New cafe coming to former Subway space in downtown Shelton

SHELTON — Stephanie Champagne spent her childhood dreaming of working in a coffee shop. Now she owns one.

The Stratford resident — known locally for her charming demeanor and bright smile on the job at Caloroso Eatery and Bar on Center Street — is opening Kickstart Café in a vacant space at 462 Howe Ave., once home to Subway.

“I love the Shelton community … I love the restaurant business, and this is a chance to merge the two,” said Champagne, who has been at Caloroso for the past six years.

“I am so beyond excited,” she added. “I have wanted this since I was a kid. I always used to say I would work at a coffee shop. The fact that I’ll be opening one … it’s my wildest dream come true.”

Kickstart Café, which is expected to open in mid-September, will offer indoor seating as well as curbside pickup. She said the shop will offer coffee, tea and smoothies as well as breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Champagne said the menu will feature traditional and vegan options as well as desserts prepared by her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Linda Thompson.

“I want this to be the one place to get both dietary options,” said Champagne, adding that her menu is open to change. “I will tailor my offerings to the community. I’m not stagnant with my plan, I want to mold the menu to what I hear the community wants.”

Champagne said her first job was in a bagel shop, where she fell in love with the restaurant business. She said she held other jobs in between coming to Caloroso, but she never wavered from her goal.

“I always came back to the restaurant business,” she said.

Mat Calandro, owner of Caloroso, said he first met Champagne when she applied for a server position and he knew she was destined for success.

“An independent woman with exceptional work ethic, compassion and character,” Calandro said in describing Champagne. “I consider her a part of my family and a friend for life.”

He said Champagne will fulfill her dream.

“I know her late father is so proud of her,” he said. “She's committed to fulfilling her dream and has made so many sacrifices, including putting her wedding on hold to take on this venture.”

Champagne said the business is truly a family affair, with support coming from her fiance, Matthew Bartol — the pair are high school sweethearts who have been together for 14 years.

She also credits Calandro for his support, not only as her employer but as a friend who supported her efforts to get this fledgling café up and running.

“I know that Kickstart will be a staple in downtown Shelton for many years to come and am so proud of her,” Calandro said. “She was the first to raise her hand during some very uncertain times, which is a testament to her courage. She is a great example for us all and reminder that the American Dream is alive and well.”

She was able to make her dream a reality when Subway vacated the space on the corner of Howe Avenue and the entrance to the post office parking lot. Liberty Tax filled the space temporarily but then left, freeing the location for Champagne.

“I knew this was the right move for me … I said, ‘This has to happen,’” she said. “And to do this in the neighborhood I’ve loved serving for the past six years … I can’t really wrap my head around it.”

Champagne said this is the right time with Shelton’s downtown exploding with small businesses and apartments, which is leading to more foot traffic.

She has also learned from the countless people she met working at Caloroso that Shelton residents want to help small businesses and will patronize them whenever possible.

“I assure you that Kickstart won't disappoint,” Calandro said.