A few years ago Lou Puleo and Chris Varvaro were co-owners of a specialty home infusion pharmacy and Jeff Wong ran the pharmacy tech department for a Long Island cancer practice. Since then, the trio has moved on to infusions of a caffeine sort, as owners of the just-opened Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea in Smithtown. This is the first Long Island location of the Ann Arbor-based chain, although only the first of many if things go well, say the men.
What do health care types know about coffee, you ask? More than you might think.
“Here, there’s one primary market leader which dominates the whole sphere, which in the health care space was CVS/Caremark and here it’s Starbucks,” said Puleo, who lives in St. James.
“We’d be very happy to come in second place,” added West Islip native Varvaro. After all, Sweetwaters’ first coffee shop in Michigan opened right across the street from a Starbucks and, as Puleo put it, provided “a space that was more community-focused, that was less of the corporate sterile environment, and that holds true today.”
As with other Sweetwaters, the Smithtown location will have local school programs that reward kids for good grades, and on opening day last Saturday, featured a charity event benefiting — appropriately enough — the New York Cancer Foundation. In addition, the bright and attractive 1,400-square-foot shop’s walls are covered with the work of local artists and photographers. “We feel that if we are doing our jobs right,” said Puleo, “besides serving coffee we are providing a forum for community members to showcase what they care about.”
While the new shop has opened with the chain’s standard drink and recipe menu, it will eventually expand to include local bakeries and other food purveyors. Besides an extensive array of coffee and tea options, “we have some quick-serve items,” said Varvaro, including “pastries, cakes, breakfast sandwiches throughout the day, and just about every milk alternative that’s common.” The shop also has a drive-through, a near-necessity these days. “This is Long Island, and people are on the go.”
According to Puleo, the Sweetwaters model allows them to provide the consistency and product mix of a Starbucks, along with a fair price point. “Couple that with that old feeling you used to have when you’d go into an actual coffee shop, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is at 200 W. Main St. in Smithtown, 631-360-0276, sweetwaterscafe.com. Hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.