While residential buildings are erected in the Roebling Point area of Covington and neighboring residents in Newport have been vacated to make way for development, two Northern Kentucky small businesses managed to grow together despite threatening rent increases and continual development of the area.
Roebling Point Books and Coffee and Lil’s Kitchen are celebrating the grand opening of their unified storefront in Dayton, Kentucky, on April 29, which is also National Independent Bookstore Day.
Lil’s Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee is a combination of Roebling’s third location and Lil’s Bagels reimagined. Inside, a taste of the former Lil’s Bagels’ colorful, funky interior blends into bookshelves, eclectic art, a full coffee bar and a modest but delectable menu of food.
But the journey has been long and trying.
In 2019, Roebling Point Books and Coffee faced an uncertain future. The then nearly 10-year-old business was threatened by a rent increase owner Richard Hunt said it couldn’t afford. Luckily for Hunt and the Covington community, negotiations were made and the shop persevered – it even went on to acquire a second location in Newport in 2021.
Last year, Roebling Point Books and Coffee's Covington neighbor encountered a similar problem. Lil’s Bagels had been negotiating a new lease and plans for expansion, when a change of contract management at Gravity Management Group altered the arrangement.
An almost seven-month-long lease re-negotiation ensued between Lil’s Bagels owner Julia Keister and Gravity Management Group. Ultimately they couldn’t agree and Lil’s Bagels closed its Covington doors in December 2022.
Hunt and Keister were not just neighbors, but also friends and business partners. The two experienced years of teaming up for events, philanthropic initiatives, shoveling each other’s sidewalks in the winter and delighting in serving breakfast and lunch items that pair perfectly (bagels and coffee).
“[Hunt] and I have always been partners, since 2016 basically,” Keister says. “We really complement each other in our different strengths and experiences. I think we are both really creative people who truly care about humanity.”
Naturally, Hunt tells CityBeat, an even deeper collaboration developed when Lil’s Bagels lost its home.
“What we were trying to do is twofold,” Hunt says. “We were trying to find a way to keep what is special about the neighborhood going and to do it even bigger. And keep everybody employed.”
After Lil’s Bagels closed, Hunt absorbed a handful of its employees, who were trained as baristas and bookstore personnel while plans for the Dayton location materialized.
“There's a huge group of us that came over from Lil's Bagels,” Keister says. “And while we definitely reminisce and mourn [the Covington store], it's really exciting for all of us to be able to use our creativity and dedication in whole new areas.”
Lil’s Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee opened in Dayton in late March. The four-room storefront was ready for business but still undergoing superficial improvements. Keister and Hunt are now prepared to officially debut their united effort, even though the community has been showing support since day one.
“It’s been really awesome,” Keister says. “Everything has been so positive in terms of feedback, in terms of community outreach and just familiar faces that have shown up in Dayton. I feel like the main response is just like, ‘This is so neat,’ to have the combination of books and food and coffee.”
Keister says they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Baker-Hunt Art and Cultural Center, where Lil’s Kitchen currently prepares all the food. Plans to incorporate a kitchen at the Dayton location are in the works. In the next year, a detached space that is part of the property in Dayton will be transformed into a kitchen, Keister says.
Along with offering Lil’s signature sandwiches, soups, salads, toasts and smoothies, Lil’s Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee is acquiring a liquor license. Keister says that during peak seasons, the storefront will also host a farmstand, where local produce and goods can be featured.
While the bagel aspect Lil’s was founded on is a thing of the past, certain sauces and smears will endure. Keister says not having to produce large amounts of bagels has broadened opportunities for expansion in other ways like signature sandwiches, beer and wine and even more time for event planning.
“With the mass production of something like bagels, you have to dedicate so much labor and time that there isn't a ton of room to be as creative and free as we are now,” Keister says. “So while everyone wants a bagel, I do think people are going to see how much of an opportunity this is for us and how much more we can offer the community because of all the different avenues that we can go down.”
In celebration of the grand opening and National Independent Bookstore Day, Lil’s Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee is offering week-long sales beginning April 24 that include 25% off any book with the purchase of a drink and 50% off merchandise with the purchase of four or more books.
In 2019, when Roebling’s Covington location was in danger of closing, Hunt explained the importance of the store as a “third place” for the community, a sort of respite.
“You have work and home and then the other place you go to,” Hunt said. “Your third place.”
With the addition of Roebling’s Newport store, Hunt was able to proudly provide a “second, third place” to the neighborhood. Now, Keister and Hunt can officially offer Lil’s Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee as a “third, third place” for the community to enjoy.
Lil's Kitchen at Roebling Books and Coffee is located at 301 6th Ave., Dayton, Kentucky. Info: facebook.com/lilsbagels.
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