Mexican eatery uprooting PI Coffee Roasters, Merrohawke

Plum Island Coffee Roasters, at left, and Merrohawke Nature Center have to vacate this building on the Newburyport waterfront, although the nature center may end up in smaller space in the same building.RICHARD K. LODGE/Staff photo

NEWBURYPORT — The city will likely have a new restaurant along the waterfront this fall but it will come at the expense of two longtime businesses being forced out to make room. 

Luchos, a casual-style cantina from The Fleury Group of restaurants, will move into 54-56R Merrimac St. later this year, according to building owner Newburyport Development. 

But the news means that Plum Island Coffee Roasters and Merrohawke Nature School will have to find new homes, although Merrohawke may remain in the building.

PIum Island Coffee Roasters owner Bruce Vogel, a tenant at will, confirmed he was handed eviction papers Friday and given 45 days to leave. 

Kate Yeomans, Merrohawke's executive director, said she received notice that the school needed to be out of its space by March 31. She said her school had a five-year lease with Newburyport Development through 2023 but was informed the lease was being canceled.  

But she said Newburyport Development has been searching the area to find a new home for the school. That home could be in the same building, she added, because the restaurant is not expected to take over the whole structure.  

"The termination notice we received is for our existing lease and now we are working to negotiate a new arrangement, either in an alternate location, or in a smaller section of our existing location," she said.

Yeomans said Merrohawke has been at the Merrimac Street address for 14 years and the school is expected to offer outdoor programs this summer regardless of where it is located. Since its founding, Merrohawke has added a second location in Boxford. 

In a statement, Newburyport Development said Luchos will lease the Plum Island Coffee Roasters space and the waterfront, back half of Merrohawke.

"Since last summer Newburyport Development has been working with the Merrohawke Nature School to downsize their space, possibly to a new location on the waterfront to provide a better fit," the statement reads. "The office on the second floor of 56R Merrimac and the apartment located above Plum Island Coffee Roasters both have leases expiring this spring. These remaining tenants may prefer different future locations."

Unlike Yeomans, Vogel appears to be on his own finding a new place. 

For more than 15 years, Plum Island Coffee Roasters has been a fixture near the city's waterfront but its future is in doubt. In addition to Plum Island Coffee Roasters, Vogel owns Souffle's coffee shop in Market Square and formerly owned Commune on Pleasant Street.

"I think it's horrible. They didn't even talk to me," Vogel said Monday about the eviction notice.

In a separate statement sent to The Daily News on Monday, Newburyport Development said Vogel's lease with the company, part of New England Development, expired in early 2019 and on Friday he was given 45 days notice to relocate. 

Vogel acknowledged he has been a tenant at will since 2019, meaning Newburyport Development had the legal right to ask him to leave whenever it saw fit. But despite a rocky relationship relationship with his landlord at times, Vogel said he was surprised by the company's lack of communication. 

"Does that make it OK? That's my question, just because you can, does it make it OK?" Vogel asked. 

The news came just a few months after Vogel, an at-large city councilor, was forced to close another coffee shop, Commune Cafe, on Pleasant Street after failing to reach an agreement with its landlord over rent payments. Vogel had been trying to sell the cafe but got no takers. 

Rent was not an issue at Plum Island Coffee Roasters, according to Vogel, who said he paid $52,800 in rent in 2020. 

Plum Island Coffee Roasters, located near the new Tuscan Sea Grill & Bar restaurant, was founded in 2005 and run by co-owners Samantha Stephen and Joyce Coady. Vogel bought the business from them in January 2011. 

Business could not have been better at Plum Island Coffee Roasters, with 2020 being a "record-breaking year," Vogel said.

He said the business had 139,000 customers last year, three-fourths of them regulars. 

"We had 93,000 rings on the register. We calculate each ring represents service to at least 1.5 customers," Vogel wrote in a statement to The Daily News. 

With Commune shuttered and Plum Island Coffee Roasters in line to meet the same fate, it could mean the end of Vogel's career as a coffee seller.

"I don't know what's next in terms of what I am going to do," he said. "I know Souffle's won't support me. There's not enough money there to make a living." 

Vogel added that Plum Island Coffee Roasters serves as his only reliable source of income, with Souffle's, which does roughly half the business, only breaking even. 

In the phone interview, Vogel said Plum Island Coffee Roasters was a place where the community got together. Over the years, the shop has featured poetry readings, sing-alongs and other community-building experiences.

"Not only is it devastating to me and my pocketbook, I am going to be really curious what the hue and cry is from the community," Vogel said.

Vogel said friends are encouraging him to open another coffee shop if he has to move Plum Island Coffee Roasters. But Vogel said the city is already saturated with coffee shops and doubted he could recreate "the magic" that made Plum Island Coffee Roasters so successful. 

"What makes the Roasters is the location, there's no doubt about it." Vogel said. 

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