Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Prisco's Next Door in Aurora

A dash of comfort, a pinch of familiarity
Prisco's Next Door finds success in its first year through menu, atmosphere and a generous helping of flexibility

January 12, 2009
By MARISSA AMONI For The Beacon News

Whether seeking caffeine buzzes or bites to eat, visitors find comfort and friends at Prisco's Next Door. The neighborhood coffee shop that introduced scoops of gelato to Aurora's West Side, celebrates its first anniversary this month. Although still in its infancy, the coffee shop has built a faithful following that its owners hope to grow.

Johanna Arseneau is one such regular. With redheaded Zach, 5, and his big-brown-eyed sister Zoe, 1, in tow, she meets up with other moms at the coffee shop for a local playgroup.

"It is a convenient place in the neighborhood to come with kids," Arseneau said. She added that Zach calls it the "ice cream shop" and her husband, Mark, utilizes the free wi-fi service. "It is a great opportunity to run into people I haven't seen in awhile."

Borrowing its name from Prisco's Fine Foods, the Italian grocery store just down the street, Prisco's Next Door, 1118 Prairie St., has had steady success during its first year, but not by being rigid.

"We've done experimenting," said owner Rob Prisco.

He and his wife, Georgette, came up with the coffee and gelato shop idea while visiting Italy a few years back. "We were very excited at first and we still are -- I think we've learned a couple of things," he said.

Achieving success purely as a local coffee shop was hard to come by, so they worked with manager Jan Bish to introduce other offerings.

"There are core people that come in every day of the week," said Bish. She added that they learned they needed to change it up a bit to keep it exciting.

Instead of toning down the coffee shop essence, they built around it by adding more edibles like frittatas and paninis. Fruit and yogurt parfaits were added for an on-the-go breakfast. Holiday drinks like Gingerbread lattes spiced up the seasonal menu.

And don't forget the ever-tasty slices of Treasure Breads baked by Geneva Pederson out of Yorkville. The mom sells about 30 loaves a week in the store.

Once she began slicing the gourmet sweet breads for the coffee shop, the $1.75 slices of Fool's Gold, with cinnamon-sugar and walnuts, and Diamond, with macadamia and coconut, started to disappear off of the cake stand.

"What did not work was trying to be just a regular coffee shop. We found we had to introduce other things," Prisco said.

Comfort food night on Mondays and pasta night on Wednesdays continue to draw people in during the evening hours. He said Prisco's Next Door is not trying to be a restaurant, but they are working in conjunction with the store to provide things that people respond to - like home cooked meals.

Rick Pierce and his wife, Cindy, enjoy the shop's pasta nights. The couple recently moved from around the corner to DeKalb. "Anytime we are back in town, we are here. It is a nice relaxing place to go with good people," Cindy said.

Customers also respond well to live entertainment, Prisco said. Open mic nights and live music on Friday nights are hugely popular. "We've been able to make connections with musicians who have a following," he said.

The popular bluesy rock bands Sitticus and Red Reserve out of Oswego brought in large crowds last month, which Prisco hopes to see more of in the future.

"It's about creating events and being patient and realizing it is a brand new business," he said. "You can't expect it to fly overnight."

But with the support of the community and local schools, like Aurora University and West High School, Prisco sees the cozy coffee shop thriving in its second year.

Whether it is partnering with the high school to have students give mock-consultations for the shop or hanging local artwork from the Aurora Public Art Commission on the walls, it is a place where people can connect.

"We like to think it is all about the neighborhood and the community," Prisco said.

Prisco's Next Door

1118 W. Prairie Street, Aurora



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