Thank you so much for being a part of the journey and sticking with us,” Eric LeGrand said just before cutting the ribbon at his new business in the heart of Woodbridge, where he was born, surrounded by family, friends, fans, assorted dignitaries and community members. “And now, welcome to our humble abode, LeGrand Coffee House.”
The moment was a culmination of a nearly two-year process of dreaming up the idea, pitching it to officials, such as Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, assembling a team to execute the vision, putting together financing and then dealing with a pandemic, construction delays, inflation, supply chain issues and more challenges.
Last May, NJBIZ documented LeGrand’s journey of becoming a small business owner in New Jersey. While the LeGrand Opening marked a triumphant moment for Woodbridge’s favorite son, it certainly did not come without challenges.
“It was a grind,” The 31-year-old LeGrand told NJBIZ. “It wasn’t easy. But I will say one thing. It was fun getting to this point.”
Just as it was not easy for McCormac to sell the idea of redeveloping Woodbridge’s downtown to some of his constituents. The mayor, a longtime friend of LeGrand and an early backer of the project, had been trying to get people to buy into the vision.
“Our downtown redevelopment has been somewhat controversial, but we’ve tried to convince people what the future will look like,” McCormac said.
McCormac said the developers, Prism Capital Partners, were skeptical, at first, about the idea of LeGrand Coffee House because it was a startup, and he had no track record or financials.
“But you know what he has,” McCormac asked. “He’s got the name Eric LeGrand. And we convinced them that this was somebody they should be doing business with and somebody they would be very proud to have as their first retail tenant, not only in this complex, but in the entire downtown redevelopment.”
LeGrand, of course, is a former Rutgers football who suffered a devastating injury during a game in 2010. He has since become one of New Jersey’s most celebrated citizens for his strength of character and indefatigable attitude.
He reached a deal for LeGrand Coffee House to be the first retail tenant on the ground floor of the brand-new Avenue & Green development, located at 10 Green St. in Woodbridge, which consists of 232 luxury rentals and 12,000 square feet of street level retail space, just steps away from the Woodbridge train station. A FedEx outlet has also signed on for space at the project.
Robert Fourniadis, senior vice president, Residential at Prism Capital Partners, said that the relationship with Eric LeGrand and LeGrand Coffee House is special.
“From the start, the lease negotiation was, hands down, the most enjoyable transaction I have ever been involved with; it was truly gratifying,” said Fourniadis. “Eric and the folks he works with are quality people and professionals, and their dedication to providing a delicious product and outstanding service is clear. Our team is so excited to have LeGrand Coffee House as Avenue & Green’s flagship tenant.”
The project is a part of a flurry of construction downtown in zones that were identified as prime for redevelopment. McCormac believes that having LeGrand Coffee House as the first retail tenant gave instant credibility and validation to the efforts.
“I have no doubt that when other retail stores and restaurants heard about Eric LeGrand being here first, it had to have helped the rest of the development move a lot quicker,” McCormac said.
“This week, the residential component of Avenue & Green reached 100% leased,” said Fourniadis. “The interest and velocity have been incredible – it is unheard of for a property of this size to reach full lease-up in eight months. Ultimately, this reflects the demand for modern, highly amenitized multifamily in vibrant downtowns like Woodbridge.”
“To be where I am now, opening my own business, and giving back to the community too, I think it’s pretty cool,” LeGrand told NJBIZ. “I’ve literally been in this community forever.”
The grand opening drew some of the biggest names in New Jersey politics and athletics, along with community supporters and admirers who were eager to try what LeGrand has dubbed as a daily cup of bELieve.
“It takes a whole village. And you guys have always supported me throughout this entire state of New Jersey,” LeGrand said. “And I’m so thankful.”
