NEWARK, NJ - Domenico Luccarelli has been in the retail business for most of his life. But when his family market in Holmdel was sold, he wanted to find a new line of work.
Interested in running his own business, he began exploring franchise opportunities, and eventually settled on Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, a small but growing coffeehouse founded in 1993 in downtown Ann Arbor, Mich., near the campus of the University of Michigan.
Luccarelli bought three franchises and in July opened the first location in the newly refurbished Hahne & Co. building on Halsey Street in downtown Newark.
“When I saw this site, came here, and spent a day in Newark looking, there was just something about this site that really appealed to me,” Luccarelli said.
“The building that I'm in, the corner spot with the hallway, the neighborhood between the businesses that are in the area, and the proximity to Rutgers and the graduate schools and NJIT — everything just kind of felt right,” Luccarelli said. “It felt like what I was looking for all the time.”
After deciding college was not for him, Luccarelli worked full-time in the family business, Dearborn Market, which started in 1955 as a farmstand on Route 35 by his grandfather, Dominick Luccarelli. He started on the ground floor and worked his way up to vice president.
Although Luccarelli enjoyed working alongside his brother and sister, Dearborn was sold to a larger competitor – ShopRite. After the sale in 2015, he continued to work as a store manager for a year and a half until taking time off for himself and his family. Within a few months, he decided he needed a change.
“After looking at other options, it really just didn’t feel right for me, so I started looking for opportunities to start a new business,” says Luccarelli. “I started looking for other opportunities in franchising.”
Luccarelli said he grew fascinated by the Sweetwaters brand and traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., to meet with founders Wei and Lisa Bee. Attending a presentation program called “Discovery Day” further piqued Luccarelli’s interest in the company, allowing him to move forward in purchasing franchise rights in New Jersey.
The next step involved finding the perfect location.
“It was all up to me to decide,” said Luccarelli. “I looked in multiple areas in the state, even in my own hometown of Holmdel. I really wanted it to be somewhere where there was high foot traffic and high volume of people.”
He determined downtown Newark was the perfect fit. Although there are numerous coffee shops near Sweetwaters, including a Starbucks less than two blocks away, Luccarelli believes competition will motivate his business to keep the highest standards.
“I knew there was competition here, and it’s pretty inevitable that there's going to be future competition opening up in Newark just because of everything that's happening here,” says Luccarelli.
“I'm always concerned about competition, but I just believe that competition is a good thing in general with business, because it makes everyone I think do better, you know — or step up their game or stay on top of their game.”
Luccarelli said what makes Sweetwaters stand out amongst its competitors is the quality of its ingredients. The coffeehouse serves an array of hot and cold beverages, pastries, and desserts.
Its global menu outsources its products, such as matcha, which comes certified from Japan. Other items, such as pastries, are locally sourced from Balthazar Bakery and is delivered fresh seven days a week.
“It’s not price driven, it’s all quality-driven products,” says Lucarelli. “It is a price for quality. That's part of our brand.”
The prices haven’t deterred customers. Rutgers-Newark student, 23-year-old Marla Rodriguez, was drawn to the coffeehouse.
“The cashier recommended the dreamy cold brew,” says Rodriguez. “It was really good, so I come specifically for that drink. It’s nice having options.”
Luccarelli plans on opening two other Sweetwaters locations, which he has not yet determined at the moment. Overall, Luccarelli said he is satisfied with his new business and is looking forward to continuing to build a relationship with the community.
“It hasn’t disappointed,” said Luccarelli. “The business owners are very supportive of new businesses. The residents have been extremely supportive. It’s a good vibe. I am happy that I am here.”
Sweetwaters is located at 52 Halsey Street in Newark and is open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. For more information, click here.