When I came by Little Skips in Bushwick to interview owner Linda Thach, a charming kind of slice of life awaited me. Thach was just getting off bar; a true owner-operator, she's been working behind the espresso machine a lot less in recent weeks, as her popular coffee bar gears up to open a second location. But today she was working for the shop's manager, having forcibly sent him off to yoga earlier in the morning. As Linda and I sat down to chat, the manager came sailing in, chatty and smiling and ready to work.
Little Skips is a pretty much perfect example of what can unfortunately be a bit of a rare beast in New York: a friendly, neighborhoody coffee shop that plays great music, is comfortable and spacious for hanging out in, and actually serves pretty great coffee. I'm definitely biased: around 80% my Sprudge bylines from the last year were written at Little Skips. The cafe basically serves as a kind of communal living room and office for the recent influx of variably-employed 20-something “creative types” moving into Bushwick.
Little Skips first opened its doors in 2010, and Mrs. Thach says she's seen the neighborhood change a lot since then. She's lived in New York for many years, working first in film and then as a food server immediately before opening Little Skips, and she moved out to Bushwick in 2009 because of “its sense of energy, the people you find, and the feeling that you can really do what you want.” She still tries to just hire baristas from the neighborhood, who she says best understand that energy, and she focuses on searching for caring, engaging people over looking for previous experience.
Her approach has paid off in her staff. Sure, some of them are a little more focused on the social aspects of the job than making the coffee, but lead barista Loretta Graney also served me one of the best shots of Counter Culture's Ethiopia Idido I've had this year. Crowd-pleasing fruit & chocolate bombs definitely seems to be their roundhouse: they're serving the Bourbon Varietal Series as hot coffee, and I had a killer coldbrew of the Biloya Natural from them recently.
The coffee at Little Skips isn't the only crowd pleaser: they've got a very solid selection of light food, from sandwiches, to bagels (get the Philadelphia with smoked salmon, avocado and cream-cheese), to yogurt with fresh fruit, to tasty vegan treats from Mr. Sister Bakery.
The space is a former carburetor shop, and Mrs. Thach did a lot of the construction on the conversion herself. The result is a homey, organic hodgepodge, with loud accents from the art on the walls. Their opening was an art show and dance party, and they still rotate through different local artists regularly, as well as do parties and events, like their recent collaboration Bunna Cafe, a roving Ethiopian food and music pop-up.
It's not all fun and games though–Little Skips has all the fuel you need to camp out for a serious laptop session, and a great many people do a lot of work in this cafe. Luckily, Bushwick's lower rents means the cafe has more space to accommodate them.
It can be a drag to walk into a cafe where everyone is on their laptop, but the constant crowds of people waiting in line and the wide selection of seating options ensures that there is still plenty of socializing going on most of the time. Still, Mrs. Thach is planning for their new location, about a block away, to be much smaller, wifi free, and focused more on the coffee service.
When it's warmer out, Little Skips plethora of fantastic outdoor seating options buzz with the life of the community of regulars built up around the cafe. Mrs. Thach says she sees that role as a community center as very important, and that a commitment to creating that energy “has to flow from the top all the way down.” Beyond encouraging her staff to be engaged with customers, she is also working with other business owners in the area to create a community small business group to avoid “negative energy and friction” as Bushwick continues its rapid build-up.
At its core, Little Skips is a great place to hang out–one that happens to quietly be serving great coffee, fueling the changing Bushwick. I can't wait to see how their expansion, coming “early 2014” is going to fit into that change. I hope this article has sounded like a genuine recommendation on my behalf – we don't publish cafe “reviews” on Sprudge, but we do advocate about places we're passionate about, and Little Skips is very much one.