NYC Millennials Transform Their Lives in St. Pete

Thomas Maloney and fiancée Sonya Sarkar left New York City in the midst of the pandemic to create a new life in St. Petersburg. Young and ambitious millennials, they caught the city’s entrepreneurial vibe and recently opened their own business, Paradeco Coffee Roasters, St. Pete’s newest coffee shop and cool place to hang out. The venue, at 111 2nd Avenue NE, adds new life to the Plaza Tower & Courtyard Shops downtown.

Over the last decade St. Pete’s demographics have changed considerably, with the average age dropping significantly. The pandemic seems to have further accelerated that trend, with more young people than ever moving here to start over, drawn by the sunshine and opportunity.  Sonya, age 30, and Tom, 32, are a great example of the transformation underway. 

Sonya grew up in Jacksonville and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, before relocating to New York City and earning a master’s in fashion merchandising and retail management from LIM College, a small fashion school in Manhattan.  After graduation, she stayed in NYC and worked as a fashion buyer, then in product development and home decor. 

 Before venturing south to St. Pete, Tom worked as a private investigator in New York, and did special investigations for attorneys and insurance companies related to fatalities and workplace injuries. He grew up in the New York area and received his bachelors from Western Connecticut State University and master’s in criminology from John Jay College (CUNY) in New York. 

 Over coffee at Paradeco, I had an interesting Q&A interview with this young couple who now work and live in the downtown area. They are renting just a few blocks from Paradeco and especially enjoy walking to work.

 Why a Coffee Shop?

“As an investigator, I never interviewed anyone in their office,” says Tom. “All my meetings for the last ten years were in coffee shops. The clients were more comfortable away from their work environment. I always had it in the back of my mind that one day I’d like to open a coffee shop.”

Tom and Sonya in their new coffee shop, Paradeco

That opportunity came sooner than expected. When COVID hit New York City hard in 2020, they weren’t able to continue working, so the couple spent most of their time researching the coffee business. They’d been considering doing something different for a couple of years, but COVID just pushed up their timeline. Then, in March 2020, just prior to the mandatory lockdown, they were able to attend the annual NYC Craft Coffee Festival, where they networked with coffee roasters, manufacturers, and coffee shop owners from all over the country.

They also did some research about where they’d like to live. “We wanted to start a family and the environment in New York wasn’t right for that,” says Sonya.

Why St. Pete?

“One of our coworkers in New York had moved to Florida and lived in St. Pete on the water near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. She was always posting beautiful videos of sunrises. We decided to take a few weekend trips to visit South Florida and St. Pete to check it out,” says Tom.

Another influence was Inc. Magazine’s “Top Surge Cities in America.” Four of those cities were in Florida. In addition, during the NYC Coffee Festival, they had met several people from the Tampa Bay region. “All of them said St. Petersburg when I asked if you were going to open a coffee shop where would you put it,” says Tom.

But, before making the final decision, the two did their homework to make sure St. Pete would be the right market. They studied the city’s population growth and looked at the differences in cost of living. “In New York City, you pay $500,000 for a 400-square-foot apartment. Here, for that price you get a full house with a yard,” says Tom.

The couple also worked with artificial intelligence companies that track foot traffic for specific streets in St. Petersburg.  “We further analyzed data related to buildings going up in town and developer’s plans,” said Tom. 

They left NYC in May of 2020, during the peak of COVID. On the drive to Florida, they spoke to different brokers, developers, and landlords seeking the right space for their coffee shop. When they finally arrived in St Pete, they looked at all the available spaces in town. 

 Once they saw the vibrancy of Beach Drive, it was an easy decision.  “We said, ‘this is where we need to be,’” said Tom. “The space we ended up taking on 2nd Avenue North was perfect. It’s only a block from Beach Drive.”

Getting Ready For The Grand Opening

Tom and Sonya spent six months doing the demolition, renovation, and decorating for Paradeco.  How did they come up such a unique name?  “We wanted to name the coffee shop Paradise but the name is used in a dozen other places so we came up with Paradeco, a combination of Paradise and Art Deco,” says Tom.  

Sonya’s background in fashion and home décor was helpful with the design and branding of Paradeco’s interior space and social media. “We wanted to create a space that was open and inviting,” she says. “The beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows all around make it bright and easy to see the highly stylized interior space. A plant wall with seating directly in front of it brings warmth to the room.”

The new venue officially opened in May 2021. Although nationwide, the hospitality industry is having a challenge finding sufficient staff, that is one concern that Tom and Sonya say they haven’t had to worry about it.   “Our manager Chris is a highly skilled coffee professional with excellent contacts, and helped put us in touch with the right team,” says Tom. “We are also roasting all of our own coffee beans as part of our new business venture.”

Now that they’ve been here for just over a year, Tom and Sonya feel like St. Pete is home.  “The people are so friendly and welcoming, and the walkability of the city and the waterfront make it convenient and beautiful,” they say.  In a city full of independent small business owners, they’re happy to be part of the community.