Coffee Shop Perks Up Vacant Harlem Storefront

By DNAinfo Staff on April 25, 2012 7:28am

Rose and Manny Pena, 30, owners of The Astor Row Cafe.
Rose and Manny Pena, 30, owners of The Astor Row Cafe.
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DNAinfo/David Grunebaum

By David Grunebaum

Special to DNAinfo

HARLEM — A new coffee shop is perking up a long-vacant space at the the corner of Lenox Avenue and 130th Street.

The Astor Row Cafe, which opened its doors Monday with a limited menu that currently includes coffee and will grow to include baked goods and sandwiches, is the project of two new Harlem residents — Manny and Rose Pena, both 30.

The married couple, who relocated from Morris Park, in the Bronx, in March, both had a background working in bars and restaurants in Manhattan. Rose was a bartender, while Manny worked as a fine wine specialist for restaurants and distributors.

They had friends in Harlem and were looking to be closer to their jobs.

Three days after moving into the neighborhood, the couple passed the vacant storefront and fell in love.

“Rose told me: 'We’ve always been working for other people,'” Manny Pena said. “Why don’t we start something and work for ourselves?”

They invested $100,000 of their savings renovating the former site of a butcher shop, creating an atmosphere that combines urban and rural decor. The space fits up to 50 customers, who walk on an industrial looking concrete floor and can sit at a counter with a stainless steel top and white oak wood base that came from a barn in upstate New York.

The interior decorations include a refrigerator from 1920 and a turntable/radio from the 1930s, which were donated by a neighbor.

“We want customers to feel like they’re in a comfortable, relaxed, easy-going place,” said Rose Pena.

Customers are already flocking to the shop.

“I like the atmosphere they’ve created here,” said Jarvis McInnis, a graduate student at Columbia University, after finishing a latte. “I like all of the windows and natural light. I’ll be coming here to study.”

The store also offers free Wi-Fi, along with its $2 cups of joe or $3 espressos. 

The café is in the midst of a soft-opening and will be building up its menu gradually over the next few days. Sandwiches will cost about $7 and include options such as chicken caprese, turkey, tuna and portobello mushroom.

The shop will also be offering homemade guacamole and hummus to go with chips and pita.

“They can come here for coffee, tea, a snack or light meal,” said Rose.

“We’re not going to have a huge menu, but we want our items to be memorable,” said Manny Pena.

The café is only a block away from the very popular Lenox Coffee shop on 129th Street, but the owners say they don't worry about saturating the market.

“We think there’s enough business for both places to succeed,” Manny Pena said.

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