Joe Gentile hopes his market cafe will help other cottage-industry businesses develop a local following.
By Matt Skoufalos
For the past four years, Joe Gentile has stood across the street from the building at 533 Station Avenue, cultivating the Haddon Heights farmers market.
Gathering the stable of weekly vendors for several seasons gave him an appetite for something larger, however, and Gentile envisioned carrying on the continuity of the market in a year-round format.
When the property he’d been staring at for three hours every Sunday became available, Gentile jumped at the opportunity.
After six months of gutting and fitting out the space, his market cafe, Local Links, was ready for launch.
The name is a nod to Gentile’s food cart business, Not Just Hot Dogs, as well as an expression of the idea that his storefront could help other entrepreneurs get their small businesses off the ground cost-effectively.
“Basically it’s an extension of the farmers market,” Gentile said.
“Every single vendor needs a place to put their stuff. Why not put it in a place that’s right across the street [the other]six days a week?”
Gentile describes Local Links as being “like a shared space,” where in-house prepared foods are sourced from local vendors, the coffee is roasted within two zip codes, and the shelves are lined with stuff from cottage-industry and start-up businesses. The only prerequisite for consideration is that the products be made nearby.
“I’m going to be moving your product, selling your soap, using your glasses,” Gentile said.
“If anybody wants to come and demo and use the space to market their product, that’s what I want.”
To start, Local Links will serve cooked-to-order breakfasts and lunches—think egg sandwiches, burritos, fresh juices and smoothies—baked goods, and “whatever I feel like putting on that chalkboard that I can get my hands on,” Gentile said.
The deli case will retail specialty sausages from Philadelphia-based Mitchell and Geno, and the in-house kitchen is available to small-batch food producers who need a health-department-certified commercial space in which to prepare their recipes.
Coffee will be rotated from among a selection of local vendors, including Revolution Coffee Roasters of Collingswood and Royal Mile Coffee Roasters of Haddon Township. The shelves are stocked with hand-made soaps from Barn and Stone House Soap of Laurel Springs, and Gentile is in talks with makers of candles, glassware, and other crafts to carry their products.
“Working together, linking different businesses together from a common synergy, kind of made sense,” he said. “It’ll give people a sense of orientation.
For Chris Michalak of Mitchell and Geno, Local Links represents a chance to stock his 18 varieties of sausages in a store where he can also showcase them as the main ingredient in some prepared recipes.
“I like the idea of a collaboration between the different businesses,” Michalak said.
“You see a lot of places open up and close quickly because there’s a large burden of getting set up. The idea of having multiple businesses operating out of that same location will relieve that burden.
“You’re not just on an island on your own,” he said.
Haddon Heights Mayor Edward Forte is also bullish on the potential of the cafe.
“I think it’s a great spot,” Forte said. “I think a lot of people will be drawn to what [Joe’s] trying to accomplish.
“If he finds a niche, I think he can expand it.”
Local Links is located at 533 Station Avenue in Haddon Heights.