Café Opens In Hampton

Couple's Restaurant Offers Diverse Menu
Of Fresh Ingredients For Clientele

By Colleen Lent {}

Hampton Union, Tuesday, November 27, 2001, Pg. B9

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Co-owners Sean Kelley and Cara Grasso man the counter at Caffe Fresco, their
new restaurant at 442 Lafayette Road, in Hampton. Coffee, bagels and other
breakfast foods are a mainstay.
[Photo by Emily Reily/]

HAMPTON — As most Seacoasters are hitting the snooze button on their alarm clocks, Sean Kelley and Cara Grasso, the owners of Caffe' Fresco in Hampton, are dicing, chopping, and grinding. The young entrepreneurs posted their "open for business" sign on June 25. The cafe offers fresh gourmet delights of the big city served with a helping of hometown hospitality.

Getting up before dawn to prepare for the early-morning commuter crowd during the weekday isn't new to Kelley.

"That's fairly normal for this kind of business," he said. "We're ready with product by 6 a.m.".

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1991, Kelley spent a year as private chef. He then landed a position with Joseph's Gourmet Pasta & Sauces of Haverhill, Mass. from 1992 to 1999. During his seven years at Joseph's, Kelley eventually earned the position of vice president of sales and remains a consultant for the company.

While selling fresh food on a daily basis at Joseph's, the idea of opening up a little cafe, offering a variety of coffee and pasta started to percolate. For about one and a half years, Kelley juggled his position at Joseph's and the management of his own business — "Pasta Place" in North Hampton.

"I closed the shop to focus my efforts with Joseph's," he said, sitting next to Grasso.

But, the business bug bit Kelley again and he and Grasso tossed around concepts.

"It just became something that we talked about together," Grasso said.

With a proud smile, Kelley explained that in addition to being his new business partner, Grasso is his future wife. During their courtship, the couple visited various restaurants, taking mental notes of what they liked and disliked. In addition, Kelley tapped into his memories of professional excursions throughout the country as a sales representative for Joseph's, visiting establishments from Chicago to New York City.

"I had a chance to really see what was out there," Kelley said. As a student at Northeastern University in Boston, Grasso had seen her share of metropolitan hangouts.

When mapping out the schematics for their own restaurant, Kelley and Grasso decided on an atmosphere that was comfortable with unique ambiance.

"It's been a neat experience," Grasso said. "It's a nice lesson in learning to agree."

Patrons make themselves comfortable.

The couple gestured to the restaurant's maple hardwood floor, matching maple butcher-block counters with underneath storage cabinets, immaculate tables and chairs, and plump couch and matching armchair.

"This is our interpretation of what we would like to go to and visit for breakfast," Kelley said.

While store traffic is the heaviest during weekday mornings, afternoons seem to attract customers in need of a quiet break.

Other patrons are learning that Caffe' Fresco is one of the few nearby places to pick up a jar of horseradish mustard, package of fresh lobster ravioli and container of tomato basil cream sauce. A cup of caramel toffee coffee to sip on the ride home tops off the one-stop shopping trip. A healthy percentage of the retail condiments, including syrups. jams, and relishes are from Stonewall Kitchen, well known in New England for specialty foods. Kelley said it saves local residents a special trip outside of town. Eventually, Kelley and Grasso said, they'll expand the store's retail side, which will include gourmet gift baskets.

Dinner and appetizer items available for at-home preparation, include everything from egg angel hair pasta, to grilled chicken and roasted portobello mushroom ravioli, to scallops and bacon.

"They don't have to spend a lot of time on it," Kelley said. A package of spinach and roasted garlic tortellini, paired with a pint of tomato basil marinara sauce, makes a hot meal in a few minutes.

As Kelley and Grasso reverted to talking about the three-month renovation process of transforming the former shoe store into a 1,250 square foot casual café and gourmet shop, a few afternoon customers strolled in. A man and woman played backgammon in a far corner, while sipping what appeared to be mugs of cappuccinno. Meanwhile, a woman settled down with a sandwich and her own mug of java. It was hard to tell if she selected the grilled chicken on fresh baked rosemary focaccia bread with lettuce, red onion, and mayo ($6.25) or the vegetarian on focaccia with Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, sprouts, and basil mayo ($5.50). One thing was for certain -— she was enjoying her selection.

While the aroma of a fresh baked strawberry and cheese croissant ($1.95) and large latte ($2.95) or black forest ham and Swiss cheese roll up ($5.50) may be hard to resist, Caffe' Fresco offers breakfast and lunch options for the diet conscious. A fruit cup with fresh raspberries, blueberries, honeydew melon, and pineapple ($3.50) paired with a small espresso ($1.35) is just one low-fat breakfast or lunch option. The chicken oriental salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, carrots, broccoli, noodles, cashews and honey ginger dressing ($5.75) is gaining a reputation as one of the most popular lunch items.

Meanwhile, the menu and retail selections also offer something for traditional and adventurous palates alike. Bagel spreads range from boursin cream cheese, to raspberry peach-champagne jam, to tried-and-true peanut butter. Bagels ($0.85 each and $1.75 with spread) range from plain to multigrain, to cinnamon raisin.

"We wanted a place with a lot of character." Kelley said.

While Caffe' Fresco offers just that, it also has a hint of Hampton with a welcome mat for anyone who appreciates fresh food.

Caffe' Fresco located at 442 Lafayette Road in Hampton is open Monday through Sunday. New hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. and Saturday & Sunday, 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. For additional information, call 926-0023.