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Two Beloved Harlem Coffee Shops Spawn Offspring

By Jeff Mays | November 15, 2013 10:06am
 Karen Cantor, co-owner of the Chipped Cup in Hamilton Heights and Aaron Baird, co-owner of Lenox Coffee in Central Harlem, have named their new offspring Mess Hall, a comfy bar that will serve craft beers and Bearded Lady Espresso, a funky coffee shop.
Harlem Coffee Shops Give Birth to Twins
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HARLEM — What would happen if two beloved Harlem coffee shops fell in love, got married and had kids — actually, twins?

Karen Cantor, co-owner of the Chipped Cup in Hamilton Heights and Aaron Baird, co-owner of Lenox Coffee in Central Harlem, have named their new offspring Mess Hall, a comfy bar that will serve craft beers, and Bearded Lady Espresso, a funky coffee shop.

The happy family will live side-by-side on Frederick Douglass Boulevard's restaurant row between 118th and 119th streets.

"Opening a new business is a great endeavor, like giving birth and watching your kid grow up," Cantor said.

"It'll be like Chipped Cup and Lenox Coffee had a baby," added Baird. "You'll know that both shops come from the two of us."

That means both will inherit the easy-going, laid-back vibe of their parent establishments. The Chipped Cup, on Broadway between 148th and 149th streets, is nestled in a below street level space and is credited with helping to spark a retail revival in an area of Hamilton Heights that's not far from City College.

Lenox Coffee, at 129th Street and Lenox Avenue, is succeeding in an area where two previous cafes failed. The often packed cafe has exposed brick walls and a tin ceiling with Edison filament bulbs hanging from them.

The pair said the chance to open a joint restaurant serendipitously landed in their laps. The landlord of the building at 2194 Frederick Douglass Boulevard called Baird to tell him about the available space.

Baird said he was immediately excited because Frederick Douglass Boulevard from 110th Street up to 125th Street is hot and finding a spot is difficult. His partner at Lenox Coffee wasn't interested in opening another space so he and Cantor decided to put together a plan.

The Mess Hall will be housed in a 700-square-foot space that is long and narrow with high ceilings. It will seat 30 people inside and 12 to 18 people in the back which the pair are planning to cover. The decor will include exposed brick.

Baird and Cantor are hoping for a spring 2014 opening if all goes well with their liquor license application. A beer on tap will cost around $6.50 and cocktails and food such as a hamburger will cost about $10.

"It'll be a bar with food but more upscale with higher end finishes," Baird told Community Board 10's Economic Development Committee where they went to gain an endorsement for their liquor license Thursday night.

"It will be a friendly neighborhood bar, like a cozy, cozy sweater," Cantor said.

Bearded Lady Espresso, at 2194 Frederick Douglass Blvd., is named in honor of Clémentine Delait, a bearded lady who lived in France in the late 19th century. She saw a bearded lady at a carnival and bet her husband, with whom she owned a cafe, that she could grow a better beard.

She won the bet and gained a lot of attention in the process. Her husband renamed the cafe Le Café de La Femme a Barbe or "the cafe of the bearded woman."

"It's a fun name but it has that bit of history," said Cantor who added that the shop is set to open in mid-January and carry high-quality Counter Culture coffee like its mom, the Chipped Cup, while maintaining a focus on espresso.

The pair said being business owners in Harlem has been very rewarding because of the local support their respective establishments have received.

"Harlem is totally worth investing in," Baird said.

And other investors are following suit.

Jose Morales, owner of Apt. 78, a cafe and lounge in Washington Heights, also plans to open Made En Harlem Taqueria/Galeria at 304 West 115th St. at Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Unlike Apt. 78 which features a lot of events hosted by artists like Q-Tip, Made En Harlem will serve up Mexican food but also feature art that customers can purchase.

"The same way we try to sell you a taco, we try to sell you an art piece," Morales said. "It's a new trend to show art in a restaurant but I've actually been doing this for a long time."

The 2,900-square-foot space will feature freshly made tacos and what Morales called affordable artwork, much of it by local artists, that ranges in cost from $100 to $3,000.

"We are trying to bring that art aspect to Harlem," he said of the establishment that is slated to open in March.

Over at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 124th Street, a father and son team plans on opening Sabroso at the Ennis Frances Houses that will serve nuevo Latino cuisine.

The restaurant will feature room for 72 people seated inside and 40 at a planned outdoor cafe.

"Seventh Avenue hasn't had the same level of development as other areas of Harlem so it would be nice to help develop that area," said co-owner Bernard Rubie, who also owns a bed and breakfast on 147th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

The restaurant is also looking to hire 30 people, including some Ennis Francis residents, and work with students at Wadleigh Secondary School's culinary program.

"We will add value to central Harlem with a concept that hasn't been done yet," co-owner Osei Rubie said.

The community board's economic development committee gave unanimous preliminary approval to all three restaurants' applications for liquor licenses, pending minor issues such as letters of support from neighbors. The full board will vote on the applications next month.