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Borjo Coffeehouse Returns Under New Ownership

By Joe Garvey

Faculty and students returning to campus for the fall semester will find that an old favorite has returned to Monarch Way.

Borjo Coffeehouse, which offers "Fairly Serious Coffee, Food & Other Fine Things," is back in business.

It had been a popular meeting spot for 15 years. But TASTE, which acquired Borjo in 2016, opted not to renew the lease in late 2019. Borjo's original owners, Jon Pruden and Rob Loomis, who also co-own and operate TASTE, closed the coffeehouse that December.

It reopened on July 5 under new owner Bill Odom, who had been a regular at the original Borjo.

The response through the summer has been overwhelmingly positive.

"At the beginning, we didn't have to-go spoons, we didn't have to-go containers, we didn't have stir sticks. We didn't have sugar packets the first day that we opened," General Manager Monica Kello said. "Everyone was like, 'Don't worry about it. We're so glad that you're here.'"

"I've gotten a lot of compliments on the coffee and the food, of course, but also on the staff," Odom added.

Odom became interested in bringing back Borjo to a large degree because of Kello.

"What kind of drove the train was Monica," he said.

They met when she was 14 and a student at his martial arts studio, Norfolk Karate Academy/Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Norfolk. Over the years, she had become so skilled that Odom asked her if she would be interested in becoming a full-time karate instructor.

"She said, 'Yeah, OK, fine. But my real experience is in food service,'" Odom recalled. Kello, who graduated from ODU in 2017 with a double major in art and Asian studies and a minor in Japanese, has worked at number of local food establishments.

"I said, 'What do you think about running your own coffeeshop?' She said, 'That would be the best of all worlds,'" Odom said. "I said, 'OK, hold that thought.'"

Early this year, Odom contacted Maggie Spillane of S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co., the retail broker for the ODU Real Estate Foundation, and asked about the Borjo location. Spillane knew Odom from his martial arts studios and had leased him space at shopping centers in Hampton Roads.

She told him Tara Saunders, the foundation's executive director, had been holding the spot for a replacement for Equinox, which had signed a lease for the Borjo space in February 2020 - right before the pandemic hit - and closed in 2021.

"I was hoping another independent coffeeshop would locate there because a college campus is not complete without one," Saunders said.

Odom told Spillane, "Boy, have I got some news for you."

Spillane then called Saunders.

"I was elated," Saunders said. "I knew the campus and community would be thrilled."

The foundation and Odom reached a lease agreement in late April.

Odom brought back the Borjo name thanks to Loomis.

Loomis explained that when TASTE acquired Borjo it also got the Borjo Coffeehouse and "Fairly Serious Coffee" trademarks, which TASTE used at drink bars at some of its locations. In January, Loomis said TASTE lawyers were asked to "draft a license agreement that basically said that as long as Bill is operating the coffeehouse on Monarch Way, he can use the Borjo brand name at no cost, and TASTE will cease using the Borjo brand in its stores."

Odom, who had also bonded with Loomis over their love of martial arts, is grateful for his friend's support.

"He still comes in - he goes on a bike ride every morning and his route will bring him by here," Odom said. "He'll stick his head in. He just hooked up our front-desk printer. Any problems, he comes over and fixes it. Not to mention that this was his baby for 15 years. He knows every freaking nook and cranny."

Borjo, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, has been gradually expanding its offerings.

"Monica could not have done a better job of operationally pulling this together, from bringing on the staff and doing it in an incremental way to managing the menu," said Odom, who has eight employees, including five ODU students. "And essentially what she's done is every couple days, they add an item. And they're testing it, making sure they know how to make it because at the end of the day, when somebody comes in and says, 'I want this,' we've got to have our routine down, make sure it's 100% right and it's got to be fast."

What are the most popular items?

"Most of our money is in lattes, specifically, and cold brew," Kello said. "Cold brew is literally all we've been selling. I've gotten a couple of compliments on the breakfast burrito, which is nice, and the rest of the compliments have been on the cold brew. Our other big seller is lemonade. We sell lemonade like crazy."

Plans call for Borjo to eventually offer beer and wine, and to bring back entertainment.

Saunders feels the coffeehouse is in good hands.

"They've been doing very well since they opened," she said. "He had the money. She had the dream."

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