It’s 7:30 a.m. and the aroma of roasting chicken and fresh soup turns heads as people begin to walk in the doors of Bell Works. You can also smell eggs, bacon and Booskerdoo coffee. It’s still quiet, except for the sounds of Sarah Shields and Richard Carroll moving behind the display counter, in between the open kitchen oven and refrigerators, cooking and getting set up for the day.
Welcome to Cafe Bell.
When you walk into the main doors of Bell Works, you can see the bustle of people around the Cafe’s glass cases and counter at the far end of the building. Some stop to talk with Sarah and Richard, co-managers of Cafe Bell, trading casual greetings or catching up on the latest Bell happenings.
Cafe Bell is in the center of the hum and buzz of the place.
Open since February 2016, it wasn’t long before Bell Works tenants began to refer to the space, affectionately, as The Big Bang Cafe — a salute to the iconic building’s former life as Bell Labs and the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation that led to the Big Bang Theory. During the first few months it was open, Sarah greeted every person by name as they walked through on their way to their offices. Now, Sarah has to pause and think sometimes before coming up with a name. During the last nine months, the traffic into the building has increased exponentially. Quiet time is the exception rather than the rule, now.
It’s no accident — the Cafe’s place at the heart of this emerging mini city nestled in the suburbs. (Here they call it a metroburb.) Capitalizing on the very powerful role that sharing a meal plays in building community, the cafe’s physical location was a very deliberate decision on the part of the design team to give a space for the Bell Works community to come together to support and inspire each other. Under the aegis of David Ellis Events, the cafe is both an anchor and a magnet in the Bell Works metroburb concept.
As the lunch crowd begins to pick up near noontime, pioneers and start ups like Springboard Public Relations and Wisdom + Craft (a UX/UI agency) stand with established innovators like McCann Systems and Symbolic IO and trade weather reports, casual banter that turns into animated storytelling about weekend errands and pastimes. Often, that turns into sharing a table for lunch and, somehow, that seamlessly segues into recommendations for meeting other professionals who are working on similar projects and goals. Phone numbers and emails are exchanged before the budding colleagues take off, back to their respective desks.
David and Sarah see it every day. Cafe Bell is one of the places in Bell Works where serendipity shakes hands with opportunity and new ideas are sparked — and partnerships begin.
Cafe Bell is open from 7:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and serves breakfast and lunch to more than one hundred people each day. Most are working at Bell. They’re entrepreneurs. They’re team members at one of more than a dozen innovation start ups and established industry leaders in the building. They’re members of the construction teams working nearly around the clock to rehab office space and transform common spaces. Maybe its you and me. Cafe Bell is open to the public.
Visitors may enter the building through the front door and sign in at the guest book. Though much of the building is under construction (and thus, off limits) visitors can spent time in the grand atrium and hang out in the cafe as long as they want.
Soon, Sarah and Richard will be bringing on another full-time staff member. As Bell Works signs more and more new businesses, traffic at the “Big Bang” Cafe has picked up. Some afternoons, the line wraps around the counter as regulars and new customers wait to put in their order for one of the fresh, stacked sandwiches, or a salad, soup or one of several mouthwatering sides.
“We’re working on adding hot items to the menu,” Richard says. “Meatloaf, all kinds of parmesans and curries. Something special for all tastes.” Daily Specials are posted on a big white board and change depending on which fresh ingredients Richard and Sarah source each day. “It’s all fresh and it’s made by us — right here— to order,” Richard asserts. “Our goal is to provide quality food and quick service in a familiar, warm and welcoming environment.”
And it is warm, and it is welcoming…by design. Paola Zamudio, owner of NPZ Syle & Decor, chose each detail for Cafe Bell with intent, and a commitment to serving the community well through each stage of growth at Bell Works. There is a space for every mood. All furnishings and arrangements are part of a purposeful plan to cultivate a feeling of inspiration that honors the building’s past as the center of innovation for the entire world.
“People who work here, they enjoy getting up and walking out to the cafe area which looks more like the great room in a lodge or a resort than any cafe you might think of,” Sarah comments. “If they’re looking for some quiet time alone at a table with their laptop, they can find that. If they’re looking for a more traditional, interactive experience with co-workers, friends or a potential project partner, we have tables for those people, too.”
If long, family-style tables and smaller, more intimate round tables don’t call to you on any particular day, there are also couches you can curl into and sit looking out of the enormous windows at the trees.You can watch the birds perching and swooping by in every season.
In addition to Cafe Bell’s breakfast and lunch service, under the umbrella of David Ellis Events, Sarah and Richard also work with clients to design and execute corporate events and charity galas in the Bell Works building. Both managers have an impressive background in the culinary arts and the food services industry. Sarah came to Cafe Bell from Somerset where she managed the cafe in the Somerset YMCA. Richard, a 25 year veteran of culinary services and a long-time private chef and caterer with David Ellis, was most recently working with a short list of exclusive clients in Montauk, NY.
From office lunches to community events welcoming hundreds of guests, Richard and Sarah work with their David Ellis Events team to provide memorable experiences for every occasion.
During the last two months, Sarah and Richard have both seen more and more people touring the building to see what’s going on. “They’re excited to see the work in progress,” Sarah observes. Often, they stop and get something to eat, taking time to sit and talk about the future of the building and how Bell Works is bringing the iconic architectural masterpiece built by Eero Saarinen back into the spotlight as a magnet for business — including retail and entertainment.
The building's reinventor Ralph Zucker of Somerset Development, envisions the open spaces inside the building as a public street, and it’s atrium a piazza where people can get together and meet each other, whether they work in an office here or shop in one of its future stores or just live in the community.
“Our vision has always been to give Bell Works back to the people, to open it as a public space,” Zucker said. “Typical office buildings say, ‘Keep out.” Our philosophy is, ‘Come in.’ It’s not just a place for tenants. It’s a place for everybody.”
Richard smiles and looks around the room during a brief lull in service. “We have quite a few old Bell Lab employees who come in to eat with us. They like to check on what’s happening now and what’s happening next. They walk up to see the space where their labs used to be. They sit here in the cafe and talk with their old partners and friends about where they are now and what they’re working on. They’re all so impressed and happy to see the place coming alive again, getting busier and busier. It’s amazing.”