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NYC: An Interview With Everyman Espresso’s S...

NYC: An Interview With Everyman Espresso’s Sam Penix & Sam Lewontin

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Since first visiting in January 2011, Manhattan’s Everyman Espresso cafes has held court as one of our very favorite in the world. From their flagship space to their stunning SoHo second home, to their trademark woes and tiki bar larks, one thing’s for certain: If you’re a Sprudge reader, you’re abreast of the Everyman beat.

Today we’re interviewing Everyman’s plural Sams – Sam Penix, owner, and Sam Lewontin, manager – on the redesign of Everyman’s original cafe space, located in the lobby of the Classic Stage Company at 136 East 13th Street. The redesign has been coming for a while, and reflects the space’s unique history; it was originally an outpost of the Ninth Street Espresso cafe chain, before being purchased by Penix and an investor in 2009. It continues to be a hub for the frankly weird and awesome daily denizens of the East Village, including our own Pop Culturalist, Eric J. Grimm, and countless other celebrities both major and minor.

Here, a week on from the public debut of their redesigned 13th Street space, are Everyman’s Sam Penix and Sam Lewontin.

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Plural Sams! Everyone is on the edge of their seat about the Everyman’s new look! Can you tell us a little bit about what it used to look like?

When we inherited the space from Ninth Street Espresso it was lackluster to say the least– a very small square bar made of press wood that sagged with the weight of the approximately 1.2 million coffees we’ve served there over the past 6 years. The concrete floors were stained with the masses arriving for theater engagements and morning routines.

In September of 2010 we upgraded from the cold aluminum tables and standing bar that faced customers at a white brick wall, to a wooden bench just high enough for inventive laptop campers to pull up a chair and lead a cavalcade of startup dream chasers to continuously fill the space. At that time I also asked the theater to start keeping the trash outside instead of piled high in the corner of the space haphazardly blocking the exits. The amount of space behind the bar kept baristas just shy of spooning, but turned out to be slightly efficient as everything was within arms reach.

Even though the space had its gaps our vibe has always been the envy of many of our counterparts. There’s always been this special connection between our staff and customers. It’s hard to describe but I’ll try: it was a playful, confident, friendly vibe that emitted from that humble coffee shack, and we hope to maintain that vibe while creating a space more suited to the caliber of our guests and our product.

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Construction realness.

What are some of the changes you made to the space?

To start with, we’ve given ourselves a lot more room to breathe! We’ve just about doubled the floor space behind the bar, and significantly increased the amount of counter space we’ve got to work with. This means we can both fit two people behind the bar comfortably (without them having to spoon all the time) and set up our equipment in a way that allows us to give better service, while doing all the things we need to do behind the bar more efficiently.

We’ve taken a lot of the design elements that we loved about the Soho store and incorporated them into the new setup. The bar’s the same height as at Soho, which means we can have conversations over the machine, which is on the front counter now! No more prepping drinks with our backs to our customers. We’re taking orders at the espresso machine, and doing away with the overhead menu and the condiment bar.

We got rid of all the cabinets and refrigerators next to the front door, so despite the fact that the bar itself takes up a lot more room, there’s actually more room and better flow out in the front of the house as well. We’ve also lowered the bench seats a little, to make them more comfortable, and we’re complementing the existing tables and chairs with a bar and some bar stools across the front window. The overall result is that the space feels a lot more open and lively. The improvement is really striking. We’ll obviously have to see how it plays out when it’s full of people, but we feel like we’ve unlocked a lot of the potential of that room.

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The new view behind bar.

The original location is deep within the award winning CST. Will the new look still facilitate those balls-to-the-walls busy pre-show slams?

Behind the bar, we’ve set up everything in the service of optimizing work-flow, both for espresso and for filter coffee. Everything’s set up so that the barista shouldn’t have to take more than one step in any direction to get anything they might need. If all goes according to plan, we should be able to crush a line like never before!

We are just OBSESSED with design. Can you tell us a little bit about the furnishings?

We wanted to use a lot of the same mid-century modern visual language that we established at our shop in Soho– lots of clean lines, bold shapes and primary colors– and tailor it to fit in with CSC’s space and aesthetics. So, for instance, the bar at 13th has always been partially an extension of the shape of CSCs box office, and the shape of the new bar makes that connection both more explicit and more interesting to look at. Our palette for the space also draws heavily on CSC’s colors, so where Soho has a lot of oranges, yellows and reds, 13th uses a lot of blue, white and black (with a little yellow thrown in there for some pop and warmth.)

Do you think the die hard regulars will cotton to the new look?

We think the regulars will love it! It’s cleaner, prettier, more comfortable, and easier to interact with. In the end, we’re making all of these changes in order to give them a better experience.

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Did a design firm help you with this new look?

We worked with Jane Kim, who designed the Soho store. She’s amazing: quick, thorough, super-knowledgeable, and willing and able to turn our hare-brained schemes into working designs for actual, physical spaces that always manage to be better even than we’d hoped. Having worked with her before, we can’t imagine working with anyone else.

Will there be a dancing bird?

We’ll see.

Everyman Espresso is located at 136 E. 13th Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village. Hours from 7-8 on weekdays, 8-8 on weekends. 

 


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