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.”
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
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.
Do not be deterred by the bottleneck entrance, just continue walking toward the back where there is a welcoming outdoor courtyard that is always open, and heated in winter. The coat of warm, red paint on the walls, the rock and jazz music playing in the background, and the fireplace make this a cozy place to settle in with friends. The steaming cup of coffee, heaping with frothed milk, is smooth and light, exceeding all expectations. If you are as taken with their blend as we are, they package and sell their own beans. When we dined here our brunch was fresh and delicious, served with hearty bread, rice and beans.
The strong smell of coffee permeates the air in this specialty shop. Potato sacks line the shelves, filled to the brim with dark beans that can be scooped up and ground to order. Thirty years of coffee dust lingers and everything caffeinated fills this rustic shop – teabags, chocolate, coffee, more coffee. The original location, on Bleecker Street, has been providing java lovers with beans since 1907.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.