March 15, 2006

Business finally brewing at HotSpot Coffee Shoppe By THOMAS S. BROWN Business Writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- After four years of brewing, the coffee is finally ready at the HotSpot Coffee Shoppe.

Owners Marcia Buckingham and Gustav Postreich originally thought the old restaurant they bought in 2002 could be remodeled in six months or so. They were looking for a place where they could sell books produced by their other business, Denlinger's Publishers in Edgewater.

But zoning and permitting issues blocked construction at 1216 S. Ridgewood Ave. for two years and the three hurricanes of 2004 led to further delays.

"We evacuated and went up to Jacksonville for Hurricane Frances," Buckingham said. "When we came back, the building was still in good shape -- all we lost was one little sign. But the contractor we had hired suddenly was too busy to do our project and didn't want to sign a contract, so we had to start all over."

They aren't the only ones to feel the squeeze of a labor shortage. Contractor work backlogs resulting from the 2004 hurricanes slowed many commercial projects last year, and are still having an effect, said Bob Turk, vice president of business development at The Chamber, Daytona Beach/Halifax Area.

"The feedback I'm getting is that we don't have enough contractors to handle the work," Turk said. "They're so booked up they're planning months ahead to start any new projects. And a lot of contractors have left our area and headed to the upper Gulf Coast" for Hurricane Katrina recovery work.

However, Kevin Kronk, president of the Volusia Home Builders Association, said the labor situation is getting back to normal. "We had a lot of subs go out to the Panhandle after the 2004 storms but they're back now.

Whether it's because of contractor delays or other reasons, several beachside gift shops and other storm-damaged commercial buildings still sit boarded up, including strip plazas at 3310 and 3314 S. Atlantic Ave. in Daytona Beach Shores. "They're being assessed fines every day," said Fred G. Hiatt Jr., the Shores' building official.

Other gift shops, however, such as Souvenir City and Purple Haze, managed to complete repairs in time for this year's special-event season.

HotSpot, too, succeeded in opening for Bike Week, even though the owners weren't counting on many bikers rolling in for lattes and mochas.

"We didn't get a lot of business but we didn't want to let another Bike Week go by without being open," Postreich said.

The couple bought the 60-year-old structure, formerly the Homestead restaurant, to use just as a bookstore, but discovered afterward that zoning rules did not allow a bookstore as a primary business at their location. However, they learned they could still sell books as a sideline to a cafe, so they revised their business plan accordingly.

Postreich and Buckingham are counting on the South Ridgewood neighborhood and area colleges to be the mainstay of their business, which features about two dozen coffees, teas and smoothies, plus gourmet cookies and muffins supplied by an outside bakery. The cafe's free wireless Internet service already is starting to catch on as 20-somethings sip their drinks and peck away at their laptop computers.

In several respects, the cafe is still feeling its way.

Hours remain experimental. "Our drive-through lane is always going to be open at 6 a.m. and sometimes the cafe will be, too, but generally it will be 7 a.m.," Buckingham said. Closing will usually be 6 p.m., but might be as late as 10 or 11 p.m. during special event periods.

Thus far, the cafe has been open daily, but may start closing on Sundays. Three part-time assistants help run the place.

As obstacles arose and the expense of a stylish Art Deco renovation topped six figures, Buckingham said she and Postreich were tempted to give up. "But after you've gone this far, you can't just quit."

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