Yorkafe embodies owner Ernesto Pena’s favorite quote: “small things with great love.” Although the coffee shop is small, everything it produces is done with a tremendous amount of thought and care. “When you drink coffee, you should have a ceremony and think of all the people involved in one cup of coffee,” Ernesto told the Manhattan Sideways Team. “There are so many hands that go into just one cup.” Ernesto hoped to bring love and community to the Upper East Side when he opened his second coffee shop.
Ernesto has been in the coffee industry for sixteen years and has been drinking coffee all his life. Originally from El Salvador, Ernest believes coffee is a part of who he is. He began his career in coffee shops in New York City, working as a manager in an effort to learn the various aspects of the business through experience. With the help of a business partner, Ernesto was able to buy the Renaissance Cafe in downtown Brooklyn in 2009. Within a year, Ernest was able to buy his partner out. After three years, he then opened Yorkafe with the support and assistance of his family. A combination of intuition and research helped them to settle on the Yorkville store front.
This coffee shop is a family business through and through. Commenting on the decor, Ernesto said, “ The concept of this place is us: classic, welcoming, inspired by us and who we are.” In the doorway, flyers advertising neighborhood happenings are posted on the cork board. By the cash register, a small shelf holds about four or five books. Customers are invited to select one that interests them or leave books for others to enjoy. Each of these special touches suggest that this coffee shop has quickly become an integral part of the neighborhood. According to Ernesto, “What the community needed was a local spot where people can meet.” He mentioned that sometimes customers come into the shop and start talking to each other only to find out that they have been living in the same building for years. With a smile, Ernesto told me, “One day I was closing and a family was passing by late at night and told me, ‘thank you for being here.’”
As we were sitting and chatting, Ernesto pointed to four bird houses hanging in the shop. He told me that a few months ago, the New York Post interviewed him about the bird houses, as well as the mystery behind the other twenty-two lining 83rd street between York and East End Avenue. Ernesto shared that the artist, known as Woody, was a friend of his and designed the first bird house specifically for the coffee shop.
Ernesto finished this interview by telling us his favorite story since opening Yorkafe. “My brother-in-law was working one afternoon and a lady came in around 3pm and ordered a cappuccino. He made her a cappuccino with some art on top and she started crying. My brother asked her why she was crying, and she told him that she was having a bad day. When she saw the heart on her cappuccino, it was the best thing she saw all day and made her feel loved. It’s nice to know you can make a small difference in someone’s life.”