Preka sustaining the 'people's coffee shop'
New London — A pandemic is no place for an extrovert. Seriously. Those of us for whom social interaction is a de facto narcotic need coffee shops, barber shops and gin mills to do the daily bon vivant thing.
Which is why I'm grateful to Dave Preka, who has outdared the pandemic to keep Muddy Waters alive. Preka, perhaps known better locally for his successful Advanced Group Construction company, has taken his second dive into the food industry, this time with the nerve center of the city. A place where people — masked up now — sip coffee, partake of breakfast and solve the problems of the world.
It's where I start every day. I know. Tough job. But someone's got to do it. Except that it's really the essence of what we're supposed to be doing. As late New York Times columnist David Carr said of this business: "You go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it."
This is the essence of Muddys.
Want to know what's going on around town (and other towns)? Meet interesting people? Park your keister at a table and listen to all us blowhards, gasbags and blatherers meet daily to help politicians, attorneys, journalists, sports figures, police officers, firefighters, plumbers, EB folks, morticians, carpet cleaners, teachers, school administrators, social workers, judges, restaurateurs and others do their jobs better. Our advice is never solicited but always free.
Enter Preka, a loyal customer of the place for years, who bought he place from Barry Neistat and Susan Devlin — and happily still giving us a place to pontificate. It's routine for conversations to ping pong among the Yankees, Whalers, UConn, politics, education, Port Authority, the stock market and Bitcoin, all in the same breath.
"Back in 2008-09 I owned a place off Golden Street, the Red Line Steak House," Preka said. "We tried. It was high end and honestly, people really didn't like that atmosphere. We closed a year later, but I learned a lot about the business.
"I've been coming here every morning for the last decade plus. I always told Barry and Sue than when they were ready to sell, I'd be interested. After the pandemic hit, he said, 'we're ready.'"
And so Preka, knowing people were staying home and that indoor dining capacities are limited, moved all his chips to the center anyway. This is not normal business practice in a pandemic.
"Our goal is to attract people in the city," Preka said. "They know the food and service has always been excellent. We have wonderful regulars. We're very happy to support everyone. This isn't something I'm coming here in and becoming a billionaire. We want this place to stay the same way, but with some upgrades."
Regular Fran DePeter, a former English teacher and soccer/wrestling coach at New London High, said, "I wouldn't have met a number of people that I have without coming here. I would say if you really want to know New London and New London-based people, this is the place to come."
Or as best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell wrote of the coffee shop premise: "People who are busy doing things — as opposed to people who are busy sitting around, like me, reading and having coffee in coffee shops — don't have opportunities to kind of collect and organize their experiences and make sense of them."
And it's kind of fun to settle, collect and organize before the day starts to percolate.
Of course, this wouldn't be a New London story without the concept of a good deed going unpunished. Preka, who has invested some copious cash into the business, has been haggling recently with city Blight Officer Omi Morales, who apparently isn't fond of where Preka has been placing his trash cans.
You can't make it up.
I mean, without the traffic Muddy Waters drives right now, Bank St. would be a rumor. And yet we're somehow awash in trash can placement. Suggestion to Morales and anybody else who may be directing him: It's trash cans. Trash cans! It's not as though Preka has pole dancers in the place. So make like Dionne Warwick next time and walk on by. Because it's a bad look.
"We're not a community coffee shop," Preka said. "This is the people's coffee shop."
Many of us people are grateful for a place to go.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro