Wake-up call for downtown café

by Susan Morse

Herald Sunday, January 4, 2004

HAMPTON - Tommy Gone Loco in downtown Hampton is going Tommy Gone Coffee, adding breakfast to its cantina menu.

Owner Tommy Callan will add coffee, smoothies, bagels and breakfast sandwiches to his shop's offerings starting on Monday.

Tommy Gone Loco's hours will change from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, to 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m., the same six days.

It's a change spurred by customer requests, says Callan, who claims he did no marketing surveys or cost analyses to find out if the morning move is a good idea.

Callan, 39, who (relatively late in surfer years) turned on to the sport of riding the waves nine years ago, isn't worried about it.

Since quitting corporate life to open his business two years ago, Callan has confounded the critics, he says, who thought the place would last only a few short months.

"The Planning Board laughed at me," he says of approaching the local committee to get approval for his shop. "The guys at Marelli's had bets I wouldn't make it past six months."

Now, some Marelli's Market regulars, such as employee Billy Bowley, stop over. Tommy Gone Loco is located next door to the Lafayette Road institution.

"This facility brought a whole new life to this corner," says regular Pat Collins, a member of the Hampton Budget Committee. "It is certainly an indication of what direction uptown may take. It blends the beach culture, the surf culture, the Yankee culture."

Tommy Gone Loco has the appearance of a Mexican cantina. Surfboards, one with a female mannequin, hang from the ceiling. Surfing photos, tiled artwork, hang on the walls.

The menu offers Hang Ten Favorite sandwiches, soups and some Mexican food. Patrons can get beer or wine with lunch.

"I provide the beer and wine for me, really," Callan says.

Callan said he still doesn't know how to describe his restaurant.

"It's a lunch place, it's a café, it's a cantina, it's a place to eat and drink," he says. "I got into this because I got tired of wearing a suit and tie and going to meetings. I wanted to create an environment I wanted to spend time in." kee culture."

Mornings often find Callan at the beach, surfing. That will change for at least the next two months, Callan says, but he has a staff of three, including manager Erin Bradt, to handle the shop early and late in the day, when the surf is up.

In opening for breakfast, Tommy Gone Loco joins at least two restaurants downtown - Caffe Fresco and the Kitchen at Depot Square - as a quick spot to grab coffee and go.

Callan doesn't like to call it competition. There's room for everyone, he says, just like in Portsmouth, where the "competition" of four cafés within a block of Market Square doesn't stop them all from being busy. en the surf is up.

Just the opposite, he says. Having more than one place to go is a reason for people to get out of their cars and walk around.

"Hampton's challenge," he says, "is the way the town is laid-out; it's on a strip road. You have to become a destination spot, where people drive and park and walk around."

The laid-back life may have been in the cards for Callan, who was born in 1964 and whose family moved to Woodstock, N.Y., just a couple of months after the famous rock concert.

He grew up in Dover, graduated from Dover High School in 1982 and attended the University of New Hampshire as an English major. He now lives in Dover.

Callan worked as a computer broker, selling computers to Fortune 500 companies for Green Pages in Greenland, he says. He also worked for an ad agency and started his own ad agency, he says, meeting with clients and hiring the graphic and Web designers needed to get the job done.

Callan says he's having fun now.

"This is the biggest screw-off job," he says. "This is 'Pee-Wee's Playhouse.' I'm just playing every day."