On Sunday, PK Coffee provided Waterbury with a last shot of caffeine and signature foam before closing its Foundry Street store.
The company announced the decision on PK’s Instagram account on Friday. The post cited the challenges of maintaining Waterbury and Stowe businesses in a post-COVID economy.
“The past few years have been tough and we’ve gone to great lengths to keep the doors of both locations open,” they wrote on Instagram, adding, “Closing our Waterbury store will give us time to regroup and regroup. Focus on our ability to work with the small (but strong) team we have in our Stowe position.”
PK Coffee general manager Linnae Horan said the decision came down to staffing and sales. “We’ve been working hard to keep our stores open and running when recruiting is so difficult as some staff have left, summer help is back in school etc.,” she wrote in an email to Waterbury Roundabout. After relying on backup help and adjusting business hours to try to keep up, “changes need to be made,” Horan said.
In addition, Horan admits that the Stowe store has higher sales than Waterbury, which may be partly due to the increasing number of tourists visiting the area. “The Stowe store is busier than ever,” she said, acknowledging that “while that’s great for business, it’s not great being understaffed.”
The plan now is to focus on running a cafe. Horan added: “We hope to add more staff to our busy stores to allow us to keep up with the increasing number of visitors and reduce burnout on our team.”
back to the beginning… again
PK Coffee isn’t the only company facing extraordinary business challenges and difficult decisions, but their story is one of adaptability and resilience in particular.
After running their original cafe in Stowe since 2016, PK opened in Waterbury in February 2020 – just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a standstill. By August of that year, circumstances had forced them to close their store at Gale Farm on Stowe Hill Road.in a Interview with Waterbury Circle In October 2020, owner Katrina Veerman explained her focus on “back to the beginning” at the Waterbury store, “bringing[ing] Back in the community after months of pandemic isolation, fear and shutdowns.
But in February 2021, PK Coffee reopened at a new location on Mount Stowe Road, just next door to Gale Farm, where the company has been serving both communities for more than a year, becoming a local coffee shop staple.
Now, PK Coffee faces a similar situation to 2020, but the opposite. Rather than forced closures, though, they are one of many businesses in the service industry struggling to keep up with staffing shortages, rising food, supply and labor costs, and a simultaneous increase in demand from locals and tourists as everyone returns. Some newer versions work fine.
Waterbury Street Cafe owner Nicole Grenier expressed sadness and frustration when she learned that PK was closing nearby, just a few storefronts away. Responding to PK Coffee’s Instagram announcement, Grenier wrote: “Someone came in today and told us, as if wishing we were happy to hear it, but we really aren’t. Sadly we are all struggling with all the current conditions , and seeing another much-loved institution having to make these hard choices doesn’t bring us joy. Honestly, it could be any of us.”
Grenier wished PK Coffee the best of luck and said he hoped they would return to Waterbury someday.
a (bitter) sweet future
Currently, PK Coffee is returning to its starting point. Back to Stowe. Back to focusing on taking care of their team and bringing joy to their clients.
Horan described the current situation as “managing things every day”. A timeline for sorting out details such as the Waterbury space lease has not been resolved “as we had to make this decision quickly to keep up with our staffing arrangements,” Horan explained.
Before the decision to close, Horan said, the Waterbury store had eight employees, including bakers and baristas. Six of those employees will move to the Stowe store, and two have decided to move on. This shift should allow the company to focus on serving the needs of Stowe Café at a critical time. “We hope to be able to extend our current team’s stow hours in time for the busy ski season,” she said.
Still, the move was painful. “We are saddened to close a space that has become part of the Waterbury community,” Horan said.
Fans can still get their PK coffee at the Stowe store on 1940 Mountain Road.