We had a little Q&A with Birch Coffee's co-founder, Jeremy Lyman, to talk about what's important to him as a business owner, how he lets off steam, and how he takes his morning cup o' joe.
What inspired you to start your own coffee house?
I was very unhappy with my previous job. I honestly feel like I am doing what I was meant to do but that every single job that I've had and company that I have worked for has brought me exactly to where I am. I truly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well and that is why whether I was happy or not, I showed up and did the best job I knew how. That is why I think I am so fortunate to be doing this. I absolutely love it and so my "all" goes into it, every day. I really wanted to create an environment that fosters a sense of community and togetherness. I believe Birch Coffee is the epitome of that.
What sets Birch Coffee apart from other coffee houses?
It is, without hesitation, our service. Our baristas and staff are incredibly approachable and make the product, coffee, very accessible to anyone coming into any of the stores. From the moment someone walks into the store to the minute they leave, it is our priority to take care of their needs. We obviously can't service everything, I mean, we don't serve sushi, but if asked, we can tell you a couple of our favorite places we like to go!
Can you describe challenges you faced in starting your own business in NYC? Are there any challenges that are specific to NYC?
I would say that in the beginning, raising capital was the biggest challenge when opening the business. We were trying to open in one of the worst financial times of the last 30+ years and asking people to give us money when we had no experience and take a big leap of faith with us was a lot to ask. We managed to convince enough of our close family and friends to do so but I think it was because they simply had more faith in Paul and I than they did in the business concept itself. As far as challenges specific to NY, since we haven't opened anywhere else yet, I can't speak to that but I have been told that it is just as tough to open anywhere else as it is here.
How would each of you describe your personal work ethic?
I am a strong believer in the saying "anything worth doing is worth doing well" Any job I have ever had, I show up and I do my job. Whether or not I like what I was doing when I was doing it was irrelevant. If someone was trusting me to do a job, it was my obligation to do it as best I could. I believe I can speak for Paul when I say that we are just two really straightforward and honest hardworking guys. If you don't have your integrity, what have you got? And at the end of the day I have to be okay with how I handled myself throughout the day and sleep well at night.
What is most important for you in day to day operations?
So long as the staff are kickin' ass in the customer service department, I'm pretty happy. I think it goes without saying that the cleanliness of the shop and the quality of the product are perfect (or as close to it as possible) as well, but this is all a part of the customer experience. Our barista can be super nice but then the floor or the condiment station is dirty and that barista interaction is somewhat negated.
That grilled cheese sandwich - the Humboldt Fog with avocado and tomato - who thought of this glorious combination?
As much as both Paul and I would love to take credit for this, we have to give credit where it is due. We had been serving a cheddar, tomato, and avocado grilled cheese, but our friend and celebrity chef Jehangir Mehta tried it and wanted to spice it up a bit. He had us try one with roasted tomatoes and added humboldt fog, and brilliance. It's my favorite thing on the menu.
What's your favorite grilled cheese combo?
What do you take into consideration when creating the menu for Birch Coffee?
First and foremost, we assess the size of the space. If it is conducive to having a kitchen, we will work it in. Sometimes it is simply better as a pure coffee spot. As far as creating the menu, we have a pretty solid menu of sandwiches that works well so we will just keep going with that until it no longer works!
If you couldn't eat or drink at Birch Coffee, where would we find you in the city?
For coffee, I'll hit up Grumpy or Joe and if I can't eat at Birch, I'll go out of my way to track down a Dos Toros, best burrito in the city (I think). Also, and you didn't ask, but I figured I'd throw it in... because I work as much as I do, there is a balance I need to maintain so if I'm not eating or having coffee, I'll be boxing over at Title Boxing Club on w 37th st!!
And, of course, how do you take your coffee?
Most often, iced, with a touch of cream. The rest of the time, hot and black.