By all accounts, Muddy Waters Café is a downtown New London success story. A coffeehouse, breakfast and lunch stop at 42 Bank St., Muddy Waters is busy all day.
Barry Neistat owns the building, which he previously leased to a couple from the Coast Guard Academy who ran a business called Mugz. When the pair were transferred, Neistat decided to renovate the building and reopen under a new name.
Neither Neistat nor Susan Devlin, the store's co-owner, had ever owned a restaurant before, though Neistat has sold restaurant equipment for years, and Devlin's father, Hugh, ran Hughie's, one of the most popular restaurants in the city for years.
"There are a lot of waitresses who think they could open a place because they waitressed," said Devlin, who worked at her father's restaurant. "I never thought that. I know there's a lot more to it than it looks like."
They put in long hours, cleaning and shopping and planning after the doors close. Neistat credits much of the store's success to Devlin's "tweaking." The couple also said they do well because they know almost all their customers and are consistent in their food and service.
Neistat adds that success downtown comes from "finding a niche."
Neistat and Devlin both grew up in New London and have seen its boom and its bust. They watched the highway and the local malls sap downtown's businesses and its spirit, and they've watched the various attempts to revive the city.
The couple hope the recent influx of residents, new restaurants and art galleries are the start of something great. Neistat said he doesn't know why New London hasn't succeeded already.
"There's an enigma about New London," he said. "... I've been listening to studies about New London for over 30 years. I went to one that stuck in my mind about what a successful downtown needs, and they listed everything" - transportation, churches, a town hall, a post office, architecture and waterfront.
"They listed about 10 or 12 things to make a successful downtown," he said. "We have all of them and then some because nobody has the 1½ million ferry passengers a year coming into their town. That's why it's an enigma: you can't point to anything why downtown's not successful."