It's not every cafe that gets to celebrate more than one grand opening, but New York City plays to extremes. Enter, or re-enter if you will, Black Fox Coffee, an ambitious and unusual coffee project in the Financial District near the Seaport, which cast its doors back open again this week after a brief bureaucratic hiatus.
A collaborative partnership between partners Daniel Murphy and Gary Hardwick, marketing and media entrepreneurs, and Melbourne coffee veteran Kris Wood, the 1,500-square-foot cafe occupies the retail level of what was once known as the Cities Service Building at 70 Pine Street, a 1930s-era Art Deco skyscraper, which at 66 stories was once the tallest building in downtown New York—until the 1970s construction of the World Trade Center.
The building, which has been amid renovation into luxury apartments and includes a 23,000-square-foot gym, will also play host to a four-level penthouse and rooftop dining space helmed by award-winning chef April Bloomfield. The chance to serve fine coffees to this building's clientele would be quite a score for any business owner. For Wood, it's an opportunity that's been worth the wait. And wait.
On the heels of an already chock-full Aussie coffee career at St. Ali, Proud Mary, and Sensory Lab, Wood left his position at Clement Coffee, a small espresso bar he founded in Melbourne, with sights on relocating to the New York coffee world. He landed in the city in the fall of 2015, only to learn the intricacies—and patience—required of opening a restaurant in New York. Replete with surprise plumber complications and a mandated, business-closing sprinkler repositioning, just after the cafe first opened in May.
“Initially, it was planned that we were going to open January 2015,” Wood told Sprudge, explaining that the Black Fox space was one of the first retail ventures within the owners' billion-dollar refurbishment of the tower. While waiting for the space to become ready for build-out, Wood studied to become a sommelier and picked up work at Cafe Grumpy‘s bustling Grand Central Terminal and Fashion District locations.
“It was very beneficial,” said Wood of his time behind the busy midtown bars. “It gave me very good insight into the customer and how they react to certain things,” nodding toward the different temperament of Manhattan customers to those back in Melbourne.
In the 70 Pine storefront, Wood saw the potential to deliver service and quality beyond the fast-casual, medium-quality offerings he saw proliferating the Financial District. Across the street looms the Deustche Bank building, and a few blocks further, the tourist-heavy South Street Seaport. He and his partners are aiming to deliver a higher quality, all with an Australian approach to service that Wood describes as “a bit more interactive than people have become accustomed to in New York.”
The visual feel of Black Fox is credited to Samantha Eades, with whom Wood worked in Melbourne. “We've got quite similar approaches to aesthetic and design,” Wood said of the designer, adding, “it's about comfort.”
The huge-for-New-York-City space is indeed welcoming, with kiln-dried walnut seating and tabletops softening the high-ceilinged concrete space. Angled wood-grain panels along the bar echo the historic building's Art Deco lines, as does the strategically hung wiring for the shop's handsome Ladies and Gentlemen light fixtures. Bench seating and a standing bar are complemented by a people-watching-ready row of window seats with handsome sunken magazine slots, all the better to emphasize the idea of the cafe as a break from the busy world surrounding it. Wi-fi is not offered.
Black Fox bucks the city's micro-roasting boom by bringing in a variety of international roasters to fill out its offerings: expect a quality selection of coffees roasted near and far, from the likes of Brooklyn-based Parlor, Wisconsin's Ruby (who created a special Black Fox filter blend), Portland's Heart, 49th Parallel from Vancouver, Canada, and of course Melbourne's own Small Batch, where Wood's brother Aaron roasts coffee.
The shop will offer a full kitchen on weekdays, with an eye to rolling out breakfast and brunch on weekends soon. The food program, led by Allison Black (formerly of Portland's Pepe Le Moko) features upgraded American/Australian daytime food like housemade granola with striations of chia, flax, golden flax, and hemp seeds, coconut, yogurt, goji berries, fresh fruit, and a few rose petals thrown in for good measure. There's also a “classic bagel” served with smoked salmon, beetroot pickled onions, and fresh herbs.
“We didn't want the food program just to be avocado toast,” said Wood of the ubiquitous menu item that the cafe, naturally, offers—with feta, and microgreens. “It's a lovely thing, it does its job, it's great—we just want it to be elevated.”
And beyond the relieving reopening of the cafe's doors, Black Fox looks forward later this month to playing host to the first New York installment in a series of intensive coffee education weekends called Coffee Kaizen, led by Mecca Roasters' Sam Sgambellone. The first of these workshops, which are open to the public, will take place July 30-31.
“There was always the idea here to do education, sharing information,” said Wood of the partners' philosophy to be open to sharing everything about how and why they do things. “There's no secrets,” he says. “If someone wants to do the same thing as you, let 'em do it. Sharing is positive.”
And for now, one can plainly see that past even the avocado toast—there's no one doing quite what Black Fox is doing in New York City.
Liz Clayton is the associate editor and New York City bureau chief at Sprudge.com. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.