Lori Eckhardt, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, spent a 20-year career in law enforcement but always kept an inspiration box on the side, brimming with ideas and plans to open a neighborhood coffee shop. Fast forward to fate intervening in 2019: Lori was eligible for retirement and happened to spot a lease sign on a space she had been scouting out for years in downtown Springfield. A year later, Halo Roasters was ready to open just as the world was going on lockdown and businesses shuttered. Yet the extra time gave Lori even more determination to make her dream happen—she and Harry fine-tuned the interior, added a kitchen for food service, and opened on Halloween with a steady stream of loyal customers ordering honeyed lattes and freshly made breakfast sandwiches ever since. We sat down with this Springfield mom of 3 teen daughters to find out the ways law enforcement helped her take on the challenge of owning a business, how the coffee shop has been great for her marriage, and the place in Highlands where she’s made a lifetime of memories and hopes her kids will too.
Tell us about your career background and what made you pivot into opening a café.
I’ve wanted to open a coffee shop since I was 20 years old, but I stayed in law enforcement for 27 years, in part because I enjoyed the work, and I knew it would allow me to have a very good post-career life. Working in law enforcement, I had different roles and responsibilities — I worked patrol for many years, was on loan to the homicide task force, was a sergeant in narcotics and general investigations, and I recently retired as a lieutenant. Wearing so many hats gave me the confidence to be open to trying new things and made me more than ready to take on the challenge of owning a business. For 20 years, I had an inspiration box and was constantly putting in ideas and building a business plan. What started as my dream is now a family business. My husband and I run it together, and the kids are as involved as their schedules allow.
How did it happen that you opened during the middle of the pandemic?
In 2019, I was stuck in traffic when I spotted a “for rent” sign in the store I’d pegged as the perfect location for my coffee shop years before. The lease was available for the first time in over 30 years, and the timing couldn’t be better since I was now eligible for retirement. I went home and talked it over with my husband, and we signed the lease. He gutted the space and worked so hard to make it beautiful — we were set to open in March of 2020, but then the world shut down. Since non-essential stores had to be shuttered, we couldn’t be open, but instead of abandoning the idea, we decided to use the time to put in a full kitchen, something we originally planned to do in the future. Halo Roasters officially opened on Halloween, and we haven’t looked back since.
What sets your café apart from others?
This business is an extension of me, and I want every person who comes to the café to be treated like a guest in my home. I think our customers feel especially welcome because of that. Halo Roasters is a very cozy, carefree, and stress-free environment with amazing coffee. Our food menu is great, too. We don’t have a microwave, so everything is made to order and so worth the few minutes extra it takes to make it.
What’s your go-to item on your menu? What is your bestseller?
Our customer support has been amazing — they rave about our coffee, pastries, and healthy menu options. Still, my absolute favorite has got to be the Halo Wrap, a breakfast flour tortilla made with eggs, honey ham, cheese, and a hash brown. I have it every single day. It’s tied for first place as a customer favorite along with the 228, a breakfast sandwich of eggs, bacon, and cheese on sourdough with sriracha aioli. Specialty drink-wise, customers cannot get enough of our honey-bee latte, made with honey, cinnamon, espresso, and steamed milk.
Since opening your business, have you learned anything about yourself?
This past year has been such an incredible period of growth and positivity for me. Learning something new every day is mentally stimulating, and I feel energized by the whole process of learning from failures and enjoying the successes. I was a bit closed off before doing this—probably due to the nature of my previous career—but this has made me more open to putting myself out there and opening myself up to other people. I’m finding that the more open I am with others, the more I get back in return. It’s also been good for my marriage — I love seeing Harry rising to the occasion by running a commercial kitchen and kicking ass. We spend 24 hours a day together, and at the end of the day, we’re high-fiving together.
What are some of your favorite places to go to in NJ?
Bahrs Landing in the Highlands is a place I’ve been going to forever. My father, who owned a bar in Kenilworth, was friendly with the owner, so we’d go there often when I was growing up. Going now brings back such wonderful memories. In the summer, Harry and I like to take the kids to get a great meal, sit on the dock, and enjoy the atmosphere. When my children are grown, I know they’ll look back and feel the same way about it as I do now. I also highly recommend Pop’s Garage in Asbury Park. I get the Chicken Enchiladas every single time because they’re that good, and the Mexican Street Corn is the best.
Closer to home, Gypsy Farmhouse in Cedar Grove is one of my favorite places to shop because you never know what you’ll find. The shop is stocked with a mix of the most unique and unusual furniture and other items, including architectural salvage. Our café is outfitted with so many things from here. Real Antique Wood in Irvington is another shop I love. They have beautiful reclaimed wood, hardware, tin roofing, and oddities, and because my husband is a contractor and a construction guy by trade, he can build absolutely anything. We both love the look of reclaimed wood and other vintage and antique relics, and he quickly executes my visions and brings them to life.
What advice would you share with another NJMOMpreneur who’s thinking of opening her own business?
Believe in yourself and find someone with experience with which you can bounce ideas off. Harry and I went to a latte art class for date night at Hidden Grounds in Jersey City, and when we tasted the espresso, we knew we’d found our coffee beans. It turned out that Anand Patel, the owner of that coffee shop (and quite a few others), was the roaster. Ever since we’ve started, he’s been so generous, acting as a sounding board and supportive. He’s since become a cherished mentor—having someone like that in your life makes the process more manageable.