RARITAN TWP., NJ – For “Peach” Hardy, it seemed like a good idea. Open a coffee shop in a busy location, provide a great brew and hire employees that “are reclaiming their lives from crippling addictions.”
It wasn’t just a dream – Hardy has experience. He co-founded the Factory Fuel coffee shop at the Stangle Factory in Flemington with two partners, and then sold it to its current owners. He and his wife Danielle also own Cut hair design on Bloomfield Avenue in Flemington.
The Hardys thought they found a good location, on the Fudge Shoppe property on Route 202 here. They opened the shop on July 14.
“When we created Coffee Bar, we followed the law,” he told Township Committee at its July 18 meeting. “We followed all of the procedures and the law” and was issued a retail food license.
But on the day they opened, Hardy said he received a visit from township engineer and Zoning Officer Tony Hajjar and was “verbally shut down.”
Hajjar wasn’t the only township official who visited the Coffee Bar. Township attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said he later visited at the request of Township Administrator Don Hutchins.
“In my opinion, you needed to get site plan approval for that building,” Lehrer told Hardy at the meeting. “You may need to go get a use variance for that building. You may need electrical permits. You may need other permits.
“You’re in violation of a series of township codes,” Lehrer added. “You should not be opening a business without a site plan approval. You have no parking, you have no lighting, none of that was approved ... You just plopped a trailer down.”
“We followed the correct process,” Hardy told Lehrer. “We were issued our license. We did everything within our power and the township has really enjoyed it. We got a lot of positive feedback. We’re here to improve the township.”
Hutchins said Hardy wasn’t ordered to shut down, but was told township officials would “investigate and move forward.”
“We own multiple businesses in this area,” Hardy told Township Committee. “We work closely with the Freeholders” and local officials “all the time. We’ve never dealt with this before ... We have a track record and we’re here to improve Raritan Township and incubate businesses.”
“It’s not our goal to shut you down,” Mayor Karen Gilbert told Hardy. “It’s our goal to keep you up and running in a way that’s safe and in compliance” with zoning rules.
The Hardys have since removed the Coffee Bar from the Fudge Shoppe site and say they’re not certain when it will next open.
Peach Hardy remains optimistic.
“We understand it is a creative new way to do business,” he said. “We are hopeful the township works with us."
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that Hardy was not the sole founder of Factory Fuel, but one of three partners.