Rutgers football legend Eric LeGrand opens namesake cafe

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Eric LeGrand is known for grinding.

Ever since the former Rutgers football player was paralyzed from the neck down in a game against Army at Metlife in 2010, he’s become synonymous with hard work, perseverance and stubborn optimism against all odds.

But the inspiring New Jersey native adds a more literal meaning to the word grind – with coffee beans.

On Saturday, the 31-year-old opens his namesake cafe in Woodbridge, NJ, with a “LeGrand opening” that lasted nearly two years.

“Coffee is something you can bring people together with. Eighty-five percent of the world drinks it,” LeGrand told the Post. The former defensive tackle who is a motivational speaker, broadcaster and philanthropist behind Team LeGrand had percolated on opening a business. And during the early divisive days of the pandemic, her mind turned to the caffeinated drink because of its unifying nature.

LeGrand, who was crippled in a game in 2010, is blazing a new trail in the coffee world.
Stephen Yang for the New York Post

“The idea came at a time when the country was at each other’s throats and I was wondering how can I put my mark on something that helps people. People look up to me for help. inspiration and motivation. And over a cup of coffee, so much is happening. Good things are happening.

But while the social concept of drinking resonated with him, he had never really tried the trick. That changed in August 2020, when he took his first sip: a simple cup of hot black coffee.

LeGrand behind the counter which has been made wider so he can maneuver
LeGrand behind the counter, which was made wider so he could maneuver.
Stephen Yang for the New York Post

“You know what, it changed my life. I said, ‘I’m missing out on some good things.’ Since then it’s been a journey,” said LeGrand who now starts her day with an iced latte.

He called the mayor of Woodbridge about his proposal, and three hours later he put LeGrand on the phone with the big business bosses in town.

“We have Starbucks and Dunkin, but there is no family coffee in Woodbridge. People here have always supported me, so it’s something I wanted to do. They trusted me and know that when I’m looking for something, I’m really going to put my all into it,” said LeGrand, who took up space inside a new residential development on Green Street a few steps from the station.

The store was wired by Google so LeGrand could use voice prompts and a phone to manage different aspects of the store
The store was wired by Google so LeGrand could use voice prompts and a phone to manage different aspects of the store.
Stephen Yang for the New York Post

He then hired Bellissimo coffee consultants in Portland and immersed himself in the industry and the product. Last year, LeGrand Coffee House launched as an online business, selling beans to customers in all 50 states as they worked the brick-and-mortar site.

LeGrand, who is in an electric wheelchair, has designed the space to accommodate other people who are seated or have special needs: the doors are wider, the bathrooms are larger and there are high tables under which customers in a chair can sit down.

“And behind the counter, it’s big enough that I can maneuver back and forth and not bump into myself,” he added. It’s also been wired by Google, so LeGrand can control temperature, lights, music, and other business functions with his voice.

“I wish more people would think about [accessibility]. Often it’s out of sight, out of mind. When you live in this world every day, it’s always on your mind. And the people who are closest to me, they still think about it. Everywhere they go, they say, “Eric couldn’t move here. I try to raise awareness and draw attention to the things that need to be talked about.

The exterior of the new cafe in Woodbridge, NJ
The exterior of the new cafe in Woodbridge, NJ.
Stephen Yang for the New York Post

When it opens it will serve pastries and monkey bread from Balthazar – and in a nod to its alma mater, a specialty drink called the Scarlett Knight which is a mocha coffee with raspberry syrup and chocolate.

“It’s been a success so far,” he said of the first tastings with friends and family.

LeGrand’s framed Rutgers football jersey hangs on the wall outside his office in the cafe. It was a gift from head coach Greg Schiano, with whom he shares a special bond. “Coach had it framed and everything. He said, ‘This is my present for the shop.’ »

He spent the last week putting the finishing touches on and fending off many eager early risers.

“People keep coming because they think we’re open. They are so enthusiastic. It’s really exciting and it shows you that if you do good in the world, it will come back to you,” said LeGrand, who wants to make it a New Jersey destination and potential flagship for more locations.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano leaned on LeGrand after being taken off the field
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano leaned on LeGrand after he was taken off the field.
PA

But beyond the community he’s building, LeGrand — who is also learning to speak Spanish — hopes his business will serve as an example to others that anything is possible.

“I can’t even raise my hand to bring a cup of coffee to my mouth, but here I am with a busy business. There’s no reason for me to be negative and I want to share that with other people,” he said, adding, “Focus on the things you have, and if there are has something you really want, you work hard to get it. ”

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