2019 NED memo shows support for PI Coffee Roasters

Dave Rogers, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.
·3 min read

Mar. 4—NEWBURYPORT — As recently as 18 months ago, the relationship between Plum Island Coffee Roasters owner Bruce Vogel and landlord Newburyport Development was strong enough for the mega landowner to insist it would help Vogel relocate his business if the proposal for its Waterfront West project moved forward.

But between then and last month, when Newburyport Development gave Vogel 45 days to clear out, the relationship changed for the worse.

Last month, Newburyport Development announced that Vogel's coffee shop at 54R Merrimac St. was to be the new home of Luchos, a Mexican-style cantina, as soon as this fall.

For more than 15 years, Plum Island Coffee Roasters has been a fixture near the city's waterfront. In addition to Plum Island Coffee Roasters, Vogel owns Souffle's coffee shop in Market Square and owned Commune on Pleasant Street until it closed in 2020.

Details of Newburyport Development's commitment to ensure Plum Island Coffee Roasters' future somewhere along the waterfront was included in a seven-page memorandum dated Sept. 18, 2019. In addition to a lengthy statement, the memo also contains architectural plans.

"We believe the continued business and location of PICR within Waterfront West would be mutually beneficial to Newburyport Development, Plum Island Coffee Roasters, and the city of Newburyport," the memorandum reads. "The operation and location both remain integral to the fabric of the waterfront and this memo outlines our commitment to maintain this element."

The memo, billed as Newburyport Development's "commitment to continue our relationship with PICR," was released after Vogel's lease with the company expired in early 2019. Since then, Vogel has been a tenant at will, giving Newburyport Development the legal right to ask him to leave whenever it saw fit.

In a statement emailed to The Daily News, Newburyport Development General Manager Chris Skiba said the reference to Waterfront West was a plan submitted to the city in 2019 for a group of five residential buildings with retail and restaurants on the ground floor as part of a plan for this larger area. The plan, on the 5-plus acres owned by the developer, was not supported by the city so development of the land is on hold.

"Our inability to offer these new spaces has changed our thinking about the existing buildings along the waterfront," Skiba wrote. "As previously mentioned, Plum Island Coffee Roasters was not evicted from their site; their lease expired in early 2019 and the coffee shop's relationship with Newburyport Development was held over as a month-to-month tenant agreement for more than two years."

In a lengthy phone interview earlier this week, Vogel admitted his relationship with Newburyport Development was "a little temperamental" and said there was interaction after his lease expired that could have pushed matters past the tipping point.

Vogel said that in April 2020, he asked for a temporary "pause" on paying his rent so he could get his bearings at the height of COVID-19-related business closures. He also said he had a "blowout" with a Newburyport Development employee the following month.

"Whatever the concerns were, talk to me about it," Vogel said.