A local grocery store owner is looking to foster a sense of community on campus with a new coffee shop.
Cathy Martens, who bought FoBoGro last month, proposed a plan to the University Friday to redesign the third floor of the store into a cafe. Martens said she wants to create a place for students who live on the east side of campus to grab coffee and a breakfast sandwich before class or have a place to meet for study groups.
“If you think about the groceries you go into today, almost all of them have some kind of a coffee service or coffee something, so we think it’s a natural addition,” Martens said.
She said she doesn’t want to change the “raw” features of the building – like the brick walls and chandelier – but she wants to add chairs, tables and GW-themed artwork, like archived photographs. Martens said she wants to serve locally-sourced food and beverages at the cafe – part of a larger effort to sell products that are made in D.C. throughout the store.
She said she has spoken to Whisked – a bakery whose products are sold in D.C. grocery and convenience stores – and Dog Tag Bakery, located in Georgetown, about selling their products in the cafe. She also plans to serve coffee from Vigilante Coffee Company, which roasts beans in Northeast D.C.
Martens said she doesn’t have an exact timeline for the renovation, but hopes the cafe will be done “soon” because the third floor is already completely cleaned out. The floor previously hosted the store’s wine collection.
“If we put a cafe up here, it would be good for the community, we’d open earlier and people could come in, get coffee, something to eat on the way to class – and not just students but people in the community,” she said. “It would just be an added value for the University and for the community at large.”
Martens said she hopes the addition will make spending time at FoBoGro part of the GW experience.
“I want to change people’s opinion of FoBoGro,” Martens said. “I want this to be like a bodega in New York that’s convenient. Come in, get what you need, have a community space up here.”
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the University received the grocery’s renovations proposal, but deferred questions about specific details to FoBoGro management.
“We are in the process of reviewing the request and will provide feedback to the tenant regarding their proposed work in the coming weeks,” Csellar said.
Martens purchased FoBoGro last month after the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration fined the store $30,000 and cited previous ownership multiple times for selling alcohol to underage customers.
Alec Rubman, a junior who started working at FoBoGro last summer, said the way Martens has transformed the store since she took over has been “amazing.”
“They’re transforming the store into something completely different than what it used to be while still being able to serve the community,” Rubman said. “The coffee shop is a really instrumental part of that.”
He said all FoBoGro employees took part in a four-week training program at Vigilante Coffee Company in Maryland after Martens bought the store, where workers learned how to make coffee.
He said more students will come to FoBoGro after the coffee shop is completed because residence halls and fraternity houses are all housed near the store. The store already offers other goods that nearby students want, like beer and basic groceries, but the coffee shop will allow students to purchase all of their necessities and a cup of coffee simultaneously, Rubman said.
“This coffee shop is going to be huge for us as a store,” Rubman said. “I think it’s going to be huge for the community, and I think it’s going to take FoBoGro to an entirely new level.”