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Birch Coffee's Hybrid Spot to Open on the UWS in April

By Emily Frost | March 20, 2013 9:06am

UPPER WEST SIDE — A new spot that's part coffee shop, micro brew pub and organic restaurant — with a library and community gathering center to boot — is opening on the Upper West Side in next month. 

The new shop, slated for Columbus Avenue between West 96th and West 97th streets, is part of Birch Coffee's small but growing chain of coffee shops, which are conceived, owned and run by Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman. 

"The neighborhood [surrounding the new store] has nothing," said Lyman on their decision to open a new branch uptown. "It's crying for something like that."

Schlader and Lyman opened their first shop, with a similar roster of amenities and services, in 2009 in the Flatiron District, after attending a coffee festival that "made us want to go much deeper" and was "a romantic experience" that bonded them to the coffee industry, Schlader recalled. 

The duo opened a second store Downtown at West 13th Street and 7th Avenue this winter.

The Upper West Side is "in for a special treat," said Schlader, adding that they're envisioning the uptown location as a "flagship" with "unbelievable food" for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, and produced in a full kitchen.

The food will be prepared by Chef Jehangir Mehta, of Iron Chef fame. 

Although their setting is a coffee shop, Birch Coffee's food is not typical coffee shop food, the owners said. Their grilled cheese sandwich combines New York state cheddar, specialty bread from Orwashers and Maldon sea salt, Lyman said.

"You can go and throw down cheese and bread or you can have a higher standard," he said. 

Along with farm to cup coffee made by serious baristas, the "[in-store] library was a focus from the beginning," and a concept they're bringing to the Upper West Side, Lyman said. 

Customers can take a book for keeps, return it, or add to the collection by donating books. To add to the community feel, the 2,200-square-foot space will have a limited number of outlets for laptops.

"We're trying to bring back [the practice of] sitting and talking," Schlader said.

The new store will feature beer flights as well as espresso flights, part of their goal to showcase their own versions, roasted in Union City, New Jersey. It will also highlight beans from other states to show people "there's more than just Stumptown and Intelligentsia" out there, Schlader said. 

Schlader and Lyman are aware that their shops have a hip feel, but Schlader said, "we're not trying to create a Downtown, young vibe" on the Upper West Side.

"We will acclimate to the neighborhood...Jeremy and I are very good at being chameleons," Schlader said.

To that end, situated within an area full of families, there will be stroller parking within the 40-seat space. Schlader is using his wife — mom to a 21-month old — as a "sounding board" to help make sure the new spot "allows mothers to feel welcome."

And, the proximity of a Starbucks at West 100th Street and Columbus Avenue only helps them, the two agreed. 

"[Starbucks] sets this standard for pricing and we're generally able to come under it," Lyman said.

"A lot of specialty coffee shops give them a lot of flak but without Starbucks we wouldn't exist. The demand wouldn't be there," Lyman said.

What he perceives as Starbucks' "plateau" "pushes the smaller guys to do better," he said.

Schlader and Lyman believe Birch Coffee's staff and their approach to customers will help them stand out. The two said they've invested a lot of time finding ways to ensure their staff feels empowered and passionate.

During the summer, Birch Coffee will roll out its popular 64-ounce growlers full of flavorful, specially-made cold brewed coffee, they said, delivered all around the city by bike.

The Upper West Side location will also have different varieties of cold brewed coffee on tap, another goodie they think will appeal to a diverse customer base.