Closing time for Ballards

Aroma Joe’s Coffee to replace popular downtown bar

By Chad Graff and Kerry Feltner
On February 23, 2012

After 41 years of owning and at least part operating a bar on 72 Main Street, Jesse Gangwer is selling the location where the building that housed Ballards Restaurant currently sits. Aroma Joe's, a coffee shop described as hip and upbeat, will occupy one-third of Ballards and has a target opening date of May.

Gangwer, who owns several places throughout Durham including Town & Campus, said he sold Ballards because he is considering retirement.

"I'm at an age where I'm thinking I should retire," he said. "It had nothing to do with money."

The remolding process of making one-third of Ballards into the area used for the coffee shop will begin next week.

"What we do is entirely different [from Ballards]," said co-owner and co-founder of Aroma Joe's Marty McKenna. "The opportunity presented itself and we believed that this space was the best choice for our company."

McKenna said they are considering putting a Mexican restaurant in the space not being used by Aroma Joe's.  

"It is a good location and we hope to show people who we are and to continue to appeal to a younger crowd," McKenna said.

The move means that four downtown establishments currently have a liquor license.

Gangwer said he asked family members if they wanted to take over Ballards, but when all of them passed, he began exploring sales options.

Gangwer said he talked with Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts about the location, but felt Aroma Joe's offered the best options to Durham. He said he did not consider another bar moving into the location.

"The town is probably happy about that," Gangwer said.

Aroma Joe's, which is known for its Red Bull flavors, reached an agreement with Gangwer to lease the entire building. Aroma Joe's will be open to hiring students.

It will be the company's 14th location. Aroma Joe's extends across southern Maine and southern New Hampshire.

"We have been popular with high school students in the region and a lot of those local kids end up going to UNH," McKenna said.

McKenna doesn't see Breaking New Grounds, a coffee shop on Main Street, or the Bagelry as a threat to the company.

"We are never worried about competition," McKenna said. "We are aware of it, but our company views it as with the McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's food chains. ... People have choices in where they take their business, and we try to serve the best products and to treat people as they'd like to be treated. We are self-focused."

Bagelry owner Abby Silverman Claridge admitted that she wasn't familiar with Aroma Joe's, but said competition can help an establishment.

"Obviously it brings in competition, and that's a good thing," Silverman Claridge said. "Competition keeps you on your toes. It makes you work that much harder. We're certainly not just a coffee shop."

The BNG owner could not be reached for comment.

Ryan Wambolt, owner of The Knot, one of the four establishments  in Durham with a liquor license, said he doesn't expect a big difference in business from the Ballards move.

"It's going to be a little busier for us," he said. "But it's not going to be huge."

Gangwer built the Tin Palace in the Ballards location in 1971, though he had help managing it from family members, and subletted the place for a brief period.

One Ballards bartender who was reached did not know what was going on with Ballards Thursday afternoon other than the hand-written sign on the door that read, "BALLARDS will be CLOSED for the rest of this week for inventory and refurbishing."

While Gangwer said that he had not notified all of his employees, he said that they would receive severance packages.

Some students are not happy with the transition.

"I'm disappointed," junior Jami Harmon said. "It's like a part of UNH. I'll never get to go to Ballards. I just think about how many 21st birthdays people had there and it is sad."

Added Kyle Rodenbush: "I'm a little upset because it was one of my favorite bars. I had no idea Ballards was closing. I found out from my friends."

Others are open to what the new business will bring.

"Its a little sad because I liked it there, but there are other bars to go to," senior Anders LaScala said. "I'm glad to have a coffee shop I guess."

Aroma Joe's hopes to continue expanding in the future with UNH's help. The company opened in four locations last year, and this year the Durham location is just one of the three that are new locations for the company's business.

"We are looking at UNH to spread our company further into New Hampshire," McKenna said. "We hope that students who live outside of New Hampshire will bring back the idea of Aroma Joe's to their area, and hopefully it will bring growth to our company. We want to grow in the future in New Hampshire, New England and even beyond that."


Content Editor Brandon Lawrence contributed to this report.

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