Carrie Cochran has been in the restaurant business for two decades (she got an early start) and after working in every station in a restaurant, she finally made it to the top spot at A Jo’s Restaurant in Ledyard.
“I love it, I’m having a good time,” she said of restaurant ownership.
Cochran grew up just down the road in Mystic but, since her dad was in the Navy, she travelled with her family all over the country. As luck would have it, she returned to the area 14 months ago for a visit and ended up buying the restaurant formerly known as AJ’s Restaurant, (next to Holdridge’s) and so far things are going well.
What do you love about the business so far?
"I like helping and being around people, said Cochran. "I like being part of a community."
And "the regulars" who come to the breakfast, lunch spot can certainly be called a community. Cochran has customers who come in just about every day who have forged friendships with countless cups of coffee and have made the place feel like home to Cochran.
Some regulars get the same thing every day, other like to mix it up. Friendship, loyalty or habit, call it what you will, but one first- time customer expressed the most likely reason why people keep coming back - the food.
"My compliments to the chef," he said loudly after finishing breakfast. "The eggs were perfect, the bacon was crispy and there were enough potatoes to feed an army."
What’s your greatest challenge so far?
Cochran said just letting people know the restaurant exists is one of her greatest challenges and letting people know it in new hands is another.
“The name’s the same so letting people know we’re different is hard,” she said.
What have you changed since you took over?
The menu is a little different, according to Cochran and the quality of the ingredients she uses is completely different.
“The quality of food went way up,” she said. “We changed vendors completely.”
Cochran said her cook, Todd Linsley, prepares and cooks meals to order and the produce comes from a local supplier, “instead of being shipped from god knows where,” she said.
They took off some items like the clam strip rolls because no one was asking for it and the pasta dishes.
“They do pasta,” she said pointing in the direction of Valentino’s Italian Restaurant. “I try not to compete.”
And, since a breakfast restaurant is not found anywhere else in Ledyard, she capitalized on that strength.
Cochran expanded the breakfast menu with things like Eggs Benedict and now offers daily specials and early bird specials. The restaurant now offers menu items a la carte and they offer a gluten free option for most menu items.
“We make things fresh everyday,” she said.
The menu is extremely flexible but that’s because of the talent she has in the kitchen.
“Todd helps tremendously,” she said of lead cook who came with the restaurant. “I gave him freedom to do what he wants and he’s great.”
Cochran now has three employees although it took a while to get the right mix of people in.
“We get along great and we have a lot of fun,” she said of her current staff.
Who are your customers?
Cochran said she has a good base of regular customers and has been seeing a lot more families come in, which is a good sign.
"The hardest part is just getting them to know I'm here," she said of potential customers who would drive by the restaurant. The restaurant is set back a little from the road and partially obscured by another business, Cochran said a bigger sign might help but is not allowed by the Town's zoning regulations.
Where do you see yourself and/or the restaurant in five years?
Cochran said she’s in a seven-year lease and if the restaurant does well, she’d like to extend the hours of operation, add beer and wine to the lunch menu, expand the porch and make some aesthetic enhancements to the space.
What do you want customers to know about A Jo’s?
“If you don’t see it on the menu, we can make it for you,” she said. “And, if you want extra whatever, you can have it.”