Cafe opens on the Oval

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Staff Writer

MILFORD – It was only 4:59 a.m., one minute before Tuesday’s official opening of the new Cafe on the Oval, but already there were three people at the restaurant’s counter and two people in booths.

Six minutes later, at 5:05 a.m., there were nine diners in Paul Francoeur’s new location on the corner of the Oval and South Street, not much more than 100 feet down the street from where the Cafe had been for the last 11 years.

And, while the interior of the business was bright and shiny, it is the exterior that has some folks in town excited because, finally, the corner of South Street and what is officially known as Union Square, can be declared spruced up. Francoeur took over the old Dyer Drug building years after it was shut down when a music store moved out. It stood vacant and looked dilapidated.

But now the old building, and the building across South Street, are looking much better.

“It’s the beginning of a new downtown,” Francoeur said only minutes after he told a customer named Larry that he’d have to wait a little bit before he could take a seat. That was at 4:45 a.m. and Francoeur had already been on the scene for nearly two hours. He was having a coffee.

“The last 72 hours, I got about seven hours sleep,” he said.

Getting a new spot ready for Larry and the rest of Francoeur’s customers took time, even when all the renovations were done. And there were renovations aplenty, including office space for Francoeur upstairs. He was able to accomplish that because he owns this building rather than renting, as he had in his previous space.

Francoeur bought the property for $225,000 and brought in a design team to help him create two apartments on the second floor. He also has much more window space.

“It’s a new place, a new beginning,” he said Tuesday morning as he, his wife, and the staff greeted the patrons, including Larry, allowed in after sitting in his car in the rain for about 10 minutes.

One of those staff members, Heather Packard, of Milford, who has been with Francoeur for 10 years, was the morning setup person on the day of the new opening.

“Everybody takes a turn, because who wants to get up at 4 in the morning every day?” she said.

She called the new space “nice and new” and looked forward to serving customers there, which Francoeur said is the key to success.

“We want to please our customers and make sure they get the quality service and food they’re used to,” he said.

That was something Brian Fader of Milford, one of the cooks, was working on in the kitchen. He’s been with Francoeur for 11 years and liked the idea that “everything is brand new.”

He wasn’t quite sure how to take it all in because “I’ve only been here an hour. Come back in a week and I’ll tell you.”

But he was smiling, and it was only 5:10 a.m.

At a table in the corner, Ken McGettigan of Wilton was sipping his coffee. He had actually been the first customer through the door.

“I’m a long-time customer,” he said. “I wanted to see what it was like. It’s wonderful; I love the place. I didn’t think I’d be the first.”

At the counter, Larry Wells of Milford, Louis Ovens of Milford, and Charlie Hazen of Merrimack were having coffee, chatting with Packard, and getting ready to order. Behind them in a booth, Patrick Brooks of Milford seemed to like the new place, too, and spent some time chatting with Vickie Francoeur, Paul’s wife, who really loves the new space.

“I am completely overwhelmed,” she said, “considering what I saw when we first walked in (after buying the building and before renovations.”

She said she had wondered, “Wow, can it be done?”

Obviously it could be, and it was.

“I’m very impressed with the job everybody has done,” she said. “It was a big job and they pulled it off.”

For the first day, she was hoping things would be steady and that customers would be satisfied and pleased with the new space.

“Their reaction is very important to me,” she said. “I know everything else is going to go fine.”

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