This post is part of Pocket Cafés, a series examining tiny spaces transformed into bustling coffee stops.
[D]ishes are a big deal when you don’t have much room to store them. Brooklyn’s Grade Coffee decided to stock only one size of ceramic cup, offering customers cortados and espresso to stay, otherwise accommodating drinks in disposable cups. “Even before we had a space I was pretty set on wanting it to be very, very specific,” says Grace Lowman, Grade’s co-owner. Grade occupies a portion of a barber shop, with an entry from the shop, and a door and serving window that open onto the street. Three points of entry keep the shop connected to the surrounding community, which is crucial to the survival of a small café in the city. Lowman says they do a lot of business through the front window, serving passing customers on bikes and with dogs. “New York is just so centered around speed and efficiency,” she says.
Having a multi-purpose window is a common theme among pint-sized cafés, functioning both as a service window and expanding the shop boundaries outdoors. Lowman and her partner were deliberate in the design of the bar, taping out the floor a variety of ways to find what optimized their ability to serve customers without sacrificing too much storage space. Lowman says that keeping their shop stocked while still allowing workspace has been quite the tricky little puzzle.
Even with deliberate design, café elements will inevitably be overlooked. For Grade, one of those oversights was ice. “We were designing the space in the dead of winter, so ice was not first on the brain,” Lowman says. Since the layout didn’t leave room for an ice-maker and freezer, Grade buys ice from a local restaurant and keeps enough for cold-draft brews in a cooler behind the bar. The other quirk of their small bar? A three-compartment sink, hidden under the espresso machine. “It works best if you sit on a little step stool while you wash dishes,” Lowman says, joking that it’s just a part of Manhattan living.
Next, we head to Toronto for a look at Tokyo Smoke, a café fashioned from a repurposed shipping container.
More in the series:
—Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s associate editor.