For Mark Friedman, who first frequented John’s Coffee Shop as a Lawrence High School student (class of 1986), worked at Pancho’s on the same Cedarhurst property as a teenager and then owned the nearly 60-year-old coffee shop, closing the Chestnut Street eatery was not easy.
“A majority of our customers are sad to see us go,” Friedman said as he sat in the 70-seat-plus breakfast and lunch restaurant barely three weeks after he closed John’s Coffee Shop on Dec. 17. “But the reality is that Cedarhurst is no longer a destination for non-kosher consumers.”
Friedman, 49, also pointed to lifestyle changes and the sales volume needed to maintain a 2,000-square-foot eatery with wait staff. “People used to come in for coffee, the newspaper, candy before the train, the last several years no coffee, no papers, no candy,” he said. “Serving price points between coffee at $2 and [meals] at $12 you’ve got to do a tremendous volume.”
The coffee shop faces the Cedarhurst Long Island Rail Road Station. Chestnut Street was known as “Restaurant Row” as eateries lined the street. In the past few years, Five Towns staples such as Mother Kelly’s and La Viola have closed and been replaced by kosher restaurants.
As Friedman recalled his professional journey, he noted what it meant to him to own a business in a what he called a “thriving community.” “It’s pretty amazing how you touch peoples’ lives,” he said, “seeing my customers children grow up, seeing them go to college, become adults, sharing the joys and sorrows.”
John’s Coffee Shop opened in 1958 and was owned by the same family until 2006, when Friedman bought the business. Friedman’s family moved to the Five Towns from Queens. After Lawrence High, he attended SUNY Oneonta. He lived in Hewlett until 1995 and now lives in the Town of Huntington with wife Nicolle and son Josh.
After 15 years in corporate sales and then in his 30s, Friedman said he seriously began thinking about his future as he saw fellow employees “being put out to pasture” in their 50s. Presented with an opportunity to work for himself, he bought the coffee shop. He said he knew the coffee shop was well known in the community but changes had to be made, from raising prices to changing the menu.
“I jumped into the business,” he said, “ I had limited restaurant experience, but a strong understanding of retail customer service. I know how I want to be treated when I go out.”
Despite the demographic and social changes, John’s continued to be popular as the more than 100 comments posted on Facebook showed. “So sorry to hear this!” was posted by Nancy Norman. “My mom and dad were regulars after church on Sunday for years until they passed away!!. Even my daughters remember and talk about John’s !!!”
Cedarhurst resident Marc Tenzer told the Herald he is going to miss John’s Coffee Shop. “I used to have breakfast at John’s, around 7:30, three days a week and take the train,” he said. “Food was good, service was good and it’s nice to know all the waitresses, about their kids and families too.”
For the nearly 13 years that Friedman owned John’s he said he attended nearly everyone of Josh’s extracurricular activities. Josh is a freshman at Ohio State University. Friedman said he made many friends and greatly appreciated the community’s support, especially from the fire department and the village. Not sure what he will do next, Friedman said he will “do something I’m passionate about.”