When life brought Chef Ali Sahin from Turkey to the USA, his first American address was in the East Village. Though he studied economics back home, in New York City he worked in restaurants, first as a bus boy and eventually as a cook. When he decided food was something he might want to turn into a career, he went to culinary school to learn essential techniques, such as how to prepare the perfect egg, something Ali told me chefs love to talk about but few dare to actually serve in their restaurants. C& B (“Coffee and Breakfast”) Café serves eggs all day long - really good eggs - along with other brunch plates. The chef uses his small kitchen to its fullest potential, even going so far as to make sausages in house, and hopefully one day his own cheese. On the afternoon that the Manhattan Sideways team visited, Ali arranged a beautiful bowl of chicken and eggs, one of the café’s top selections. The slow-poached eggs, each cooked for over an hour, and the flavorful shredded chicken with potatoes and toast perfectly captured the café’s fine dining approach. They enjoyed each bite of the colorful dish while Mr. Brown, “The Espresso King, ” crafted beautiful lattes, teas, and pour-over coffees for customers working at the communal table in the back of the shop. Ali told us that all thirteen of the C& B menu items are created using only seasonal, local ingredients, which is why he never serves avocados. To Ali, sourcing is the most important part of cooking. He explained that while growing up in Turkey, all his food came from provincial farmer’s markets, as there were no supermarkets in the region. With that in mind, he modeled his café after one of his old East Village haunts and one of his favorite cafes in LA that serves solely organic fare. East Village dwellers appreciate Ali’s vision: the café opened in January 2015 but already boasts a large number of repeat customers. Ali takes the time to get to know the regulars and has really helped C& B to take root in the neighborhood. The walls of the café are adorned with paintings from community artists and even some of the cafe’s staff. Ali drew the café’s logo himself to reflect the leaves of the American Elm Trees growing across the street in Tompkins Square Park. Serving the most important meal of the day all day, while emphasizing healthy, wholesome ingredients, C& B Café is gearing up to become a new neighborhood favorite.
Abraco Espresso started in a little nook on the other side of the street before it moved to its current larger space in 2016. The shop invites coffee lovers to stop by and enjoy a fresh brewed cup - according to many it might be one of the best you will ever experience. The space is perfect for those who wish to gather round and chat or just to savor their sweet homemade treats along with the exceptional coffee.
Sam Sepulveda grins as he talks about working in 787 Coffee’s new location in the East Village. “Here, when I’m doing the barista position, I get to tell the story, and people really enjoy that. Because most of the time you don’t know where your coffee’s coming from. And for me, it’s really fulfilling to say, ‘Hey, we planted this tree. ’ These beans are my babies. ”787 Coffee is a small and cozy cafe, with a wall of windows gazing out at 7th Street, and exposed wood beams crossing the ceiling. The coffee mugs and bags are decorated with images of old San Juan, colorful buildings that evoke Sam’s favorite place in Puerto Rico. Manhattan Sideways opted to try a cortado and a seasonal pumpkin latte. Rich and buttery, the coffee was the perfect treat for a chilly autumn afternoon. In 2014, Sam and his partner, Brandon Pena, purchased an abandoned coffee farm in Maricao, Puerto Rico. Located in a secluded region high in the mountains, the population of Maricao had been dwindling over the years as the agricultural industry that once formed the bedrock of its economy faded and young people moved away in search of jobs. Sam and Brandon picked the location, in addition to the quality of its land for coffee-growing, in the hopes that their business would have a positive impact on the community. They employ locals and follow higher than fair trade standards. “What we pay our workers in an hour, sometimes they pay that in Africa or South America in a two-day shift. So we’re making a difference there. We’re making a difference in their lives. ”Neither Sam nor Brandon was a coffee expert at the start, so they traveled the world learning how to grow and make coffee. The pair started out by selling green (a. k. a. un-roasted) beans before deciding to go vertical in 2016. Now they handle every aspect of the coffee-making process themselves, from planting and harvesting to roasting to latte art. The journey has not been without its setbacks. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated 787 Coffee’s plantation, destroying 92% of the crop or approximately 30, 000 trees. The hurricane also forced them to close their first coffeeshop in Maricao, but the pair has not let that slow them down: they managed to salvage as much coffee as they could from the wreckage and, as of the fall of 2018, were in the process of replanting. And then, at that same time, after several successful pop-up cafes, they opened their first permanent New York City coffeeshop in the East Village. Like every aspect of their business so far, the coffeeshop is first and foremost about the people. They want it to be a place where guests feel welcomed and at home, where the environment warms them as much as the drinks. “We don’t sell you a cup of coffee, ” Sam says, “We sell you an experience. ”
I recently visited this brand new coffee café and met one of the three young siblings who owns it. I love these kind of stories where one family member has a passion and the others jump in to help make their dream come true. While chatting, I commented on how I loved the wood furniture throughout the space and Yurij told me that all of the counters, tables and benches were crafted by a friend from the original floor beams of the shop. Although still in its infancy, there is no doubt that 6th Street will benefit from the freshly brewed coffee and the home-baked goodies that are served. What also caught my attention was the constant stream of people stopping by who live in the neighborhood. Some of them were shop owners on the side streets who were there to support another member of the business community - an ideal situation in my book.
Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City. Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts. Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things. ” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing. ”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people. ” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection. The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks. ” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U. S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University. “We are African-American, so that is what we do, ” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side. ” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people. ” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30, 000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
The space is fabulous at Billy Reid, furnished with vintage southern pieces and housed in an amazing Bond Street building. Billy began his fashion business in Alabama and opened up his inviting menswear enclave here in 2008. Soft flannel shirts, great suede boots, woven skinny ties, colorful bow ties, well-made blazers, beautiful striped shirts and more…I love everything about this boutique, and each time I stop by, I am inspired to make over the men in my family. Billy designs much of the clothing in the store (minus the Levi jeans). He has gorgeous fabrics to choose from for suits and sport jackets. And there is a tasteful selection for women, too.