Words by Chérmelle D. Edwards
History is known for its power duos – a yin and yang of characters, hitched together, creating fairytales so that lifestyles come true. The coffee shop, now more than a grab-and-go task has become an elevated to-do within the lifestyle of many, including the everyday New Yorker. And for residents of the city who find themselves desiring multiple services in one place, the combination offering of a coffee and barber shop duo is an answer for those aiming to find time for personal grooming and self-care in a city that’s always running
New York has played host to a few notable coffee and barber shop duos, including the recently closed, but long running Parlor Coffee outpost in the rear of Persons of Interest in Williamsburg; the now shuttered Ludlow Barber Supply in the back of Ludlow Coffee Supply on the Lower East Side – the latter which still stands – to the bi-coastal, multi-location Blind Barber.
Culturally, the collaboration between the two entities forwards a mission of service at the most intimate level, catering to one’s exterior and inner person with a unifying character trait: hospitality. We talked to two standing duos: a partnership between two women, Grade Coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and two men, Three Seat Espresso in the East Village of Manhattan about coffee and cuts.
Grading by Hand
Jade Adamson first approached her friend Grace Lowman with the idea of starting a coffee shop. Jade had the business background while Grace had the specialty coffee pedigree. The dream was a mutual one, hatched by the two a year before the space was presented as an option by Fellow Barber, which celebrated its ten-year anniversary this January.
“It was a dream for Jade to have a coffee shop and mine as well. Fellow Barber, is owned by her brother-in-law and he asked us if we wanted to come into the front space,” said Lowman.
Previously, the front space was occupied by a series of pop-ups which included a floral company and hat shop which involved a lot of coordination. Something more reliable was desired and coffee was “a good amenity for their clientele,” said Lowman.
Upon looking at the space, the friends, now business partners, had two options, to close off the street opening and enter through the barber shop or keep its street access open, including a walk-up window allowing customers to access it from the street as an individual shop. They chose the latter. While the café and barbershop are in close proximity, a wall of separation as required by code from the New York Health Department, doesn’t hinder the continuous waif of good-smells-only from its neighbor, Juniper Ridge, a a wild fragrance store within the enclave.
“What I love about the relationship between us [Fellow Barber], is that it cultivates a climate of neighborhood community which I hadn’t thought about originally. I’m a woman and don’t frequent barbershops, but what a cool thing for a barbershop to have a place to come and hang. It’s the third space – your outer living room where you get together and jive over haircuts and sports,” said Lowman, while noting that Grade Coffee business wise, functions separately.
Given that the barbershop is an ecosystem of devout regulars, Lowman has found that keeping the barbers informed on the coffee she’s serving – always a single origin, an African and a Latin American – allows her to communicate the difference of each country as new coffees and roasters come on board. The economic impact of this dialogue exchange, within the context of the proximity that the lifestyle brands share, is a positive one.
“This relationship of the barista regular is a safe space and I’ve found that people think of their barber in that same regard. The barbers are our regulars. They turn out to be the spokesman and salesmen for us. One barber fell in love with one of the coffees and it’s terroir and began talking about it. Soon, I saw a spike in our Ethiopian espresso sales,” explains Lowman.
Given real estate prices in New York, surviving as a coffee shop is nearly an anomaly. Being a barnacle business, wherein one is aligned or attached to another was a necessity, particularly one that’s allowed the small, and independently run Grade Coffee, built from the ground up by the hands of Adamson to not only exist, but survive.
“The profit margin is so slim you’re doing this because you love the culture and the specialty coffee craft. I have been in love with coffee for so long, not just because of taste and science but the creative aspect and the culture. I love that coffee and the barbershop have found each other,” said Lowman.
As for the first partnership between Lowman which brought Grade into existence, Loman likes to think of it this way: “I’m the party in the back [doing coffee] and she’s the business in the front.
Coffee and Cuts sold separately.
Address, 101 North 8th Street.
Have A Seat.
When Aaron Cook first moved to New York a few years ago, he lived in Nolita and helped managed the Australian influenced Bluestone Lane café brand, which has now expanded to more than half a dozen café locations since its inception in 2013. Soon after leaving the franchise to take a break from the rapid pace and expansion, Cook found himself sitting in a chair getting a cut from his barber Avi Mavlyanov, whom he discovered on the Lower East Side and had since followed to a couple of shops, entertaining the idea of opening a coffee and barber shop.
“I’d go to the places where he was cutting hair. It wasn’t about a great space, or an experience. I, like most was going for the barber. And a barber is a highly connected thing for guys. It’s like in that Seinfeld episode.
The natural caring of a lifestyle service drove Aaron to not only enter the specialty coffee sphere again but this time with Avi and his barber shop expertise and clientele. The natural cohesion of the two soon became a reality upon finding an empty storefront facing Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.
Passionate about the logistics and physical structure, Cook admits he was selfish in, “creating a space that I’d want to go to. I love my coffee, the café and the socializing. And I’m a recipient of barber services. I thought if I like it, other people would like it, too.”
Recognizing a changed landscape for lifestyle services in New York which created a complex customer need of catering to the discerning man who cares about what they wear in shoes and clothing to what they drink in bars and eat in restaurants, Cook and Mavlyanov, were aware of a gap they could fill: provide a service that catered to the lifestyle of a person who had limited time and valued it with experiences.
“We wanted to create a space where you could get value for your time here. The overwhelming principle was integration; we didn’t want it to be two businesses under one roof. It was more about finding the sweet spot of visibility, intrigue and curiosity. It was as much about a visual integration as it was a physical one.”
To adhere to the city’s health code, a clear glass wall to the recess of the bar physically separates the café in the front and the barber in back. Realizing the nature of people to gravitate to a café more than a barbershop, the pair decided to keep the coffee operation front and center guided by inviting design and deliberate coffee. Cook sought out his coffee choice by researching roasters that were doing what he says was “cool and specific to New York.” Upon cupping two roasters and one shining through as, “classy, clean and elevated, I knew immediately that this was the quality I was after; this was my coffee, Ceremony Coffee Roasters.”
The cross pollination of the two services – a coffee with a cut – allows a customer to enter into a bustling café or look out onto one, from the intimacy of one of three chairs. “Every interaction matters. It’s about how we want to make you feel,” concludes Cook.
Address. 137 Avenue A, New York, NY