EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 9, 2012

Couple takes over Methuen's Java Joe's

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — You may have noticed a change at 7 Hampshire St. since this summer.

New people have taken over operations of Downtown Java Joe’s on Aug. 1 with visions of refashioning the coffee shop. But the changes they’ve made have been incremental, and that’s on purpose.

“We didn’t want to change too much because people are attached to this place,” said Nikki Surette, 27, a Haverhill native who now lives in Lowell. “And I was too.”

Surette and husband Semi Weldeamlak, 31, reopened on Aug. 1 and renamed the shop Gemma’s, after their rambunctious rescue chocolate Labrador/mastiff mix. The paint inside is a little brighter, and the menu is reimagined. But walking in, many likely will find the space familiar, with tables along the wall and upholstered chairs and couches up front near the windows.

Surette is a teacher at the School for Exceptional Studies in Lawrence and for the Center for Performing Arts dance studio located two floors above the cafe. The couple had plans for opening their own restaurant or cafe a few years down the road, but familiarity and the proximity to her other jobs made it too good to pass up.

“As soon as the opportunity came up, we jumped,” Weldeamlak said.

They met while studying at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where Surette was completing a liberal arts degree on her way to a master’s in special education and Weldeamlak was studying electrical engineering.

A job at Cafe Sorelli in Woburn, however, pulled him away from the relatively definite and objective world of numbers and engineering into the subjective realm of taste and food. “It was totally the opposite direction,” he said.

The menu includes bagels, breakfast sandwiches, salads, a soup of the day, deli sandwiches and house specialty sandwiches like Hot Cheri and Ray May, named after customers and others Weldeamlak and Surette know. Wash that down with a coffee, tea or soda. Seasonal additions, such as gelato, are in the works for next year. The sandwich list evolved from a rotating sandwich-of-the-day into a compilation of the best-selling sandwiches-of-the-day.

They also are putting the finishing touches on a special take-out menu for New Years Eve, with appetizers and dinner plates. Orders for that must be in by Dec. 19.

Gemma’s is ready for a grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 29 featuring free food samples, a raffle and door prizes and a 7 p.m. comedy open-mic night.

Gemma’s is located at 7 Hampshire St., and is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. The website, gemmascafe.com, is still under construction. Street parking and a small public lot are available nearby.

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