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‘You always wanted to go back’

Dozens gather to say goodbye to RVC staple C.J.’s Coffee Shop

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Thankful patrons of C.J.’s Coffee Shop marched from Hughes Street to North Long Beach Road on March 6 to celebrate the community fixture and to watch as Mayor Francis Murray presented a proclamation to the Lawrence family, who owned and operated the shop for more than 30 years.

On a brisk Saturday morning, village residents arrived bundled up and masked at the corner of Hughes and Seaman Avenue in a festive, block party-like atmosphere. Dozens marched, some with signs thanking the Lawrence family, and one member of the crowd blasted Elvis Presley on a shoulder-carried stereo.

“It was awesome,” Rockville Centre resident and march attendee Carol Ruchalski said. “What a great community we have.”

It was the last day for the family — new ownership has taken over the shop, and it will continue on as a restaurant.

“The food and service were always great, but it was Loreen, Chris and John [Lawrence] and all of the workers there that made the difference,” another local, Gerard Baker, said. “It’s why you always wanted to go back.”

Around noon, the small crowd gathered to watch Murray’s presentation on behalf of the village. The mayor thanked Chris Lawrence and his daughters, Loreen, Jennifer and Kerri, for their years of service to the community.

“One thing that stands out to me is how they quietly help people,” Ruchalski said. “Whether it’s providing a free meal to someone who can’t pay, lending an ear, donating to every worthy cause, or a friendly smile when you enter.”

Loreen Lawrence even ran in the Mary Ruchalski Foundation’s marathon in November, which honors Carol’s late daughter by raising money for pediatric cancer research.

When Murray playfully asked the crowd if the breakfast and lunch served was good, the response was a loud “Yeah!” in near unison. Then, after he presented the proclamation to the Lawrences, they shared emotional hugs with one another and with friends.

“Thinking about C.J.’s, I’m reminded of the TV show “Cheers,” Ruchalski said. “It’s a family-friendly place where everybody knows your name and your story. It’s comfortable and constant.”

“Thank you for all the years of our relationship,” Chris Lawrence said, addressing the boisterous crowd. “We couldn’t have done anything without all of you guys, and we really appreciate and love you as much as you love C.J.’s.”

“It means the world to us,” Loreen said. “Everybody here is like my family. For me this is extended family here, and for everyone to come together like this is amazing.”

The family-owned-and-operated restaurant has been in business since 1990. It gave back to the community through its financial support of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and the RVC Community Fund. “The Lawrence family is a dedicated group of people to this community,” Murray said. “They’re just fantastic people, and they always cared.”

C.J.’s received many accolades over the years, including winning Best Cup of Coffee on Long Island in Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Best of L.I. in 2012, 2016 and 2017 and Best Diner on Long Island in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

“It’s amazing,” Murray said. “The people who came to this place and ate for so many years cared so much about the Lawrence family to come and give them a great sendoff.”