For the past year I have been seeing more and more cofee shops, bars and restaurants offering wi-fi service to their customers. Some have gone the paid route and teamed up with national providors for their in store service. This approach involves partnerships and and puts the wi-fi in a profit-only niche. Others see Wi-Fi as a way to get customers in the door and offer it for free.
What of the original idea of the Internet cafe? Is it time for the return of the coffee house that offers Internet access as a way to get people in the door and stay there?
I recently spoke with Drew Peburn, the owner of a New Milford CT Internet cafe aptly named "Wired Coffee & Internet Cafe". We sat down and talked about how he got the idea and where he plans to go with it.
Q. Tell me a liitle bit about yourself
A. My name is Drew Peburn and I am originaly from Norwalk CT. graduated from Springfield College with a degree in Sports Management and I also work as a General Manager at the Cookhouse restaurant in New Milford CT.
Q. What was the impetus behind opening the Wired Internet Cafe?
A. It was my partner Doug Muckerman's idea. He's a General Manager at the Staples store next door. Doug had the idea and he knew the area and landlord of the shopping center. With a little help from my dad the three of us put our heads together and off we went.
Q. Aside from coffee and free Wi-Fi, what do you offer your customers to make them want to come back?
A. Aside from our coffee we also offer breakfast sandwiches, fruit juices, energy drinks and hot chocolate. For non-food items we have three desktop PCs that customers can rent by the hour if they do not have their own laptop. If they do bring their own laptop we have Wi-Fi and wired jacks in the sitting area. In line with our wired jacks we also have plenty of electrical outlets for those who may need to plug in.
We also have a few conference rooms that have been rented out by local business groups. Fantasy Football drafts have also been conducted on site. We would like to expand that side of the business and we are willing to host other events here as well.
Q. You mention breakfast sandwiches, why not deli sandwiches?
A. Sadly we are next to a sub shop that has a no-compete clause in their lease. Because of this we can not offer deli sandwiches. When we expand and open up a second store we will add a deli.
Q. Expanasion? Do you have another site in mind already?
A. Not yet but we expect that as business picks up we will want to open up more cafes. Where we are now does have some limits. We do not have a drive through window for those who just want a quick coffee. We are also nestled in the shadow of Staples and some people do not know we are here. We have a sign out front by the road but we would prefer if people could see the store directly from the road.
Q. Are there any particular services you intend to roll out in the future?
A. We would like to offer free video conferencing for families who have soldiers in Iraq. Computer training seminars are also on the list. If the customers ask for it we will try to provide it.
Q. Now that you have been in business for a few months is there anything you would have done differently knowing what you know now?
A. More machines!
Is the time right for the return of the Internet cafe? I would like to think so. There are so many personal communication devices that can work off of Wi-Fi and the ease of being able to stop off for a cup of coffee and a quick data check is just great.
There are many times when I am on the road and someone sends me a text message asking me to look at something online. I can't do it from my car (unless I want to pay for an expensive cell data plan) so knowing that an Internet cafe is in town saves me time and energy.