In many ways, Greenville is to Wilmington what the Buckhead district is to Atlanta—or, taking a more urban setting, what Grand Central Station is to New York as a meet-and-eat venue for commuters. Greenville is conveniently located and has plenty of parking. It’s also a great place for shopping and meeting a friend or business colleague for a cup of coffee or a full-blown lunch.
In recent years, this town-turned-suburb has collected a varied array of restaurants. And while it has three great coffee shops, there are several things that set J’s Café apart from the others. Occupying a pie-shaped room off the main floor of Janssen’s Market, J’s bridges the gap between coffee shop and convenience restaurant. You can have a quick breakfast or linger over lunch with a glass of wine. You order, pay, sit and quickly leave when you’re finished. There’s no service charge, no waiting for a check from a server gone AWOL in the kitchen. And you simply pop through the arch to the supermarket to pick up what you need to fix tonight’s dinner. Or forget cooking altogether and grab takeout.
Being at the edge of the area’s increasingly gentrified chateau country, J’s is a place where patrons routinely find themselves running into neighbors and even celebrities. When he’s not in Maine, artist Jamie Wyeth likes to drop by the café before heading back into the market to discuss cheeses with Eileen Janssen. Former Vice President Joe Biden, a weekend regular, attracted media attention when he and his family stopped for breakfast after Sunday Mass the weekend he left office. “He loves to come in here with his grandkids,” says general manager Paula Janssen.
Paula is part of the third generation of Janssens running this gourmet market, which is now really a supermarket. As we sit at a café table, two men in jackets and ties discuss a pending financial deal behind us. Next to the entry, a 20-something sips her Coke and takes advantage of the café’s free Wi-Fi service with her tablet. Elsewhere, a balding guy cradling his go-cup of coffee stands transfixed, looking up at the large-screen TV tuned to CNN while reading the captions on the muted telecast. On the opposite wall, another set is silently tuned to ESPN.
After 55 years at its cramped location a hundred yards up Route 52, adjacent to what was then a Happy Harry’s pharmacy, Janssen’s relocated in 2007. Its current, much-larger facility used to house a Foodsource, briefly a competitor. “We’d always wanted a café at our other market, but there was no room there,” Paula says. “The café was here when we moved in, and we changed very little except the décor and the menu. We have a full café menu and a full grill menu, with specials every day.”
That day’s features included three kinds of chili, a tuna wrap, a turkey panini, three soups, a turkey Reuben burger, a Salisbury steak platter, a citrus salad and a roasted corn-and-pepper pizza. “Because of a recent change in the state law, we can now sell wine and beer,” says Paula. “And we have Bloody Marys and Mimosas on weekends.”
Paula trained herself to eventually run the business. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, she first served as a consultant at Accenture and a senior developer at PeopleSoft. Over the past few years, she gradually took over the reins from her parents, Eileen and Joe Janssen Jr., the latter who succeeded his father, Joe Sr.
The day at J’s starts at 7 a.m. “There’s a big rush in the mornings,” Paula says. “Parents bring their kids in for breakfast before they drop them off at school. Businessmen from the local financial services and others drop in for early meetings. And there are people here for breakfast takeout.”
Things are slower during the midday hours, the typical time for people to work on their computers. At around 11, it starts picking up again for lunch, sometimes with a wait for tables. By early afternoon, kids are coming in after school.
There’s an increasing happy-hour crowd at J’s. There’s more beer than wine sold; Stella Artois on tap is especially popular. The grill shuts down at 6:30 p.m., and the café closes at 7. “Weekends are very busy—especially Sundays,” Paula says.
She points out that the café has also served as a marketing tool for the supermarket. Because of its location and reputation for stocking gourmet items that can’t easily be found elsewhere, the market has always had “the reputation of being pricey,” says Paula. “But people will come here for coffee or a meeting, then decide they may want to shop here.”
Paula notes that the presence of plumbers, carpenters, electricians and such is always a good sign that the café’s prices and offerings are competitive. “They can get coffee and eat anywhere,” she says, adding that there are plans to enlarge the café. “And we have the space outside to do it.”
All the more reason for people on the go to slow down and smell the coffee.