New Stony Brook Coffeehouse Takes on COVID Challenges

New Stony Brook Coffeehouse Takes on COVID Challenges

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Druthers Coffee owners Kathryne Piazzola, Zachary Russell and Michael Buchholz said they and customers are handling COVID-19 guidelines successfully. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Just when shops were ready to open in Stony Brook Square, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order requiring businesses deemed nonessential to shut down March 22 due to COVID-19.

Michael Buchholz prepares a beverage. Photo by Rita J. Egan

In a March 12 Village Times Herald article, Parviz Farahzad, owner of East Setauket-based Little Rock Construction, said Stony Brook Square was ready for tenants to move in. The shopping center is located on Route 25A across the street from the Long Island Rail Road train station.

Among those who were patiently waiting were the owners of Druthers Coffee, Kathryne Piazzola and her husband Kevin Phieffer, of St. James, and her son Zachary Russell and his husband Michael Buchholz from Port Jefferson. The owners said they officially opened Aug. 14, some three months after their plan to launch a new coffeehouse  in early May was dashed due to COVID. The coffee spot also had another delay after Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out power.

Piazzola and Russell said waiting to open was somewhat of a challenge.

“It was disappointing,” Piazzola said. “I had left my position at the university, and Zachary and Michael left their barista jobs, and so we were in limbo for a little bit.”

Piazzola said while the pandemic delayed the completion of Druthers’ construction, her husband, a contractor, worked on it until others were able to do so again. Piazzola, Russell and Buchholz have been the only ones working in the coffee place since it opened, sometimes for 14 hours a day.

The owners said they feel fortunate that customers have been complying with public health guidelines by wearing their masks and social distancing when eating and drinking.

“We know so many cafe owners who are spending most of their time arguing with their guests about putting their masks on,” Buchholz said, adding they have facial coverings on hand for those who forget.

The cafe is currently able to seat eight outside and eight inside. Buchholz said the present design wasn’t what they originally planned but it works well with current guidelines. At first, the owners said they were concerned because Stony Brook University isn’t operating at full capacity, and they know many residents are hesitant to go out. However, there has been a good turnout so far. The owners are also pleased  The Stony Brook School has given students gift cards to Druthers as prizes, and that SBU faculty and students are using it as a place to meet and work.

“The community has turned out in the most incredible way.” Buchholz said.

Russell said they originally wanted to offer breakfast, beer and wine on weekends, as well as pop-up dinners but scaled back at first. Customers have told them what the shop has now and is planning to offer in the future is what they have been looking for in the neighborhood.

“We started slow and we’re glad that we did, but we’re growing into the space,” Buchholz  said. “And we’re living up to the expectations with everyone coming in. Operating it hasn’t been much of a challenge, it’s just been jumping over hurdles on the layout side.”

Hurdles are nothing new to store owners in the center. Development of Stony Brook Square was stalled back in the summer of 2018 when the Town of Brookhaven Planning Board issued a stop-work order after inspectors discovered field changes at the site. While the Planning Board approved some of the modifications, it requested one building be moved to its initially approved spot.

Currently, Druthers Coffee shares the center with Arnor Crepes & Bubble Tea, which opened in the summer. Farahzad said he has already seen some foot traffic with students and residents visiting the establishments and feels the center will add a “downtown feeling.” All but two storefronts and the historic home on the property have been leased, according to Farahzad. Jersey Mike’s Subs and Teachers Federal Credit Union are slated to open soon and will be followed by businesses such as Dental365, Organic Krush, a hair salon, pizzeria, noodle house and Vietnamese and Mediterranean restaurants.