacant for some time, into a unique shop that he hopes to open this coming March. Uniqueness is a Brewed Awakenings trademark; no two stores are alike.
Levesque has planned it that way. He isn’t looking to create a McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts with color schemes, furniture and décor that are identical from store to store. Levesque wants Brewed Awakenings’ customers to feel that a particular store is “theirs.”
“It’s not my shop; it’s their shop,” he says.
The furniture differs from store to store, although the Warwick store is certain to have the upholstered chairs and nooks that have made his stores popular places for people to join friends, do business or just sit and read a book. His latest research shows customers spend an average of 45 minutes in a store.
Levesque hopes the Warwick store, like the others in Johnston, Cranston and Wakefield, will become the place for “waves” of people; from those who work in the area; to community organizations; and, as this is Rhode Island, for politicians and their followers. The stores open at 5 a.m. and stay open to midnight. Coffee is just one of many beverages sold, not to mention baked goods and sandwiches. The house regular coffee still remains the biggest seller.
It all started 18 years ago when Levesque’s mother, Kay, suggested he open a coffee shop. At the time, he was in the wholesale coffee business and also ran a basket business. He eventually sold the coffee business to a competitor and the basket business to Roch’s Market.
Brewed Awakenings got its start at 1395 Atwood Ave. in Johnston, where it continues to operate today. It began with a 1,200-square-foot shop. Levesque remembers the early days when, after counting the till, they had $110 in sales.
It’s come a long way since those days.
The Johnston store caught on and has been expanded several times. It is now 3,300 square feet.
Levesque said many thought he was nuts to open another store only about a mile away in Johnston. Instead of stealing business from the first store, he saw an increase in traffic. That experience explains why he thinks the Warwick location will be so good.
“Everybody goes to Bald Hill Road to shop,” he said.
Whether they stop in the store or not, Levesque said the name will be seen and will have a carryover effect on all the stores.
Levesque is planning to stay for some time. He said he has a “short term 25-year lease” on the building.
“We know where we’re going to be,” he said when asked why 25 years. Also, he sees it as having value if he needs financing, or should he sell the business.
Could the lease become an albatross?
“There’s always a shot it doesn’t work,” he said, “that’s the dice you roll.”
Levesque owns the business with his wife, Natalie. His goal is to continue opening stores but he has no thoughts of franchising the name or the operation at this point. The company currently employs 102. Levesque said the Warwick store would generate another 40 to 50 jobs.
Attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi represented Levesque before the council, which unanimously approved the zone change. Levesque’s original plan went through modifications after concerns over traffic patterns were raised. As it is now, traffic will be restricted from making a left turn out of the site. To make a left turn, motorists will need to use the nearby traffic signal to the entrance to the Warwick Centre Plaza.