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$10 Piece of Toast on Sale at West Village Cafe

By Danielle Tcholakian | January 5, 2015 11:30am | Updated on January 6, 2015 6:29pm

WEST VILLAGE — A cozy cafe specializing in a Japanese green tea called matcha and $10 specialty toast recently opened on West Fourth Street

The signature drink at Chalait, at 224 W. Fourth St., is a matcha cortado, an espresso-sized portion of the creamy, sweet tea, made from a light green powder imported from a farm in Kyoto, Japan.

Michelle Gardner, 33, and her fiance Ramon Puyani, 37, got the idea for the cafe when they tasted matcha during a trip to Japan two years ago.

When they returned to New York, Gardner quit her finance job at Citibank and took classes at the Institute of Culinary Education to fulfill her dream of opening her own cafe.

"I always wanted to be in this industry," Gardner said from the bright, sunny corner shop shortly after it opened. "I loved to entertain, loved to cook for my friends. I got to this point in my life where I was like, 'It's time to follow my dreams.'"

Puyani, who also works in finance, had never tried matcha until their trip to Japan, and he was immediately taken with the mellow, powdery tea.

"I was like, 'This is so good, this is awesome,'" Puyani said. "That was the seed for it."

The cafe also sells Counter Culture coffee and light snacks, and it will expand soon to include sandwiches and "really healthy" salads, the couple said.

Current best-sellers include an avocado toast, dressed with radish, eggs and vinaigrette, and a muesli toast topped with Greek yogurt, blueberries, pears and walnuts, and drizzled with honey. The toasts run about $9 or $10, and coffee and tea drinks are between $3 and $5.

"It's simple," Gardner said. "It's stuff that I like to eat."

Chalait was already steadily busy just a few days after opening last week, and the matcha was catching on quickly, with tea and coffee sales split about 50-50.

"We're surprised at how many matchas we're selling — we thought it would take a little while to get the ball rolling," Puyani said.

Gardner is clocking long work days, getting to the store every morning at 5:30 a.m. and typically not leaving until 9:30 or 10 p.m. every night. The long hours are familiar from her finance days, but this feels different, she said.

"I just had this strong desire to do something I loved," Gardner said. "At the end of the day, it just feels so good, so satisfying to have something of your own."

Chalait, 224 W. Fourth St., 212-929-0266. Open weekdays 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and weekends 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.