It only seemed natural after all the years he frequented the Coffee Grinder in Governor Francis Farm Shopping Center that Ed Duckworth should call and ask him to fill in for what he believed would be a short hospital visit.
Rick Cascella agreed without a second thought. He’d open the place and check in during the day; no big deal. But Ed was more ill than he imagined.
The former firefighter who had built the Coffee Grinder into a place where people could get a quick cup of coffee to go or spend an hour over a muffin and catching up on the neighborhood news with the regulars never returned. He died on March 30 at the age of 73. Duckworth ran the Grinder for 25 years.
Cascella remembers Duckworth as a “bigger than life guy” who sponsored local teams and was active in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Boys Scouts and John Brown Francis School. Suddenly, a part of the community was gone. Duckworth was gone. The Coffee Grinder closed.
Cascella had thought of owning the Coffee Grinder and once told Duckworth if he ever wanted to sell to let him know. Duckworth never got to sell, and Cascella realized with his death it was the end to an era, yet he couldn’t imagine the business folding. He talked to Duckworth’s widow, Fran. He talked with his own family and he thought about his own schedule. Cascella works many jobs. He is the operations manager for the Rhode Island Eye Institute; he’s a real estate agent with Williams and Stuart; he’s a project manager for Shoreline Construction; and he manages his own rental properties. Time is a precious commodity.
But Cascella is also generous with his time. He’s involved in the community. He closely follows what’s happening in Warwick and has definitive opinions on what needs to happen for Warwick to build a strong future, which he knows would not make him popular with members of the School Committee or City Council or, for that matter, municipal unions that can play a role in getting people elected. Cascella has run for School Committee, and in 2016 he was the Republican candidate for the Ward 1 seat vacated by Steve Colantuono. He has yet to win an election.
The Coffee Grinder is another story, one that Cascella has a profound influence in shaping. After working out agreements with Duckworth’s widow and a lease with the Sholes, who own the center, Cascella went to work. He renovated the shop, removing some of the booths and counter stools while adding a couch and upholstered chairs in the light-filled front of the store. There’s a long table for customers who might want to meet in groups of fours and fives.
Cascella is planning to do more, especially when it comes to what the shop has to offer. The muffins, bagels and toast are still available; that hasn’t changed. He’s added yogurt and fruits. The next step will be a limited lunch menu of sandwiches – a “micro lunch,” he calls it. His plan is to offer a choice of no more than five sandwiches that could vary from day to day with a side of salad for under $7. He aims to bring in a younger group, especially in the afternoons when he can see high school students stopping in, using the wi-fi and being with their friends in a safe environment where their parents know where they are and approve. Going a step further, he can see making the shop available for small parties and having an open microphone on certain nights.
Cascella has no shortage of ideas, nor does it seem the energy to tackle them. Now he’s just got to find the time.