Long Island City, a neighborhood once considered the dominion of taxi garages and film studios, is at last so up and coming that outsiders now realize it’s actually in Queens. As the area sees wave after wave of condo booms, coffee will inevitably follow. Toby’s Estate, a roaster with US operations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and soon Seattle, recently crossed the Pulaski Bridge from Brooklyn toward opportunity.
The company, which originated in Australia, opened its fifth New York City cafe earlier this year within a turn-of-the-century brick building in Long Island City, gutted from the ground straight through to its third-story top for a dramatic cathedral effect, bringing the sun right in.
The cafe space has the characteristic Toby’s polish—the shops always feel rather adult—but with an extra touch of warmth. As you step inside—and off the chaotic thoroughfare of Jackson Avenue—you’re guided toward the bar alongside a long, sleek, serpentine wood bench. The cafe’s tasteful doses of walnut veneer, marble countertop, and just enough fancy floor tile all work together to invite you in—and back, toward the promising courtyard.
The space is the collective effort of co-owner Adam Boyd in partnership with Studio Vural, says Boyd’s partner, Amber Jacobsen. “All the tile and the beautiful bench seats were all designed by Adam,” she says. “He sources all the wood, he’s into all of that, and then I come in and go, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fake taxidermy papier-mâché walrus?’ ”
Toby’s Long Island City is “going to be a fantastic cafe for us, especially in the summer,” says Jacobsen. The pair envisions a back courtyard filled with patrons happily sipping afternoon coffees—and hopefully a grill, working up breakfast rolls and fancy sausages. A beer and wine license may emerge as well. “The only disappointing thing is you can’t bring your dogs,” Jacobsen adds.
Despite the courtyard’s inarguable appeal, this cafe’s location may at first surprise fans of the brand, which is known for prime locations such as Northside Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue—but it’s all part of a long-term plan, according to Boyd. The developers working along this stretch of Jackson are trying hard to ensure a bit of authenticity to the area’s rapid growth—never mind the Chipotle across the street. Despite the newness of this area’s urban vertical expansion, you’ll see independents moving in alongside Toby’s LIC, Boyd promises. Look for Luzzo’s pizza and even a bookstore to fill out adjacent street-level shops.
And of course, inside, the appeal to the area’s swelling residential community is obvious. Alongside Toby’s own coffee, roasted for now at its Williamsburg location, the cafe offers small breakfast plates (Kossar’s bagels, avocado toast), a few wee packaged snacks (Good Batch cookies, McClure’s chips), and a variety of ice cream and coffee concoctions made with Van Leeuwen ice cream. Atop the bar you’ll see a La Marzocco Strada for espresso and a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinder, as well as a Hario V60 pour-over bar, and three cold-brew drafts on tap. (The tempting background players include a smattering of Mazzer grinders, a FETCO for batch-brewed filter coffee, a Marco Ecosmart PB10, a Hamilton Beach shake machine for those ice cream drinks, and a Soda Stream).
Jacobsen says the roaster’s expansion north is not part of a strong desire to fill each borough with Toby’s Estate cafes. “We really see ourselves as wholesalers,” she says. “We really want to source great coffee and sell it to our partners. The retail stores are almost happenstance when we see a great opportunity and see a wonderful space.”
Looking beyond this particular happenstance, Boyd and Jacobsen have their eyes on expanding roasting operations and adding larger laboratory and education space along with that. “We’re sort of outgrowing our Williamsburg space, which is a bit annoying,” says Jacobsen. Planning out the new roastery, as well as a residence in May at the KEXP-La Marzocco Cafe in Seattle, and the opening of a permanent Toby’s Estate cafe in downtown Seattle, are next on their agenda. Well—those things, and getting that back courtyard grill installed in Long Island City in time for summer.
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.