Thank you so much for being part of the journey and staying with us,” Eric LeGrand said just before cutting the ribbon for his new venture in the heart of Woodbridge, where he was born, surrounded by family, friends, fans, various dignitaries. and community members. “And now, welcome to our humble abode, LeGrand Coffee House.”
The moment was the culmination of a nearly two-year process of dreaming up the idea, pitching it to leaders, such as Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, building a team to execute the vision, bringing together funding, then to deal with a pandemic, construction delays , inflation, supply chain issues and other challenges.
Last May, NJBIZ documented LeGrand’s journey to becoming a small business owner in New Jersey. Although LeGrand’s opener marked a triumphant moment for Woodbridge’s favorite son, it certainly didn’t come without challenges.
“It was a chore,” LeGrand, 31, told NJBIZ. ” It was not easy. But I will say one thing. It was fun to get to this point.
Just as it was not easy for McCormac to sell the idea of redeveloping downtown Woodbridge to some of his constituents. The mayor, a longtime friend of LeGrand and an early supporter of the project, had tried to get people to buy into the vision.
“Our downtown redevelopment was somewhat controversial, but we tried to convince people what the future will look like,” McCormac said.
McCormac said the developers, Prism Capital Partners, were skeptical at first about the idea of Cafe LeGrand because it was a startup and had no track record or financial track record.
“But you know what he has,” McCormac asked. “His name is Eric LeGrand. And we convinced them that he was someone they should be doing business with and someone they would be very proud to have as their first commercial tenant, not just in this complex, but in the entire downtown redevelopment. city.
LeGrand, of course, is a former Rutgers footballer who suffered a devastating injury in a game in 2010. He has since become one of New Jersey’s most famous citizens for his strength of character and tireless attitude.
He has reached an agreement for LeGrand Coffee House to be the first retail tenant on the ground floor of the brand new Avenue & Green development, located at 10 Green St. in Woodbridge, which includes 232 luxury rentals and 12,000 square feet from street level. retail space, short walk to Woodbridge train station. A FedEx outlet has also signed up for space at the project.
Robert Fourniadis, Senior Vice President, Residential at Prism Capital Partners, said the relationship with Eric LeGrand and LeGrand Coffee House is special.
“Right from the start, negotiating the lease was by far the most pleasant transaction I have ever been involved in; it was really rewarding,” Fourniadis said. “Eric and the people he works with are quality people and professionals, and their dedication to delivering a delicious product and exceptional service is clear. Our team is thrilled to have LeGrand Coffee House as our anchor tenant at Avenue & Green.
The project is part of a wave of downtown construction in areas identified as priorities for redevelopment. McCormac believes having LeGrand Coffee House as the first commercial tenant gave instant credibility and validation to the efforts.
“I have no doubt that when other retail stores and restaurants heard about Eric LeGrand here first, it must have helped the rest of the development move forward much faster,” McCormac said.
“This week, the residential component of Avenue & Green reached 100% rented,” Fourniadis said. “The uptake and speed has been incredible – it is unheard of for a property of this size to reach full rental within eight months. vibrant cities like Woodbridge.”
“Being where I am now, opening my own business and giving back to the community too, I think that’s pretty cool,” LeGrand told NJBIZ. “I’ve literally been in this community forever.”
The grand opening drew some of the biggest names in New Jersey politics and athletics, as well as supporters and admirers from the community who were eager to try what LeGrand called a daily cup of belief.
“It takes a whole village. And you always supported me in this whole state of New Jersey,” LeGrand said. “And I’m so grateful.”
Some of the notable guests included Governor Phil Murphy; First Lady Tammy Murphy; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District; State Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District; Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-19th District; Caroline Ehrlich, executive director of the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency; Rutgers Football head coach Greg Schiano, athletic director Pat Hobbs and Scarlet Knight basketball players Geo Baker and Luke Nathan; longtime friend and business partner John Archibald; and of course, Eric’s mom, Karen LeGrand.
“I’m like a proud dad,” Schiano said during the ribbon cutting. “He has a track record. There’s no one better to do that. It’s going to be a great, great operation here, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.
“This place is rocking,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be a real anchor tenant in the city. Having Eric’s name on the door is so cool.
“What Eric LeGrand has always been is a beacon of grace and a person of character and commitment,” said Coughlin, who used to call LeGrand’s Colonia High School football games with McCormac. “I hope you have nothing but incredible success and fun.”
“It’s great for downtown. It revitalizes the city,” Vitale said. ” This is remarkable. And I think that just shows that Eric could have given up after his injury. But it is clearly an example of not giving up.
“He is dedicated to this community,” added Vitale.
After the official inauguration, elected officials and guests reconvened inside, while the governor and first lady were served the first official drinks, iced coffees.
“How cool,” Murphy told NJBIZ, after receiving his cup of faith. “You combine opening a big business with small business, and small business is the backbone of our economy. And it’s not just any small business, it’s Eric LeGrand, who we know well. But none of us should be surprised by today.
“We’ve been helping Eric literally from the start,” McCormac said. “And I can’t believe how much it’s evolved into this amazing store. It’s just awesome. And we’re so proud of Eric and everything he’s accomplished.
Now, after a long journey to build the café, LeGrand is taking on a new role, that of employer.
“It’s like one thing to another,” LeGrand told NJBIZ. “So it’s like okay, now it’s built, but now I have all these people that I’m responsible for.”
LeGrand trusts the team and staff around him, hoping to create opportunities for young people in the community. He also hopes to foster a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, where people can get together, meet friends, organize events, etc. One of the main reasons he developed the concept was because of all the turbulence he witnessed in 2020.
“The world was around each other’s necks in 2020,” LeGrand explained. “I said I wanted to bring people together. To be able to enter our shop, forget everything that is happening in this world and have a good time. Enjoy the conversations. Enjoy each other, camaraderie.
LeGrand Coffee House is also a major hub for Scarlet Knights games.
Another point of attention was accessibility. LeGrand stressed that he always had to consider logistics wherever he went, so there was a real focus on getting as many seats as possible while maintaining accessibility for anyone with a disability, which LeGrand wanted to be as comfortable as possible at his cafe. home.
The space includes wider doorways, larger bathrooms, high tables, and enough space behind the counter for LeGrand to maneuver around.
For LeGrand, this moment also marked the culmination of a process that went, during the pandemic, from the inspiration of the book “Shoe Dog”, about Phil Knight building Nike, to the complete realization of his dream.
“I want my story and idea to bring unity to the community around it,” LeGrand told NJBIZ at the time. “And it’s something that people want and need every day.”
And judging by who showed up, plus the tight lines in the block and the early buzz on social media, LeGrand seems well on its way to achieving this goal. And in the process, he helped spark the redevelopment of Woodbridge, the town where he is so beloved.
“We told people, ‘Wait and see what happens when we start working on downtown development,'” McCormac said. “All of a sudden, Eric LeGrand showed up to validate everything we were talking about.”
“Here at Woodbridge, we are proud of Avenue & Green’s role as a catalyst for the significant progress the township is seeing and all that is yet to come,” said Fourniadis. “We look forward to a long and satisfying partnership.”
“I said if I put my mind to it, we can make it here in Woodbridge Township,” LeGrand said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without this community.”