Ten Minutes with Jim Shilleh
Local Coffee Shop owner
Photo by Stan Godlewski
Jim Shilleh, the eldest of 11, grew up in New York in what he describes as “an interesting and somewhat chaotic childhood.” After working with his father at a family-owned New York City deli, he opened a bagel shop in Stamford with his brother. One day, while making a bagel delivery in Wilton, the owner of a local coffee shop suggested that he take over her business. Connecticut Coffee and Grill debuted its first egg sandwich 15 years ago and Shilleh still oversees every detail.
Who works with you?
My oldest daughter Gabby is my right hand and is always there. Mia, my middle daughter, is our Saturday savior. My son-in-law, Rafael Santos, who is married to my youngest daughter Yasmine, is usually behind the grill when I’m not.
What do you like most about running the business?
The people. I believe that food makes people happy, and I like to see them smiling.
What’s the most popular item on the menu?
Our breakfast sandwiches. Lately it’s been The Fully Loaded: bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, home fries, and avocado in a crispy wrap.
Thoughts on social media?
I don’t understand most of what people do with their phones. My daughters try to explain it to me but I’m old school. My idea of “social media” is talking Yankees baseball with the folks that come by every morning.
What kind of regulars do you have?
We get them all. The retirees, the baby brigade, the Silvermine Runners Club, high school kids on their lunch breaks, parents shuttling kids to activities, families having brunch. We usually know what they are getting before they order. The question you get asked at the door is “Do you want yours?” More often than not, it’s a “yes.”
If there were a 25th hour in the day, what would you do?
Go to the gym. As if what I do isn’t a workout!
What items are you never without?
Eggs and coffee.
What is your biggest regret?
That I didn’t get the bigger space next door.
When are you happiest?
When I am surrounded by my family. They’re all that matter.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My kids. They have turned out to be amazing women. I must have done something right.
What is your personal life philosophy or motto?
Customers are always right.
Where do you like to eat in Wilton other than your own restaurant?
Portofino’s. There’s nothing like Nick’s pizzas.
Tell us something that most people wouldn’t know about you?
I am not a coffee drinker.
What advice would you give someone starting a similar business?
Make sure that you love what you’re doing. It is a demanding business. You hear about the blood, sweat, and tears—they’re real and if you’re not prepared to be the first one in and the last one out, then it’s not the business for you.