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Pop-Up Cafe Aims to Spark Conversation with Racial Drink Names

By Eddie Small | December 17, 2014 8:48am
 The Mix Coffeehaus has opened up a temporary location at 55 Bruckner Blvd. in Mott Haven.
Mix Coffeehaus
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MOTT HAVEN — Vernicia Colon and Peter Medina want to give you something to think about with your coffee.

The café co-owners opened a temporary shop Dec. 13 at 55 Bruckner Blvd. to gauge neighborhood interest in a new coffee house while they look for a permanent location — and to prompt discussion about race via the eatery's provocative drink names.

The Mix Coffeehaus customers can order beverages like the "Mulatto," "Half Breed" and "Red Bone," which the menu defines as "Light skinned female/man mixed with black and another race."

The idea to give the drinks racial names stemmed from Colon, who is Puerto Rican and black, not knowing what to check off for her race on a census form and the derogatory comments she experienced growing up, even from some of her own relatives.

The drink names at Mix are meant to get people talking about the sensitive issue of race in a relaxed environment, Colon said.

"When you look at the history of coffee houses, politics, big ideas, innovation all happened here," she said.

Although the names have offended a few customers, Colon said the point is to spread awareness of the power these terms can have, something many do not realize.

"Most people were just glad we were talking about it," she said.

This is the second pop-up café for Colon and Medina. They first tried it for a few days in the spring at Lincoln Avenue and 134th Street, where they saw about 50 to 75 daily customers.

Business so far has been slower in the Bruckner Boulevard pop-up, with about 25 customers per day. But Colon said she's optimistic about finding a permanent location for the shop.

"A lot of people still don't know we're here," she said. "The other part is that this particular block is slower."

Mix serves the standard café fare of coffee and baked goods, and also includes a holiday market featuring artwork and jewelry.

The market will shut down on Dec. 24, but the café itself could stay open for a few extra days, according to building owner Joshua Weissman.

Although Weissman said he thought the space was too big for Mix to set up shop there permanently, he wanted to let them use it for a pop-up shop because he thought a café would help benefit the South Bronx.

"We just figured, let’s do something good for the neighborhood, for the community and for them," he said. "We need a coffee shop. I hope they’re going to do well."

The local economic development group SoBRO is helping Mix come up with a business plan, and Michael Brady, SoBRO's senior director of partnerships, said he thought starting with pop-up shops was a great way to gauge how viable a permanent café would be.

"The Mix Café has a bright future," he said, "and SoBRO is happy to be a part of its development."

Amir Chayon, co-owner of the nearby sushi restaurant Ceetay, stopped by the café on Tuesday and referred to it as an essential community amenity.

"People need to stop meeting over beers and drinks and being drunk," he said. "They need to start meeting over coffee."

He was a fan of the drink names as well, saying they were "as confusing as Starbucks coffee."

"But it's good," he continued. "It's something different."

Michael Latour, who teaches literature at Fordham University and is a six-year resident of Mott Haven, also visited the café on Tuesday and said he hoped to see Mix become a permanent fixture of the South Bronx, as it would help improve the neighborhood's reputation and give residents more chances to interact.

"It would be great just to strengthen the community ties among people," he said.

Colon agreed that a new café could help make Mott Haven a more welcoming part of New York City.

"We definitely think coffee would do great in this neighborhood," she said. "If it has a coffee shop, it kind of brings this friendliness. We think it would be a great staple."