When I walked into Noble Grains, a customer was just finishing making a purchase. I asked her if she frequented the shop and she replied, “Perhaps a little too often! It’s my go-to beer store.” Turning to Bora Yoon, the owner of Noble Grains, the customer added, “She’s very up-to-date and knows when things are coming in. She remembers my favorites.”
After completing the transaction, Bora happily shared that this interaction was typical. As a neighborhood beer store in a city where small apartments proliferate, customers do not usually buy beer in bulk. Instead, Bora sees a loyal stream of customers come to visit sometimes three times a week to grab a few bottles. “New Yorkers want immediate gratification,” she observed.
While living on 96th Street, and working as a line cook at a restaurant in New Jersey, Bora found herself imagining what it would be like to have a beer shop in her neighborhood. At the time, City Swiggers was the closest one, and it was ten blocks away. When a laundromat closed on 95th Street, Bora decided to take over the space and solve her own problem. She read countless books about beer and practiced home brewing in order to educate herself. She already had some practice running her own business, since she had started an online business selling brownie truffles called French Kiss Desserts. She also had the advantage of being passionate about craft beer, something she had learned from her former husband, who still helps to run the business. Though he taught her the basics about beer, she claimed, “Now I know more than he does!”
In the small space that Noble Grains occupies, every inch is filled with clever ways to present the inventory. There is a growler station built into a fridge. Every two weeks, the kegs inside the fridge rotate and customers can come in to fill any type of growler. Bora also makes sure to have two bottles of each beer in the fridge so that people can have a chilled bottle ready whenever it is requested. Possibly the most interesting aspect of Noble Grains, however, is the food. The shelves are stocked with a terrific hodgepodge of items, including oatmeal, fish fillets, maple bacon chips, skinny popcorn, and, of course, ice cream. Bora explained that she has a grocery/liquor license that requires her to always have food on the premises. Instead of selling generic, basic groceries, though, Bora decided to follow a different path. “I just sell what I like to eat,” she said with a grin. Additionally, after requests from regular customers, Bora stocks gluten free items, including cider and gluten-free beer.
Bora’s knowledge of craft beer was apparent from the moment we began our discussion. “Sour beers are really a trend nowadays…though I’m not excited about it.” She prefers IPAs, but knows her product well enough to give excellent recommendations on any beer mentioned. “It’s like a candy shop,” she pointed out, saying that the stock changes frequently, so regular customers never get bored. She is excited that the school across the street that has now opened after a long period of construction. She has already met teachers and parents who have stopped by. “I love seeing new faces every day,” Bora confessed. “I’ve had so many careers in my life, but I feel like this is my home. This is the best job I’ve had, honestly.”