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New Carol’s coffee shop planned for New Haven site

NEW HAVEN — In early 2008, John Melanson wasn’t sure if Carol’s Hungry Mind Café would last out the year.
But times have indeed changed for the “little coffee shop that could” at 24 Merchants Row in Middlebury.
Melanson confirmed during a recent interview that he will open a second “Carol’s” location at 7404 Route 7, a now-vacant building that has hosted a handful of different businesses during the past 15 years. Most recently, Hilltop RV Center operated out of the 1,900-square-foot building that occupies a 3.5-acre lot in New Haven’s Highway-Commercial zone.
“It’s a little scary,” Melanson admitted about the new venture, which he plans to put into high gear after signing a rental agreement that as of July 31 was almost ready.
Plans call for the new Carol’s to initially occupy one-third of the 7404 Route 7 building, from which Melanson will sell the same fare as he sells at his Merchants Row spot. Carol’s menu includes a variety of coffees, teas, muffins and pre-made sandwiches and baked goods.
While the Middlebury location has earned a reputation as a comfortable spot at which to enjoy a snack in the company of a friend or good book, the New Haven Carol’s will — at least initially — cater in particular to people on the go. There will be some limited seating, but Carol’s on Route 7 will embrace a new mobile phone app called “Luvjo.” Available through the Apple Store (and eventually available for Android phones), Luvjo allows clients of local, independent coffee shops to electronically pre-pay for their coffee and baked goods and conveniently pick them up on the way to work or other destinations.
“Our partner LevelUp is a secure credit processing service that saves merchants tons of money that gets passed back to you as rewards, so it’s a win-win,” reads a narrative on the Luvjo website. “Order, pay and schedule your coffee for pickup from your mobile phone. Delay and cancel if you need to.”
Melanson said he’s toying with the possibility of his staff bringing clients’ purchases out to their cars when they pull into the lot. Of course people will also be able to stop in and make purchases at the counter.
“We will be focused on commuters,” Melanson said.
And Melanson knows a lot of commuters make their trek back and forth along Route 7 between Addison and Chittenden counties. He hopes to capitalize on that traffic through a business plan that allows people to get their morning caffeine jolt and a snack more quickly than they can at the typical mini-mart or bakery.
It’s an idea that Melanson has mulled over for a while, but has now decided to act upon in light of some potential major construction in downtown Middlebury that could dramatically affect Carol’s Merchants Row location. State and local authorities are planning for replacement of the Main Street and Merchants Row rail overpasses, a $55 million project tentatively slated to begin next spring. It’s a job that officials said could last for three years and in the process create significant detours, noise and dust that is likely to disrupt shopping patterns. Some Middlebury merchants and downtown property owners are appealing to the Vermont Agency of Transportation to scuttle the current project in favor of something more modest — or a rail bypass around the village.
So Melanson is looking upon a second Carol’s on Main Street as an economic life preserver to sustain the business through some potential construction pandemonium in downtown Middlebury.
“The railroad project was my inspiration for doing this,” Melanson said. “I need something else.”
He stressed, however, that the Middlebury Carol’s will remain open. He expects to split staff between the two locations. Carol’s has 10 part-time workers whose skills and dedication have helped give him confidence to launch the second shop.
“This is home base,” he said of the Merchants Row Carol’s, which he said has been doing “great” in recent years.
If the New Haven location performs well, Melanson plans on using the remaining two-thirds of the building for a restaurant that would serve breakfast and lunch. An outbuilding on the property could serve as a creemee stand, he noted.
Melanson acknowledged that other restaurants have tried, but failed, to make a go of it at the 7404 Route 7 spot. But he thinks he has the winning formula to make a second Carol’s a success. Melanson said the new store will likely open in the early morning and close mid-afternoon. He is targeting an early fall opening. Fortunately, the building will only need a few cosmetic upgrades prior to opening, according to Melanson.
“The floors, walls and ceiling will have to be repainted,” he said.
“I’m excited.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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