Starting this fall, hungry Hills­dalians will be able to enjoy sand­wiches at Oakley again, with an added perk: Checker Records-inspired coffee drinks.

Derek Spiteri, son of Checker Records owner John Spiteri, plans to open a sandwich and coffee shop in the Hillsdale Street building that housed the sub shop Oakley until it closed in October 2014.

The restaurant, fea­turing spe­cialty coffee drinks, a sandwich kitchen, and outdoor seating along the St. Joseph River, will open this fall after extensive ren­o­va­tions.

“The menu is still subject to change,” Derek Spiteri said. “I plan to offer some spe­cialty coffee drinks. Fan favorites from Checker Records might show up, but there will also be new products: drinks and sand­wiches not offered at Checker Records.”

When the Spi­teris pur­chased the property in December, they knew they had a lot of work to do before serving their first sub.

“First, we need to give the building some love,” Derek Spiteri. “The building has a huge hole in the roof right now. We don’t plan on keeping the sun roof, so a new roof has to happen before any­thing else.”

But after replacing the roof, the place shows promise.

Derek Spiteri said he noticed that Oakley’s backyard offers a scenic view of the St. Joseph River, some­thing many other restau­rants in Hillsdale lack.

“The biggest change is going to be outdoor seating along the river, where it’s not such an urban view,” Spiteri said. “We’ll use the back yard for a place where people can sit outside and talk or study.”

Although the whole family will help with the new business, John Spiteri said his son is in charge.

“A lot of this is Derek’s own adventure,” John Spiteri said. “We do some sand­wiches here at Checker Records, but we can’t do that on a bigger level. With the set-up there, he’ll be able to do more at a faster pace.”

Derek Spiteri earned a degree in business man­agement from Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne Uni­versity in 2014, but he said much of his business knowledge came from working in his parents’ coffee shop throughout his childhood.

“You have to grow a business organ­i­cally, and you have to be con­sistent,” Derek Spiteri said. “I remember dragging around a red wagon at the farmers market begging people to try Checker Records coffee. It took awhile, but even­tually it caught on.”

Even aside from nec­essary ren­o­va­tions, estab­lishing a new business takes time and careful planning, Derek Spiteri said.

“I plan to open in fall with a new name, but I’m not in a rush,” Derek Spiteri said. “Right now, I’m in fact-gath­ering mode. I’m asking, ‘What did you love about Oakley? What do you remember?’”

Hillsdale College pho­tog­raphy pro­fessor Doug Coon remembers seeing a lot of busi­nesses come and go in the building since his grand­parents ran a grocery store there from the 1950s to the 1980s.

“I spent a lot of time there as a kid,” Coon said. “Since then, at least three or four owners have tried a sandwich shop in the old Oakley building, and over the years, it’s fallen into dis­repair. It’s just tough to keep a small business going. I think what works in towns like this is spe­cialized busi­nesses, stuff the big chains don’t do well.”

But Coon said the Spi­teris’ local con­nec­tions and business expe­rience will help spread the word about the new business.

“I’ve known John for a lot of my life,” Coon said. “There’s a group of us who meet at the coffee shop down at Checker Records every Sunday. John and his wife are there all the time. You’ve got to put in a lot of hours to survive. Derek has the oppor­tunity to make this thing work. He’ll put the time in. He’ll be there. A lot of it is word of mouth, and once a place gets a buzz about it, people go there.”

As Checker Records cus­tomers learn of the new sub shop, John Spiteri has had to field con­cerns about the Spi­teris’ existing business.

“Checker Records is going to stay here,” John Spiteri. “They’ll be two sep­arate entities, with the same good service.”

Derek Spiteri said the restaurant will blend the old sub shop and his parents’ coffee shop into some­thing fresh and new.

“People loved Oakley, and we’re not trying to take that away,” Derek Spiteri said. “We’re going to use what’s great about that and what’s great about Checker Records in the new place.”

  • Suzy Jagger

    So excited! Good luck Derek!