by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 2/2002

Note: My wife ran her café for two years and it was very well received in Foxboro… Here is the story of how it came to be…

Once upon a time, right here in Foxboro, a bucket truck pulled up to the site of a closed pizza gallery on School Street, and the bucket platform extended into the sky, allowing two guys to install signs proclaiming a brand new business, “Puffins Gourmet Café.” The windows of the old pizza gallery were then neatly stenciled with bright “OPENING SOON” lettering. Over the next few weeks, equipment was moved in.

Then, for some time, nothing.

This is a story of a dream come true – it just gives new meaning to the word, “Soon.”

The dream belonged to my wife, Susan. She wanted to do something special for Foxboro.

She has always been very active in the community. The Grange’s 1998 Citizen of the Year is well known for her work in the Jaycees, her work in fundraisers to help build the senior center, her work with the food pantry and discretionary fund, her great love for the seniors, and especially for running the “Common Dog” hot dog cart on Foxboro Common six years.

Susan always loved doing the cart, saying that it gave her a way to reach so many people and put a smile on their face. It was there, she says, she began to see how much of a need there was in Foxboro for a really good place to have an exceptional cup of coffee or a gourmet drink. People in town also wanted a good bakery and a place to go for a good sandwich that was not a common sub or pizza.

It was based on all this that the idea of Puffins was born.

But there was an unusually long gestation period for the small miracle known as Puffins. There were challenges and hurdles – things best kept private — that took time and money to resolve.

I wasn’t thrilled about the length of the gestation period – that’s putting it mildly – but neither was Susan. During that time, Puffins was still nurtured. There was the night at Logan to pick up the extremely heavy espresso machine. There were plumbers and electricians and contractors. There was buying equipment, floor plans, and designing.

For me, there was heavy lifting (including the aforementioned espresso machine), cleaning, painting, idea sessions, and lots of graphics design. Any puffin on the Internet became fair game. Any morsel of Puffin trivia was downloaded and absorbed.

As the café came together, Sue explained that she wanted the place to be more than just a coffee shop – she wanted it to be an experience from the moment a customer walked into the door. She wanted to please all of the senses.

She began to do extensive research. She spent a good deal of time studying all about coffees, espresso and teas of Seattle, where the best coffee in America is found.

When we went to Italy, she spent some time studying the exact method to prepare an espresso, and talked to the barristers in the coffee bars. She watched their techniques closely. She observed the layout of their shops.

She researched everything from coffee bean 101 to how to choose the best products to how to prepare the best coffee and espresso. She learned about froth, temperature ranges, tamping, crema, and the history and production of coffee beans. It’s much more complicated than you might imagine.

She traveled to coffee expositions and talked to other business owners and operators. She learned how to make a croissant, how to bake bread, how to become a barrister and how to make a perfect espresso.

Over time, she did similar research for all of the other products that she wanted to sell. No matter what else she was doing, she was going to Café School.

Susan also busied herself with the business of business. State and local authorities and board of health codes certified her. She took care of the multitude of tasks associated with opening a brand new enterprise.

The name for the place came easily; she wanted a theme and loved the little Puffin bird from Bar Harbor. Puffins it would be. Over many trips to Bar Harbor, she purchased unique Puffin items. If it had a Puffins logo, she probably bought one.

Susan was adamant that the look of the café would be unique –there is a lot of love in the place. You can see it in the details – For the café style seating, Susan handed painted each of the café chairs and tables, and accented the entire place with a pleasing color scheme – next time you’re there, notice how the curtains, fabrics, walls, and even the light bulbs on the track lighting are in sync.

Nothing in the decoration is accidental, from the mirrors to the Puffin lore and graphics to the puffin and coffee trivia found on every table. There are even puffin electric socket covers and puffin clocks. The music is lively — reggae, Caribbean, Latin, jazz.

There were other touches as well – the four time zone clocks on the walls, each with a story, the news about Project Puffin, the puffin water fountain, the unique glass sculptures and sports team flags purchased in Italy, the puffin souvenirs, mirrors, and Patriots memorabilia – everything she added made Puffins unique.

Despite setbacks, Puffins became Susan’s passion. Many friends knew about this passion, particularly Lorraine Garland. Susan remembers the day Lorraine stopped by our door. She and her husband Stanley had been vacationing in Maine, and they’d purchased a beautiful hand drawn Puffin scene for Susan. That picture hangs in the café, and Susan lovingly dedicated Puffins to Lorraine and Stanley’s memory.

In late 2001, opening the café became Susan’s full time activity. She worked around the clock finalizing the myriad of details. The vendors were lined up. Display cases were stocked. Menus were designed. The cash register was programmed. Pretty white lights were hung in the window and on an unusual gold tree in the corner. Coffee Club cards were designed. The final layout for all the products was selected. The shelves were stocked.

On a rainy Friday night last December, we scraped the “ING SOON” off the “OPENING SOON” letters and affixed the new Puffins sign over the window.

Then the next day — Saturday December 15, 2001 – dawned. Sunny. Brisk. Day One!

We opened the blinds and let the daylight into Puffins Gourmet Café, Susan’s dream. Puffins – open for business, at last!

As the sunshine poured in, I heard Susan saying hello – someone had already walked into the cafe. Our friends Deacon John Dugan and his wife Carol had stopped in to wish us well. We thought this a wonderful omen –the very first person to walk into Puffins was a recently ordained Deacon.

We asked John to say a prayer, and we joined hands as John said a heartfelt prayer. “Lord, come upon Puffins,” John began, “Make it a place of love…” His prayer was thoughtful and perfect.

Then the people started coming in. The response was 100% positive and overwhelming. It’s never stopped being wonderful.

Since then, more and more people have discovered Puffins and the gourmet coffees and teas, espresso bar drinks, as well as the mouth-watering assortment of gourmet pastries, cakes, pies and tarts, and cookies.

There’s still a dreamlike quality of entering Puffins and seeing so many people there; a line at the register, and people at tables enjoying the gourmet goodies. It’s wonderful to see people reading the trivia, complimenting the drinks, or just telling Susan how great Puffins is. I can see it in Susan’s eyes – it means so much.

Susan is a very hard worker – the sleepy wake-up-time of 5:00 has to be painful, and often she’s at the café late into the night. Running the café is not easy – that’s an understatement – and is probably the hardest thing she’s ever done.

Puffins, from, the start, has belonged to Susan. She dreamed it; she created it, and nurtured it. The odyssey of getting the café open has not been the smoothest of roads, but Susan made her dream came true.

Susan, I want you to know that I am so very proud of you for what you have accomplished, and what you continue to accomplish, at Puffins Gourmet Café. People love your new enterprise, and you have brought something very special to Foxboro. As your business card says, it is indeed a, “rare taste of excellence.”


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