Tucked behind a car dealership on South Broadway, first-time restaurateur Gene Hill is ushering a Littleton cafe through an “identity crisis.”
Originally billed as Brad B Jammin’ PB&J Cafe, the sandwich shop and retail space is expanding its menu, extending its hours and changing its name.
“We are doing a lot, but growth has got to happen here,” said Hill, who hopes the eatery will, in time, become an important part of the community.
Besides classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the cafe now offers an Elvis-inspired peanut butter and bacon sandwich, a Hot Pocket-style Nutella “squishwich” and two different chicken, nut-butter and jam sandwiches.
“I became committed to elevating the PB&J,” Hill said. “And so I started creating a menu that incorporates jam. I’m committed to using jam in everything we do.”
The focus on jam is not surprising. The cafe resides at the front of the production facility of Brad B Jammin’, a local producer of low-sugar, high-flavor jams. Owned by Brad Brown, the 5-year-old company makes jam for farmers markets and specialty stores around Colorado and beyond.
When Brown moved his business into the 2,000-square-foot space in April 2021, he was most interested in the full kitchen and walk-in fridge in the back. But the retail space up front was a nice bonus. He used it to display his product and to create The PB&J Cafe.
“The cafe had always kind of been in the back of my mind in terms of an opportunity for PB&J sandwiches,” Brown said.
But operating a sandwich shop — building up that side of the business — while producing jam for over a dozen farmers markets a week plus additional wholesale orders proved difficult until Brown brought in Hill.
Hill and Brown met while working the farmers market circuit where they are both vendors. Hill has been making seasoning blends for his own company, Hungry Gene, since 2020.
Last year, Brown suggested the pair team up. Hill could use Brown’s kitchen to mix his spices and the storefront to sell his blends. Hill could also run the retail side of Brad B Jammin’ and, if he was willing, take on the cafe.
In January, Hill moved into Brown’s facility. By April, he had warmed up to running the cafe.
“I’ve got energy,” Hill said. “I’ve got great ideas.”
Currently a lunch spot, Hill’s next project is extending the cafe’s hours and offering jam-and-ice-cream sundaes in the evening.
With the business serving more than PB&Js, Hill’s decided a new name — The Hungry Gene Cafe — is fitting. He has a banner with the moniker on order. It will hang next to the store’s front door while Brown’s sign for Brad B Jammin’ will continue to stay above it.
“I’m going to have, for a time, a little identity issue because of that,” Hill said. “But we’ll get past that. We are already doing it.”
Having two businesses share one space can be tricky. Both proprietors note that it can get crowded at times. But sharing expenses, sharing responsibilities and sharing knowledge make it rewarding, they said.
It also makes collaboration easier.
While the cafe uses Brad B Jammin’ products in many of its dishes, some of the jams use Hungry Gene spices as well. There’s an onion jam, for example, that uses rosemary, parsley and bay leaves from Hungry Gene, Hill said.
“Now the joy becomes in how we can work together synergistically,” Hill said. “How we can play off of each other to expand each other’s businesses.”