Bayonne is evolving. Luxury condos are on the rise. Soon a 10-story building will tower over Broadway where mom-and-pop shops once stood. The cafés that are popping up around town reflect the young urbanites, who are moving into these properties.
You could always find a decent cappuccino here, thanks to the Italian-American community, but café character was hard to come by. Now Bayonne is peppered with cozy cafés where you can become a regular, enjoy conversation with friends, or set up your laptop office. Does the $5 latte complete with a foam heart mean that Bayonne has made the leap from blue collar to urban professional?
What Happens in Vegas …
Perk Up owner Neil Bojarski wanted to start a business after moving back to Hudson County from Las Vegas. When he asked his daughters what type of business, they said a coffee shop. He was onboard, taking a class at Kobrick Coffee Company, where he learned how to brew coffee and expertly steam milk. He opened his first shop at 317 Broadway because he noticed the development in the neighborhood.
Bojarski brought his lifelong best friend, Brian Collins, who has a culinary background, into the business as manager soon after the 2015 opening. “I’ve been in a kitchen doing food since I’ve been 13,” Collins says. “I love what I do.” He gestures with pride toward a display case of sandwiches with roasted veggies and thick mozzarella. He’s the foodie, and Bojarski is the Joe expert.
Bojarski also has an eye for design. The place has custom gas pipe lighting fixtures, artfully drawn chalkboard menus, and a vintage-looking tin ceiling. Another standout detail is a gigantic safe that serves as a side table. The safe reads, “Massarelli,” the family name of the original building owners who had a pharmacy for many years.
“It shows a little history,” says Collins, who lives in Bayonne. “We’re new, but we don’t want to change this town; we want to be a part of it.” But Collins concedes that change is in the air. “I’ve seen Bayonne grow from pizzerias, Italian restaurants, and fast food to more specialty shops,” he says. “Most of the people who are moving into town are a little bit younger, and they want something different.” He says that a lot of people come in looking for THEIR vegan and gluten-free foods. “Plus coffee is vegan and gluten-free!” he laughs.
Citysports owners Chris Piechocki and Victor Pesantez wanted to launch an indoor sports arena. They eventually pulled Perk Up’s Bojarski into their brainstorming session, asking him to sponsor a sports team. Instead, Bojarski asked to open a mini café in the lobby of the arena. The idea appealed to Piechocki. “This way the parents can come in and fuel up on coffee for their busy day,” he says. Perk Up opened inside Citysports on Gertrude Street in October 2015. Piechocki says that it’s popular with parents. “They all stay over here and socialize,” he says, gesturing toward the reclaimed wood kiosk that offers food, snacks, and sports drinks along with the shop’s famous coffee offerings.
Another Broadway Brew
A third Perk Up opened this year at 603 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets. This coffeehouse isn’t as big as the original. It offers a smaller menu of baked goods, soups, sandwiches, and salads. The area has more foot traffic than the downtown spot. Collins, who spends the majority of his time at this location, knows most of his customers’ regular orders.
Cafe Nomis is inside the Verizon Store on Broadway and 23rd Street. The cafe is owned by Lucy Kim, whose brother owns the Verizon Store. The Kim family opened the cafe in 2015 when they realized that Verizon customers would probably enjoy sipping coffee while shopping for the newest smartphone. Now Cafe Nomis draws regular customers all its own.
The Kims have lived in Bayonne since the 1980s and recall Broadway as a once-thriving shopping district. “I’m very hopeful that the town can attract younger people,” Lucy says. “We are doing our very best to keep Bayonne going.”
Part of that effort is adding menu items that are unique for the area, like Bubble Tea and Taiyaki croissants. “We want to bring different stuff to Bayonne, so people don’t have to make a trip out of town to try something new,” Lucy says.
Bake ‘N Brew Cafe opened in late June in Bergen Point. The café, which is on Broadway between 5th and 6th Streets, is owned by Michael Mossaad and his wife, Johanna Lara.
“This is our first business, but it’s always been in our minds,” Lara says, explaining that shortly after she and her husband met in 2002 he planned to open a bagel shop in the city with some friends, but it fell through at the last minute. “Ever since then he had that spark in him that he wanted to open a place of his own,” she says.
That dream is finally coming true. The café features coffee and house-made artisanal bread and sweets from local vendors.
Lara likes to keep it local. “We live a few blocks away from the store,” she says. “Our children go to school here. We have an amazing community.”
Lara has gotten support from other business owners in the area, like Sandra Dear, who is in the process of opening a children’s bookstore called The Little Boho Book Shop next door to Bake ‘N Brew.
“It felt like destiny was just waiting for us to connect,” Lara says. The two found that their business plans merged easily. They plan to share a space at the back of the two shops, where little readers and their coffee-drinking caregivers can mingle.
“We’re hoping to build something for the community,” says Dear, who came to Bayonne from San Diego five years ago when she got a publishing job in NYC. Now she sees a new wave of people moving to town. “Everyone that I talk to is coming to Bayonne from the city,” she says.
Lara says, “Someone said it’s almost like a renaissance happening here.”—BLP