Most coffee companies start with a brick and mortar, a jumping off point to offer coffee service, whole bean sales, and all the community building goodness that comes from opening a coffee shop. Dennis Lee of Astoria Coffee did it the other way around, building his brand through a neighborhood coffee delivery subscription service before marshaling the funds necessary to open his first shop. That process received a huge boost in the spring of 2013, when Astoria Coffee won a $10k grant from the Seventh Annual Queens StartUP! Business Plan Competition. A year later, Mr. Lee is on the home stretch of opening Astoria Coffee’s first shop, serving coffees not often found in New York City from top roasters across the United States, including Deeper Roots Coffee in Cincinatti, Demitasse Coffee in Los Angeles, and Case Coffee of Ashland, Oregon.
Small coffee startup gets sweet municipal funding grant to serve hard-to-find microroasters in Queens? We’re in. Let’s learn more!
As told to Sprudge by Dennis Lee.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
Our space is on one of the busiest corners in the neighborhood and located conveniently just a block away from the subway. We have about 600 square feet, with our favorite features of the space being 20′ tall ceilings and windows that go nearly from floor to ceiling; both of these things give the space a lot of natural light and gives it an open and airy feel. To take advantage of the natural strengths of our space we’re installing a decorative trellis ceiling, which will consist of reclaimed boards of scaffolding that will run across the space 16” apart. The look will be similar to exposed joist ceilings and will help us to maintain the feeling of the tall space. We’ll also have a bar and bar seating, as one of our goals is to cultivate a social atmosphere and culture of interaction in our shop.
In total there will be seventeen seats; five at the bar, six at a communal table, and six seats distributed among three cafe tables. We grow several coffee plants at home, and plan on bringing the larger ones over to the space; a few may be ready to flower and fruit in the next couple of years, so that will be a nice thing to have. As a former horticulturist, I plan in general on having a lot of plant life in the space.
What’s your approach to coffee?
To explain our approach to coffee, please bear with me on some background. When we were pretty sure that we’d open a shop in our neighborhood we started by making noise on social media and local forums, offering free whole bean samples of coffee we wanted to use in the future shop. Partially because specialty coffee doesn’t have a strong presence here yet, the reaction from the neighborhood was great and people began requesting to buy beans from us; the answer naturally was “yes,” and from here we developed a wholebean delivery service that we operated throughout the process of finding and building out a space.
One of the unique aspects of our service is that we feature roasters from all over the country on a rotating basis. We take a sort of gallery approach to coffee, finding things we like and making them accessible to our customers here in Astoria. We are constantly seeking out new coffee and coffee roasters and this is something that we want to share with the neighborhood. This is an approach that will carry through into the shop when we open. There are so many roasters out there sourcing and preparing great coffee that we want to continue to high light smaller operations and the variety that exists in coffee.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
In terms of equipment, we’re going with a 2 group Hydra from Synesso. As for grinders, we’re currently working with a Mahlkonig K30 and EK43. We’d wanted an EK43 to use as a shop grinder for quite a while before the craze, but we’ve been experimenting with using it for espresso as well. I’ve had my eye on the Mythos too and would love to check out the new Compak line, so we may end up with a few espresso grinders. As far as special coffee, as mentioned above we’re always sampling coffee and looking to feature a variety of roasters from around the country.
What’s your hopeful target opening month?
We’re hoping to open sometime in July but it will depend on construction and city inspections. We plan on holding preopening events as soon as construction is complete.
Are you working with craftsmen/women, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
We’ve been fortunate to work with a design collaboration between interior design firm Midtown Studios, and furniture designer Justin Titocci, both based in New York. Between the two we’ve had a strong team designing the space and furniture, and managing the project.
What’s the address? And are y’all on the social medias?
The address is 3004 30th St, Astoria, NY 11102. We’re active on social media, especially Twitter. Astoria is an incredibly community-oriented neighborhood and this applies to both online and offline contexts. To illustrate, one of the pre-opening events we’re planning is a “Tweet up,” wherein the Astoria Twitter community can meet up in person at our shop.