It’s the place to meet in New London. Most days of the week at Muddy Waters Café are marked by the regular gathering one group of friends or another—one day is retired teachers, another is retired police officers, and Sundays it’s friends from church. The halfway mark between New York and Boston, it’s also a place for annual reunions. It’s even a spot for romance.
Owners Barry Neistat and Susan Devlin laugh, “You can always tell when it’s a first date.”
One of the keys to the success of the Bank Street coffee shop is the welcoming atmosphere Barry and Susan have created over 16 years in business. The space is clean and comfortable, drawing a diverse crowd. It’s not uncommon to for local professionals, business owners or local government officials to have impromptu meetings while grabbing a coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
Knowing their customers and knowing their strengths have helped Barry and Susan maintain a strong business in what can be a challenging market. Focusing on their primary function as a coffee shop serving breakfast and lunch, they have kept it simple.
“Don’t try to be everything to everyone,” advises Barry. For example, people keep encouraging them to open for dinner. While he says it’s flattering, he and Susan know that is beyond what they feel they can manage well. One of them is at the restaurant every day of the week, keeping the experience up to the standards that are so important to them.
Offering consistency in quality and service is one of the first pieces of advice Barry has to offer. They don’t make radical changes and they stick with the high-quality products customers have come to expect. Baked goods are provided by New London’s You Take the Cake, sandwiches are made with Boar’s Head meats, and coffees come from local roasters Ashlawn Farms, Deep River Coffee and Mystic Roasters—the sources of the rich aroma that fills the café.
Barry emphasizes that some of the basics are what keep customers happy. Steady hours, reasonable prices, clean facilities, and constant stock of menu items are important. Rather than have to tell a customer they are out of something, Barry will make a run to the grocery store to keep all items in stock.
Muddy Waters, a combination of the slang for coffee and a reference to the Thames River that flows behind their deck out back, is housed in a building Barry’s family has owned for generations. Formerly home to his grandfather’s restaurant supply business, Thames Crockery, Barry needed to fill the empty space when the business sold to a Bridgeport distributor. A short-lived coffee shop moved in. Encouraged by a friend, Barry took the idea and improved on it, reoutfitting the space and laying the foundation for this New London institution.
Susan brings with her the history of another city institution. Hughie’s, her father’s restaurant, is legend in New London. Muddy Waters carries on the tradition of the authentic Love Salad, which is often imitated, but never matched.
New London’s second home, Muddy Waters treats customers like family. Barry and Susan returned from a trip to Maine to visit their daughter with boxes full of Portland’s Holy Donut—made with Maine potatoes—as a treat to share at the café. Barry and Susan see it as a small expense to create the kind of experience they want for their customers—a place where everyone feels welcome to linger over a cup of coffee and be part of the community.