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ITHACA, NY -- Since 1973, Café Dewitt has intermittently offered award winning brunch to the Ithaca community. The space has served as a gathering spot for nearly 50 years, so it came as a surprise when the doors closed in December 2021.

This closure was always meant to be temporary, as the restaurant required new leadership. On March 25, Ben Roach and Denise O’Leary assumed roles as Café Dewitt’s newest owners.

Roach and O’Leary have extensive restaurant experience, primarily working behind the scenes in kitchens. They’re both passionate about their work as chefs and are excited to challenge themselves as business owners.

“Ben and I are new to this and the transition has certainly been a learning curve,” O’Leary said. “However, we’re finally at the stage where we’ve done most of the critical paperwork and we can focus on the food. We cannot stop thinking of things to make and recipes to try, which is fantastic. There are always never-ending possibilities in the kitchen but even more so when you have creative control.”

Maintaining the legacy of Café Dewitt is a priority for Roach and O’Leary. They’re both familiar with the Ithaca area, but Roach has been visiting the café since he was young and has vivid memories of how it has always been run.

“When I heard that the café was up for sale, I knew I had to intervene. I couldn’t let it go,” Roach said. “Denise and I have been doing lots of research, and we intend to embrace the history through wall décor and by selling merchandise sporting the café’s original logo. We know that Café Dewitt means a lot to the Ithaca community, and we want to honor what they’ve always loved about it.”

Roach and O’Leary still intend to bring their own flair and personal values as well.

“We want the café to have an internet presence, and I’ll be doing a lot of marketing work as well,” O’Leary said. “By getting our names out there, we can expand the consumer base and tailor our menu to cover a wider range of flavors. I’m personally excited to try out some vegan and other allergen-free recipes as we get into the swing of things.”

The new and improved Café Dewitt menu will include sandwich favorites of the past as well as the taste preferences of its new owners. Something else that Roach and O’Leary bring to the café is their focus on food sustainability, making well-researched decisions when it comes to choosing suppliers.

“Shopping local is one way we can combat the food sustainability challenges that most restaurants face,” Roach said. “Getting produce from local farms is comparable in price to that of larger corporations, believe it or not, and that’s just one way we can support the community that gives Café Dewitt nothing but love. It’s positive feedback. The food will always taste better when you know where it’s coming from, especially when it’s local.”

Roach and O’Leary shared that they’ll be hosting a soft opening of Café Dewitt in early May. They can’t put a date on the grand opening, but they’re determined to be fully functional by the end of spring.

“A lot of work has gone into this announcement,” Roach said. “We’ve been conducting research, making phone calls, doing paperwork, and planning the menu for over four months, but we finally feel confident about our ability to open, and we are eager.”

You can find Café Dewitt on Facebook and Instagram. Roach and O’Leary also have a mailing list on their website if you have direct questions.

(2) comments

Elisabeth Hegarty

Could you provide an address of Cafe Dewitt? Thanks!

Lyndsey Honor

215 N. Cayuga St.

Ithaca, NY 14850

My apologies for forgetting to include this!

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