After spending years working at restaurants and retail stores in Massachusetts, Leonard "Lenny" Collins recently took the plunge by taking over ownership of Arielle's Cafe & Pizzeria.
Collins, 56, of Methuen, purchased the 8 Central St. establishment on Feb. 1, signing a five-year lease. It's the first time Collins has owned his own business, but his family and a couple of employees are helping him out any way they can.
"I want to be here at least five years. That's my goal," Collins said of the cafe located directly across from the . "Maybe 20 years or however long I can keep it."
While he was browsing business listings online, Collins saw that was up for sale on the BuyBiz website and was intrigued by the opportunity.
"I was looking and looking and finally I found this place," he said. "I looked around, I said it's got potential ... and I came in for a month and a half before I bought the place just to make sure it had foot traffic.
"It's hard because if you are opening a business from scratch, it's hard to get business, but at least I have business right off the bat."
What's There to Eat?
Since taking over the cafe, Collins said he has seen a steady flow of customers coming in for items like salads, wraps and "fro-yos (frozen yogurts) just fly out of here and they're always going to sell well."
Some of the other newer items on the menu include chicken fingers, French fries, onion rings and pizzas.
"They are not deep fried in oil," Collins said of the French fries. "They are basically baked in their own oil. We cook them in The Fry Wizard and it goes to like 425 degrees, and the hot infrared cooks the product and they come out awesome and they are even better for you (than deep fried ones). The French fries are 60 percent less fat."
Cafe Gets a Facelift
While the menu boards are currently being designed, Collins said he's already made several changes to the interior of the cafe.
"We painted all the walls, put up all new decor which I'm not done yet," Collins said. "I just bought a Beatles picture that I want to hang up somewhere. I saw it Wednesday night and I kind of liked it. We also put the mantle there with the existing fireplace.
Getting the Town's Blessing for Sign, Seats
Collins said he plans to get a sign made for the exterior of the building and a design for the window. He also wants to get additional seating.
"I want to go to the town with a proposal for eight more seats, so that would give me 20 seats and I'd like to get that done as soon as possible," Collins said. "I need to do my little plan first, measure the place and draw a diagram and show it to them and I'm sure it won't be a problem."
Changing of the Guard
Jose Rivera, a full-time employee who, said he has already seen a change since the recent change in management.
"Things have been going really well actually, and things have actually improved," Rivera said. "The place has been redecorated and people seem to be coming in more. It's great."
Rivera, 26, of Somerville, said he has one goal moving forward: "To improve sales." "Good answer," Collins said with a chuckle.
Collins said the community has been welcoming with each visit they make to the establishment, which is open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday during the winter and will be open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. in the summer.
"I like Stoneham, it's a nice town. I like where it's situated," Collins said. "The firemen across the street are good customers, the come in a lot, too, and they love our fro-yos and it's just nice. Everybody is friendly, and like Jose has said, 'It's a nice, tight-knit town.'
"It's good. I've got good help, and I'm not afraid to work. I've been in retail and supermarkets, delis, sub shops and bar rooms, so I basically know that you have to treat the people right, give them good food and be consistent, and they'll be back," Collins added.
When the final touches are in place, Collins hopes to have a grand reopening in late March or early April.