AUBURN — Mark DiVietro had his eye on the former Riverbend coffee shop on Genesee Street for awhile.
He was certainly in a position to: DiVietro has worked at Silbert Optical for the past 25 years, and owned the eye care business for the past 10. It was around the time DiVietro took over Silbert from his father, Joseph, that Tim Bridenbecker opened Riverbend in Lattimore Hall. He had opened its first location in Fingerlakes Mall in 2004, and a third later in Auburn Plaza.
Working less than 100 feet down Genesee Street, DiVietro would often stop in the shop. He came to love the experience, he said Wednesday. Its atmosphere was as relaxing as its drinks were replenishing. So after Bridenbecker retired several years ago, and Renee Slayton took control of what she renamed Maggie's at Riverbend, DiVietro started to imagine what he'd do with the shop.
When Slayton started looking for a buyer last year, DiVietro got his opportunity. As of December, he is the owner of what's now Historic Grounds Coffee.
DiVietro, who also serves as Owasco town justice and president of the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District Board of Directors, is leasing the space from the owners of Lattimore Hall, WCBB Holdings LLC, of Rochester. The coffee shop is managed day-to-day by Beth Murphy, but at Silbert, DiVietro is never too far.
He's already overhauled the menu: Coffee now comes from Coffee Mania in Cortland, Belgian waffle mix from New Hope Mills in Auburn and baked goods from Just Desserts in Auburn. The latter two are additions, DiVietro said. He's also emphasizing soups of the day and deli sandwiches, which Riverbend introduced about a year ago, but "no one knew they were there," he added.
Another highlight of the menu is Art's Delight, a frozen coffee drink dedicated to well-known Auburnian and former Riverbend regular Art Wenzel, who passed away in 2016.
Since December, DiVietro has also worked on his coffee shop's look. It's been repainted and gotten new furniture, and new tables to replace the booths near the windows should arrive soon. DiVietro also added an area with an electric fireplace and leather seats. All the changes have been made to open up the floor and enhance the overall experience, he said.
"It's nice walking in and seeing people relaxing," he said. "Coffee makes people happy."
DiVietro also hopes to add a newsstand area where basic items like pens, Band-Aids and aspirin are available — filling a need left by the closure of Cervo's News in 2016. Opening the space to book clubs and live music is also in the cards. And the storefront will be repainted and receive a new LED sign, DiVietro said. The Historic Grounds logo features "1848," the year Auburn became a city.
The shop's hours have already been extended to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 5 p.m. Saturdays. In the summer, DiVietro hopes to push them back further, and add café seating.
Though downtown Auburn is slated to add two more coffee shops in the near future — Octane Social House in the Nolan block and Sun Cafe in Auburn Public Theater — DiVietro is confident Historic Grounds fits in without competing directly with anyone. He thinks people will be happy to have somewhere to grab a quick deli sandwich — and the same cozy experience that drew him there.
"I just want a good experience," he said. "For people to walk in and feel relaxed, as a coffee shop should be."