, downtown Wheaton’s one-of-a-kind, quick service coffee shop and breakfast café, has celebrated its one-year anniversary
After a year of experimenting ways to make a quick service version of a Wheaton staple for breakfast food, Harbor Express Café has celebrated its one-year anniversary after seeing “serious growth” in recent months, a manager told Patch.
Hamco, Inc., the owner of restaurants, opened its first quick service location last year, when a vacancy in the First Trust Bank building in downtown Wheaton presented an opportunity, Ryan McGuire, Harbor Express Café’s manager told Patch.
First Trust Bank does “a lot” of business with Egg Harbor, and when the company decided to rent out its space to a restaurant, the bank approached Hamco to ask if they’d considered a quick-service concept, McGuire said. “Ironically we had,” he said, adding the corporation’s owner had wanted to do something in quick service for “quite some time.”
Unsure of the business model for Harbor Express, “they opened the doors and said ‘let’s find out’ where it goes,” he said.
From there, “We spent six to nine months really spinning our wheels, figuring out where we were going to go,” McGuire said.
“Releasing a new concept was a bold move, but at the same time, kind of conservative—they wanted to stay near the Egg Harbor name.”
Associating with the Egg Harbor name has been a challenge at times, though, when customers leave disappointed that they couldn’t order the same items they’d order expect at Egg Harbor, said McGuire, “It was the fine line that is embracing Egg Harbor’s name, yet creating a new name for Harbor Express… But people have come to know there certainly is a difference. (And) as we grow, it’ll become more and more different.”
They’ll never abandon Egg Harbor staples such as the Door County Melt, or the Chicken Pecan Dijon salad, he said, but Harbor Express has taken steps to distinguish itself as separate from Egg Harbor, including new coffee blends, blended drinks, daily specials and new menu pairings.
“To kind of help distinguish us from Egg Harbor, we decided to stop carrying the same blends… and we switched to an Intelligentsia espresso bar. It takes more training, but you will produce the best cup,” said Assistant Manager Caitlin Moat.
The decision to commit to Intelligentsia was easy, McGuire said. “We take a lot of pride in our work, so to go with a company that cares (as well) as much about their own product—it’s a nice fit.”
The Chicago-based coffee company delivers freshly-ground coffee to Harbor Express, so customers can drink brews that had been created less than a week earlier.
The Harbor Express team has also created its own blended drink and smoothie line, which it will introduce this week, added couches to their décor, changed to a bread company that delivers fresh-baked bread every morning, and plans to update its cookie selection.
The team created the recipes and marketing materials for the blended drink line from scratch—one of the liberties the corporate-employed staff enjoys as the guinea pigs for the Harbor Express concept.
“It makes you take a lot of pride in your job, because it’s your work,” Moat said.
While the open-ended business plan was difficult, McGuire said the success has been extremely rewarding. In the past four to five months, he’s seen the customer base grow to a “couple hundred” a day—a huge jump from the average of 140 customers he saw about three months ago.
“The everyday customer base we’ve built is extremely rewarding… There’s a good 30 to 50 people that sit down in here every single day of the week, (who) we know—not only on a first-name basis—but their dog’s names, (if they have) health issues, the works.” He added that customers often check on him and other Harbor Express employees, to make sure they’re well, too.
Harbor Express Café will kick off its Saturday hours for the summer season Saturday, Apr. 28 at the Wheaton French Market. Their hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be open Saturdays during the summer from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.