Some of the notable guests included Gov. Phil Murphy; First Lady Tammy Murphy; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District; state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District; Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-19th District; Caroline Ehrlich, Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency executive director; Rutgers Football Head Coach Greg Schiano, Athletic Director Pat Hobbs and Scarlet Knight basketball players Geo Baker and Luke Nathan; longtime friend and business partner John Archibald; and of course, Eric’s mom, Karen LeGrand.
“I’m like a proud papa,” Schiano said at the ribbon cutting. “He’s got a track record. There’s no one better to do this. This is going to be a great, great operation here, and we can’t wait to be part of it.”
“This place is rocking,” Murphy said. “This is going to be a real anchor tenant in town. To have Eric’s name on the door, it’s just so totally cool.”
“What Eric LeGrand has always been is a beacon of grace and a person of character and commitment,” said Coughlin, who used to call LeGrand’s Colonia High School football games with McCormac. “I hope you have nothing but incredible success and enjoyment.”
“It’s great for downtown. It’s revitalizing the town,” Vitale said. “It’s remarkable. And I think it just shows that Eric could have just given up after his injury. But clearly this is an example of not giving up.”
“He’s dedicated to this community,” Vitale added.
Following the official ribbon cutting, the elected officials and invited guests reconvened inside, as the governor and first lady were served the first official beverages, iced coffees.
“How cool is this,” Murphy said to NJBIZ, after he was served his cup of bELieve. “You combine the opening of a great small business, and small businesses are the backbone of our economy. And it’s not just any small business, it’s Eric LeGrand, who we know well. But none of us should be surprised by today.”
“We’ve been helping Eric literally since the beginning,” McCormac said. “And I just can’t believe how it has evolved into this amazing store. It’s just terrific. And we’re so proud of Eric and everything he’s accomplished.”
Now, after a long journey getting the coffee house built, LeGrand takes on a new role, employer.
“It’s like one thing to another,” LeGrand told NJBIZ. “So, it’s like okay, now it’s built, but now I got all these people I’m responsible for.”
LeGrand is confident in the team and staff around him, hoping to create opportunities for young people in the community. He is also hopeful to foster a welcoming and friendly vibe, where people can come together, meet with friends, hold events, and more. A major reason why he developed the concept was because of all the turmoil he witnessed in 2020.
“The world was at each other’s necks in 2020,” LeGrand explained. “I said I want to bring people together. Be able to come into our shop, forget about all the stuff that’s going on in this world, and just have a good time. Enjoy the conversations. Enjoy each other, the fellowship.”
LeGrand Coffee House also figures to be a major hub for Scarlet Knights games.
Another point of emphasis was accessibility. LeGrand pointed out that he always has to consider the logistics of wherever he goes, so there was a real focus on getting as many seats as possible while maintaining the accessibility for anyone with disabilities, who LeGrand wanted to be as comfortable as possible at his coffee house.
The space features wider doors, larger bathrooms, high-top tables, and a big enough space behind the counter for LeGrand to maneuver through.
For LeGrand, the moment also marked the culmination of a process from, during the pandemic, being inspired by the book “Shoe Dog,” about Phil Knight building Nike, to seeing his dream fully realized.
“I want to have my story and my idea bringing unity to the community around it,” LeGrand told NJBIZ at the time. “And this is something that people want and need every day.”
And judging by who turned out, along with the lines stretched down the block and the early buzz on social media, LeGrand appears well on his way to accomplishing that goal. And in the process, he has helped spark the redevelopment of Woodbridge, the town where he is so beloved.
“We told people, ‘Just wait and see what’s going to happen when we start working on the downtown development,’” McCormac said. “All of a sudden, along came Eric LeGrand to validate everything we were talking about.”
“Here in Woodbridge, we take pride in Avenue & Green’s role as a catalyst for the significant progress the township is seeing and all that is yet to come,” said Fourniadis. “We’re looking forward to a long and satisfying partnership.”
“I said if I put my mind to it, we can make this happen right here in Woodbridge Township,” LeGrand said. “I would not be who I am today without this community.”