North Jersey native Phil Battista grew up watching his parents run a coffee shop in Clifton, back when a cup of coffee cost only 25 cents. He saw the sense of community his parents created and always knew he wanted to replicate it. After losing his mother to pancreatic cancer last year, he opened Pop’s Coffee Shop in Ortley Beach, so his 81-year-old father could continue to feel the sense of community he developed with his wife of 55 years.
“When I was looking for a place, this little store came up in Ortley Beach,” says Battista. “I said, ‘This is the place. We can do something good here.’”
And that’s just what he’s continuing to do. Fifty percent of the coffee shop’s profits go to two charities that are close to Battista’s heart: The National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He didn’t shy away from continuing donations during the ongoing pandemic, and used his shop to show his appreciation for first responders, law enforcement, beach patrol, and hospital workers by giving them free coffee.
We caught up with Battista to ask about family and coffee, giving back, and his plans to connect with the small community of Ortley Beach.
Table Hopping: How did your parents impact your decision to open Pop’s?
Phil Battista: I wanted to create a little coffee shop environment for my father to be able to go into work, meet people, because he taught us a lot about making relationships. And, you know, he lost all that after my mom passed away. So I wanted to give him another opportunity to be able to do that again, and do it in the form of a give-back.
TH: Did you face any issues having to open during a pandemic?
PB: We originally wanted to open May 1, but Covid hit, and we felt like the right thing to do was wait until June 15 to be able to open both parts of the business as opposed to just the one. The front of the store is this coffee shop and the back of it is a beach shop. So under the Governor’s orders I wouldn’t have been able to have the retail shop open because of Covid-19 restrictions.
TH: What kind of gear do you sell in the beach shop?
PB: Hats with logos, sweatshirts, T-shirts, it’s got all this beach merchandise. People love going into the shop because it’s got all this Ortley Beach merchandise. There’s only one other place that sells a little bit of that on the island, so it’s pretty unique for people to come in and get a sweatshirt or T-shirt with Ortley on it.
TH: And you feel what you’ve learned from your parents is working well at Pop’s?
PB: Oh, absolutely. We’ve had a lot of new and interesting people who have come in and, you know, it’s funny, there’s so much negativity in the world right now. Pop’s has such a feel good story that people have just gravitated to on a level that I never expected.
TH: What does your dad think of it?
PB: He works the beach shop in the afternoon, just about every day. He gets emotional when people stop in and talk to him, but they love to meet him. He loves to talk to customers.
TH: Do you bake your own goods?
PB: With the onset of Covid-19, we decided to do non-prepared food, like grab and go stuff, muffins, yogurts, all that kind of stuff. We had to put some tables outside and people started to gravitate to that. But long term, you know, it’s more about building that type of bond relationship with customers than it is deriving a couple extra dollars out of serving, you know, bagels and breakfast sandwiches. It’s a Seattle’s Best branded store, which is a Starbucks affiliate.
TH: I see you also have promo days. What do those entail?
PB: The two guys that bring the fruit bowl truck are young college kids that are brand new entrepreneurs. They go to University of Delaware and created this really cool idea of a mobile fruit bowl truck. I gave them the ability to come on Sundays and they get the park on my patio for free. And all I ask them to do is at the end of the day, make a small donation to Make-A-Wish or the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.
Then I have a young budding artist who got hit hard with Covid because people weren’t hiring him to play at restaurants. So he gets to come to the patio and he plays acoustic guitar and people get to come have a coffee and hear some good music and help support this young artist.
TH: You chose to give back to the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation because of your mom. What kind of connection do you have to the Make-A-Wish foundation?
PB: My family is Italian. So we’re family people. I have three kids of my own. I’ve seen what devastating diseases can do to children. A lot of times when you do charitable donations, you don’t know where the money goes. You don’t get the positive effect that you do with Make-A-Wish. It’s tangible. I know who the kid is that we’re doing the wish for. I generally get a letter back from the family or from the child that’s involved, talking about the experience, and it’s very cool to be able to see that you touch someone’s life that way.
TH: Did you always plan to open a coffee shop, or was it just a spontaneous decision for you?
PB: It was more about, you know, what was the way to create something for my dad to have something to do, something to leave for my kids to hopefully continue.
Pop’s Coffee Shop operates Monday through Sunday, 7am-3pm in Ortley Beach. It will remain open through the summer season and into the new year. Pop’s Coffee Shop, 1951 Route 35, North Ortley Beach. Call 732-793-9009 or email [email protected].Click here to leave a comment