WALLINGFORD — Green Kettle Coffee’s owner hopes to perk up a vacant downtown storefront as a new café, bringing an emphasis on locally roasted beans to Center Street.
"I'm just really excited for people to come in and see it and, in general, serve people coffee, connect with them,” said owner and Wallingford resident Kristen Gilbride. A New Jersey native, Gilbride relocated to Wallingford in 2020 after her sister moved to town.
She hopes the renovation of 208 Center St. will be completed in time for her to open in September, though there have been some delays in sourcing construction materials. The work includes replacing the floor, constructing a dividing wall, installing a bar where coffee will be served and adding a second bathroom.
Her vision for the space when it’s complete is a sophisticated and comfortable atmosphere, decorated with local antiques. She’s especially interested in finding artifacts of the town’s history manufacturing coffee mills in the 1800s.
Working with Connecticut-based coffee roasters, she plans to offer a rotating menu of drip coffee selections, as well as espresso and flavored lattes. Gilbride is also planning to source pastries and light fare from local bakeries to serve.
"I've just been a coffee person, like always getting machines and espresso machines and things like that, trying out different roasts and seeing different profiles and trying to perfect my own palette for it," said Gilbride, 26. Her own preference is for a lavender latte that finds a balance between not being too sweet or becoming bland, and for pour over coffee. She says every flavor has a time and place.
As coffee shops were shuttered at the start of the pandemic, Gilbride lost the environment she had grown up studying and meeting with friends in. She formed a plan to open her own shop and has spent the last two years searching for a space and working out the logistics. The diverse mix of businesses, affordable commercial space and walkable downtown attracted her to Wallingford.
"There's great coffee shops in Connecticut in general and this general area, but I think definitely the convenience of it being in downtown Wallingford and it has its own parking lot, free parking, and definitely very walkable,” she said. “ … That's what I like in a coffee shop, is being able to walk to it and have it be like an everyday place I go.”
Liz Davis, executive director of Wallingford Center Inc., said it’s exciting to see a young resident moving to town and investing in the local business community. The town has seen a host of new businesses started by younger residents recently, including Bel Lavi Medical and Glow Medical Aesthetics.
“More businesses, more younger people, are starting to pursue that because of the pandemic. So I've seen that they start out of their home, or however they’re going to start, and that’s what we want — we want people like that who have the courage and inspiration and want to be a part of the business community,” she said.
A coffee shop in particular expands the diversity of businesses in the downtown area, Davis said. While there are other restaurants which serve coffee, they are more centered on their food and a coffee-centric establishment will offer a new energy for customers.
Repurposing the building, which was home to John Kovacs Insurance Agency until the owner retired around the start of the pandemic, will also bring life back to a building which has been vacant for around two years. Gilbride said the current owners are dividing the space into a 1,000 square foot storefront which will be home to Green Kettle and an adjacent insurance company.
According to local and state records, the building is held by 208-210 Center St LLC, which is owned by Margaret Kramer and Glenn Ayer.