Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education Kaplan University School of Professional and Continuing Education

Making a Difference, One Building at a Time

Posted by: Jim Normile, CRB, E.MBA, JY Monk Real Estate Instructor
Updated: December 29, 2017 

Revitalizing our Hometowns Article Series: Part V

This is the seventh and final article in the series detailing a North Carolina real estate broker’s perspective on saving our towns, making a difference, and creating a profit.

CASE STUDY:  Biagio's Italian Coffee & Espresso Bar
                            622 Court St, Jacksonville, NC 28540

City of Jacksonville

Population (2013)69,079
Municipal Budget (2013)$19.7 million
Per capital income (2013)$20,054
Median household income (2013$40,699
Poverty rate (2013)14.1%
Proximity to interstate highway80 miles (I-40 corridor)
ApproachHistoric preservation/economic repurpose and revitalization initiative
Biagio's building project timeframe15 months
Local jobs created at Biagio's15

The Jacksonville Community and Its History

The city of Jacksonville is often referred to as “the home of Camp Lejeune,” Expeditionary Forces in Readiness. Camp Lejeune, named in honor of the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General John A. Lejeune, was established in September 1941 when the 1st Marine Division set up camp along the Atlantic Seaboard. The marine base and surrounding community is home to an active duty, dependent, retiree and civilian employee population (combined) to reflect approximately 170,000 people. The base generates almost $3 billion in commerce each year, coming from payrolls and contracts to support the structure required to train and equip our Marines.    

Modern European contact with what is now Onslow County may have come about 1524, during an exploratory voyage of Italian Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano. Onslow was elevated to county status in 1739. Various sites for a courthouse existed; however, the first courthouse was destroyed by fire, and the second by the great hurricane of 1752. A new courthouse was built in Wantland’s Ferry and renamed Onslow Courthouse in 1819. In 1842, it was renamed Jacksonville in honor of President Andrew Jackson.

Biagio’s Italian Coffee & Espresso Bar

Being a great coffee shop isn't just about the quality of your espresso—it's also about revitalizing a section of the community and presenting those special touches that weave beverages and pastimes into the fabric of everyday life. Biagio’s presents very pretentious-quality coffee and cuisine without the pretentiousness. Newly revitalized using European steampunk architecture, you may get a sense that you have been transported to a café in Naples, Italy, enjoying a morning espresso macchiato.   

Located in the greater courthouse square and heart of downtown Jacksonville on Court Street, Mr. R. P. Hinton’s general mercantile store building of 1901 has been revitalized to once again serve as an anchor of the community. Purchased and recently revitalized by Lori and Martin Aragona, their vision to bring to market a customer-centric business centerpiece has been realized. The coffeehouse was named in memory of Biagio Gatto, Martin’s great grandfather from Calabria, Italy. The shop has quickly become the go-to for locals and visitors alike to enjoy authentic Italian coffees, hand-crafted pastry, and fresh plates of innovative interpretations of classic Italian dishes inspired by rich culinary traditions. There’s also a variety of music, art, and theater entertainment offerings presented regularly.

Biagio’s Smart Growth Principles and Customer-Centric Strategy

  • Capitalized by fostering a distinctive, attractive revitalization project with a strong sense of community place.
  • Directly accessible by pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and drivers.
  • Benefited by cost-effective redevelopment decisions to highlight the building components and infrastructure of 1901 with utilization of steampunk architecture.
  • Solicited and followed community input to establish a customer-centric business model

What Does Customer-Centric Mean? 

  • Commitment to customer success
  • Measured what matters to customers
  • Customer commitment from the top down
  • Engaged with customers from the beginning
  • Continues to encourage customer participation and innovation
  • Designed the cuisine and entertainment choices from the customer’s point of view

Lessons Learned From This Project

In small towns, making a difference one building at a time is economic development. The Aragonas demonstrated that revitalization projects can lead to economic outcomes. The building repurpose/revitalization project can be credited with the creation of a new business, as well as 15 on-site jobs for the community.

Biagio’s is a multi-faceted enterprise featuring beverages, cuisine, entertainment and, in the coming months, a large event room. This entrepreneurial spirit can build momentum to increase traffic and spur additional projects and business development to revitalize the downtown historic district.  

Heritage, culture, and history are also economic development assets. Future Biagio and downtown events and celebrations can be centered on an element of heritage. The Aragonas have demonstrated a means for taking their heritage, preserving the local environment, and leveraging it for economic gain. Committed residents, real estate practitioners, and local investors alike can jump-start development in small towns…one building at a time…and have proven to be the primary drivers of economic development in their respective communities.

A customer-centric business approach is not just about building better relationships with customers. This keen approach provides a source of lasting competitive advantages in the market center. Benefits from this business attitude can lead to enhanced customer loyalty and business efficiency, agility, and differentiation.

For More Information

For more information on the success of Biagio’s Italian Coffee & Espresso Bar AND to enjoy a fresh homemade breakfast on Naan bread, visit Biagio’s in person. It’s worth the drive! Lori and Martin Aragona, and their baristas, chefs, visiting musicians, artists, authors, thespians, and customers all play a complimentary role in their business achievements and the community’s resurgence. 

Jim Normile has worked as a broker, sales manager, real estate instructor, and co-owner of two franchise offices. He has listed and/or sold over 4,000 homes. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, Real Estate, Summa Cum Laude, and Executive Master of Business Administration diplomas. He has been recognized as a Realtor of the Year, featured in Top Agent Magazine, nationally ranked in The Wall Street Journal Top Agents in America, inducted into the RE/MAX Hall of Fame, and is the author of Responsible Influence in New Home Sales.