Felicia Revens has sold the coffee shop after 35 years to longtime customers Julie and Craig DeCesare
It’s hard to think of Felicia’s Coffee without Felicia Revens. And yet, that’s been the case since Jan. 7, when she sold the business to EG residents Julie and Craig DeCesare, customers since they first moved to town 24 years ago.
Other than adding some landscaping – Julie loves flowers and plants – things haven’t changed much at 5757 Post Road since the transition. That’s by design. Felicia wanted to keep the sale quiet at least for the first few months to give the DeCesares a chance to get used to their new role.
Julie and Craig raised their family – three children, the youngest in high school – with regular visits to Felicia’s. Yet they were unprepared for what a big role the coffee house plays in so many people’s lives.
“I wasn’t ready for the love people have – they come in twice a day, some of our customers, or three times a day. It becomes their routine. The shop’s been a part of so many people’s lives and we want to continue that,” said Julie.
Felicia opened the shop at 333 Main Street in 1986 as more of a culinary goods store. Originally, it was called Felicia’s Gourmet. Ironically she only added coffee beans at the last minute. She doesn’t even drink coffee, never has. But when she made her own blend – ”Felicia’s Blend” of course – suddenly people were driving from around the state to buy it.
“Then I put a bar in, so people could sit down and have a place to drink it,” Felicia recalls. And Felicia’s Gourmet morphed into Felicia’s Coffee. That mill on the logo? “Everyone thinks it’s a coffee mill,” she said, “but it’s the French Perfex pepper grinder!”
After she made the shift, Felicia began thinking about building her “ultimate coffeehouse.” She considered the Main Street site now occupied by Dunkin’ Donuts (yes, the traffic could have been even worse) as well as taking a spot in the (now former) Benny’s Plaza, but things fell into place on a patch of vacant land at 5757 Post Road. “It was a big risk, but I wanted to make it a destination, more than just a little walk by,” she said.
In a nod to her business acumen, she added, “If I’m going to work every day, I’m going to serve 1,000 people instead of 100.”
She kept the Main Street store open during construction. The first couple of years at the new location were tough because of construction on Post Road.
“Then it started to grow,” she said, laughing about how she tried to make it look professional, not too “mom-and-pop,” even as she knew it was a real mom-and-pop operation early on.
For a couple of years, you could find a Felicia’s Coffee in the main branch of the Warwick Public Library, but business started to get so busy on Post Road, Felicia left the library spot, concentrating all her energies on East Greenwich.
While many of us might go to Felicia’s for a coffee, the baked goods have also always been a big part of the Felicia’s experience. With an in-house baker, everything is made from scratch. And what set the shop apart was the wide variety of offerings. If you wanted a danish, you could get a danish, but if you wanted something a little more healthy, there were lots of options, like the famous low-fat, high-fiber muffins and the fruit-and-yogurt cups. It’s commonplace now to find some healthy alternatives at your local coffee shop but it wasn’t 20 years ago, or even 10. That’s Felicia’s focus on healthy living. Not infrequently, you might have seen her post run or workout at the shop. She also eschews gluten (making important concessions for a good loaf of Italian bread or a homemade stuffie), and there are always a number of gluten-free baked goods to choose from in the bakery case.
More than the coffee or the baked goods, though, Felicia has focused on the experience.
“The product is good, the service is good, the prices are reasonable. But it’s the feeling you get inside,” she says. “I try to promote that with my help. It’s about the feeling you get when you come in and when you leave…. It’s the whole experience with you and everybody else around them is why they’re coming in too.”
She’s proud that people young and old and everyone inbetween like coming to Felicia’s – indeed, it’s something of a rite of passage for EG high schoolers to swing by in their cars before school (and after) to get a coffee or something to eat.
“It’s just a great meeting place, still old fashioned but modern too, with most people talking instead of just sitting on computers. We’re a meet-and-greet place, in the old way.”
After 35 years, though, Felicia knew she was ready to stop running the show. After all, it’s a lot.
“Nobody probably realizes what went into the first several years of it,” she recalls. “Sometimes, I’d wear the same clothes for three or four days straight and work 300 days in a row. I’d go home at midnight and have to be back by 3 a.m. I’ve shoveled cars out; baked, opened up, you just do what it takes.”
But in looking for a buyer, Felicia knew she wanted someone who would keep Felicia’s Felicia’s.
“I didn’t entertain some interested parties who would have changed the business,” she says. When the DeCesares mentioned they were interested, Felicia had to be convinced. They had become dear friends and she knew doing business with friends didn’t always work out well. But, as Julie says, they were persistent. Craig comes from the financial world and Julie was in the jewelry business including designing pieces for places like Ann Taylor. But they were looking for something different.
Craig is handling the books and Julie is more of the public face of the duo. “Julie is a big foodie, an amazing cook,” says Craig, so she’s enjoying working with the baker.
“It’s blocking and tackling every day,” he notes of their new roles. “We want to make sure we meet the expectations Felicia set. We just want to make a smooth transition.”
Felicia thinks they were able to pull that off.
“I really just took my shoes off and they stepped in and I stood beside them. That was January 7.”
Of her newfound freedom, Felicia says she’ll travel more, including more trips to Florida to spend time with her parents, who are elderly. “It’s bittersweet,” she says. “But you want to leave while the room’s still full. And the nice thing is I can still be here in the morning, just like everyone else.”
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