Kevin Gilmore knows exactly what it means to turn nothing into something.
The Mill Hill resident and owner of the new Gilmore’s Café on South Warren Street breathes a little easier these days knowing he successfully turned a building that sat vacant for 20 years into a vibrant eatery that features gourmet ice cream, pulled pork sandwiches and plenty of indoor seating.
Last November, even Gilmore’s father questioned whether the conversion was worth it. The building at 118 S. Warren St. consisted of a bare walls and a facade. And that’s it.
But the business opened in late August after nine months of renovations, and feedback has been extremely positive, Gilmore said.
“[Customers] like the food, they love the atmosphere. It turned out just how I wanted,” a happy Gilmore said.
The atmosphere would be the first thing a patron of Gilmore’s Café would notice. The work of local artists — which will rotate every 45 days — is mounted on the walls throughout the café. Steel tables and chairs add an urban chic touch, while a counter made from a piece of a tree allows an ample number of visitors to rest their drinks or food on toward the back of the long, narrow eatery.
A nook with a portrait window in the front of the shop serves as semi-private seating for two, and plasma televisions dot the café for those not lucky enough to get the front-row look at the activity on South Warren Street.
But ambiance is only part of Gilmore’s Café, which offers a wide variety of food and drink — some which Gilmore said wasn’t previously available in Trenton. Gilmore’s Café has pretzels and muffins, salads and soups, fruit smoothies and cake — all served on “green-energy” dishware made from corn.
Diners can order hot dogs if they wish, or sit down and enjoy a grande-sized chai latte. La Loop Specialty Ice Cream even teamed up with Dish Catering of Frenchtown to create a vanilla bourbon ice cream with Belgian brownie dish just for the café.
Gilmore stressed that his eclectic menu — along with his 10 percent discount for state and city workers — is his way of enticing people to explore downtown Trenton and experience his and other businesses there. He wants to be a complement, not a foe, to the eateries already established downtown, like Café Olé, which offers many of the same items just two doors down from Gilmore’s.
“I purposefully tried to offer what wasn’t offered here already,” Gilmore said. “I don’t want to be a competitor. I want to be a unified front. The key is to give people a choice.”
The café faces the challenge of having no kitchen on the premises. But Gilmore said that allows him to contract caterers, bakers and other food experts to bring their specialties to Trenton. Dish Catering, of custom ice cream fame, also makes the pulled pork for Gilmore’s. J Scones of Doylestown, Pa., creates all the bakery items.
And Gilmore particularly enjoys the specialty soups, like wild mushroom with toasted garlic and tomato and sausage demi glaze. He brings a new homemade soup in — again made by chefs outside the café — twice a week.
Gilmore said he’s also thinking about having evening hours twice a week to provide a venue for people looking for something to do downtown at night. Gilmore’s Café already opens on Saturdays, and its owner wants to continue changing Trenton’s perception as a city that closes once the work day finishes.
He said he saw signs the downtown area was improving and thought he could continue that improvement by opening his shop when and where he did. In his former job at Allies Inc., Gilmore designed and started businesses for disabled people. So, he knew his goal could succeed in Trenton — even if it meant building a business from nothing.
“I have always wanted to open a coffee shop,” he said. “I live in Trenton. This street seemed to be coming alive a bit. I thought this was an ideal time to open.”
Gilmore’s Café is located at 118 S. Warren St. It is open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call (609) 396-1969.