Recently, I wrapped up another whirlwind of interviews. During the process, I try to capture the concept behind what we do in a short pitch. I’m selling a future employee on the love of serving coffee, and for the most part my audience is charmed by the thought of a small business driven by a concept that transcends, “We saw a need.”
My wife and I started this space about three years ago. She’d been working in the neighborhood just down the block as a director at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, since before the High Line Park opened. On her way to the subway she’d walk by this empty space and imagine what she’d do with it. One day she called to check on its availability, and when we found out it was for sale we started talking about opening a shop. I have over 20 years experience working in coffee. I started sweeping and packaging beans for the holidays at a local roaster in Spokane, WA and when I went back to school I started roasting for the company. I worked for a few companies after that, starting as a roaster, then a barista and server, then eventually did marketing, QC, training, sales support, and whatever I could get my hands on. Now, I’ve used all of that experience to open this shop with my wife. Things are going well. We started roasting our own beans under the label Apes & Peacocks a few months ago.
Have you read any Raymond Carver? He’s this short story author from the Northwest. We’re big fans. You’ll see a sign in the shop that says, “a small good thing.” That’s in reference to a story of his. There was a movie too, Short Cuts. Anyway, many of his stories zero in on a trivial incident that, given context, reveals the intimacy of being human. (I guess this sounds corny.) So, some of his stories track the interactions of people who are at their day, trudging forward, alone, but a single simple exchange, something trivial, can bridge into a moment of tenderness. In one story, there’s a moment with a baker sharing a cinnamon roll with parents whose son had recently died. A small good thing. Simple.
Did you know that studies show that if you and a guest touch, just like a hand on a shoulder or a handshake, that the guest is more likely to tip? That’s how starved we are; there’s a need. That is the concept behind the space. We want to impress an earnest human moment within the given seconds we get to spend with our guests. And to be honest, with ordering cups, sweeping the front, pouring pretty drinks, and wiping tables, it is difficult to keep that at the fore sometimes, especially when someone complains that their cappuccino is too soft. But, I really think New York of all places needs this. That’s why we chose to have our Kees Van der Westen lever espresso machine at the forefront and our open work space, so that you can see that we’re making something for you. We’re not tapping a screen to share or like. And our emphasis is not to show you the craft and say, “Hey look what I can do.” It’s just more intimate to hand make the gift for you.
Now, the roasting is something I’ve been stewing over for years. I’ve watched thousands of pounds of coffee stir in the cooling bin dreaming of roasting my own coffee. We just needed to wait until we were going through a volume that makes sense to roast. I found the name Apes and Peacocks about 20 years ago, around the same time I started in coffee. I found the name in what we called “liner notes” (are those a thing anymore?) of a “compact disc” I purchased of Wynton Marsalis’ “In This House on this Morning.” In the notes he referenced Duke Ellington’s “Queen’s Suite.” The Duke wrote his suite for Queen Elizabeth II, and a section of the Suite was a piece titled “Apes and Peacocks.” Duke pulled this title from the Bible where there is a list of exotic tributes given to King Solomon. And that’s what I want to do. I want to find and present exotic tributes to all of the kings and the queens that walk through my door.
Anyway, again, the reality is that this is difficult, and is going to become increasingly difficult as we scale up, but it’s what moves me to get up.
We have a few more concepts that we’re pickling and we’ll share when they arrive, but until then, bottoms up!