Despite the ongoing pandemic, new businesses in the Poconos have their sights set on success
Yes, there are challenges and risks to consider when opening or expanding a business, but as these Pocono-based restaurateurs will tell you, the pandemic is something they could not predict.
We spoke with the owners of Spark Coffee and Llama Ice Cream, who shared how working as a team helped them during uncertain times.
Not your average ‘Cup of Joe’
Jill Melia and Robert Johnstone were hoping to open the doors of their shop, Spark Coffee in the spring.
Instead, the grand opening took place July 3.
“Right before COVID-19 hit, we found the perfect place and were really excited — and then, bam!” Melia said.
Still, they didn’t lose hope.
When Melia felt worried or stressed, she leaned on Johnstone for support.
“Rob kept it together very well. When I started getting worried and down, he would lift me up, and if he started getting down, I’d say, ‘Come on, let’s keep going.’”
Their landlord did not charge them rent a few months, a kind gesture, Melia adds.
While the stay-at-home order was in effect they took the time to research, decorate, and master the art of brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
“It gave us time to slowly put things together and I’d experiment with all the stuff, so it actually worked out well,” Melia said.
They also learned about different types of coffee beans, in search of the best sip.
“I’m mostly a tea drinker, but at work everyone would drink coffee, so I would too,” Melia said. “But I never really liked it because of that bitter acidic taste. I would drink it and cloud it down with lots of cream and sugar.
“Now, I drink a lot of coffee.”
As you walk past the shop, you can smell the aroma of their coffee, which Melia says is smooth and bold, sans “the typical acidic bitterness.”
As far as brews are concerned, there is a medium roast from Brazil, and a Sumatra, which is the bolder version.
Roasting is done in Wayne, New Jersey and delivered daily.
“We roast our own in small batches, and I grind it fresh every morning or anytime I need to brew a pot,” Melia said.
It’s affordable, too.
A shot of espresso is $1 and coffee starts at $1.49.
It was Johnstone and her children who inspired Melia to quit her day job as a retail meat packer and open the java joint.
Together the couple chose downtown Stroudsburg because of its charm and diversity.
“I brought Jill here in the wintertime, pre-COVID and we waked around Main Street,” Johnstone, who runs Stroud Media, an internet company based in the back of the shop, said. “She was amazed at how many families and people were walking around. You don’t see that many Main Streets — at least in this area.”
They work as a team, but Johnstone says it’s Melia who is eager to acquaint herself with the people in town and its visitors.
“I feel like we make a good team. I’m the behind the scenes guy. I can make all the appliances work,” he said. “Anyone can put a bunch of stuff in a store and call it a coffee shop, but it takes personality and being personable, and that’s what Jill has. That’s what will make (Spark) successful.”
And sure, while opening up shop during a pandemic may seem daunting, Melia refers back to the name of her coffee, taken from the lyrics of a Day to Remember tune.
“We went back and forth we a bunch of different names and one day I was driving and I heard the lyrics, 'It starts with a spark, then it’s a wildfire,’’’ and I thought I can go in so many different positive directions with that. That’s what I want, to create positivity in everybody. Our tag line is: `Where’s your spark?’’’
The sweetest cake for Mila! Happy 6th Birthday Mila!Posted by Llama Ice Cream onTuesday, July 7, 2020
Melting away worries
Julio Amenero and his wife, Celia, own Llama Ice Cream, 266 River Road in East Stroudsburg.
The creamery serves homemade ice cream with Latino flair, and has quite the local following due to its unique flavors such as lucuma, soursop, mamey, passionfruit, guava, tamarind, and dulce de leche.
Because of their success, the Amenero family decided to open a second location in February inside the food court of Stroud Mall (344 Stroud Mall Road, Stroudsburg, 570-202 6963, facebook.com/llamaicecream.)
They remain optimistic, despite a drop in business at the food court, which reopened June 19.
“Even if the sales are not great, we need to keep it and we want to try it for one year. Now that we’ve opened the sales are not the best, but we’re still selling (ice cream) there.”
Recently, the shop added new flavors such as matcha green tea, lavender, figs and rum, piña colada, and avocado. Many are already a hit among fellow Llama-lovers.
They also sell custom-made cakes starting at $40 and distribute products wholesale.
“We sell a lot at wholesale because supermarkets are still buying a lot in New Jersey.” Julio said. “That compensates.”
With his faith and family, Julio continues to believe in his products and clientele.
“This pandemic affected everyone and of course we’re losing money every month, but we keep going,” he said. “I know in business you’re not always going to win. Sometimes you lose and you have to wait.”
Other new restaurants
Kimchi and Wasabi, 1874 Route 611, Mount Pocono, 570-839-9231, bit.ly/2ZiDwju
Murphy’s Loft (formerly Robert Christians), 5102 Route 115, Blakeslee, Murphysloft.com/menu
Sparkomatic Café, 611 Broad St., Milford, 570-409-4200, sparkomaticcafe.com
Native, 560 Main St., Honesdale, Nativehonesdale.com
MYST Sushi/Hibachi/Gastropub, 34 Susquehanna St., Jim Thorpe, 570-213-7011, Facebook.com/mystjimthorpe