New York Coffee – Pushcart
The second in a three part series exploring New York’s coffee hotspots. Read the rest here.
Stretching far beyond your neighborhood café or local happy hour bar, Pushcart Coffee is a foray into creating a community space that is meaningful to every patron that comes through the door. Jamie Rogers is the owner and founder of Pushcart Coffee, and his inspiration for the endeavor was both personal and literary.
Before he decided to get into specialty coffee and café management, Jamie Rogers was a lawyer living in Manhattan. His sister worked at a coffee shop in the building where she lived, and when the owner decided to sell, Rogers caved into his urge to quit corporate law and save the café. Looking back on what hooked him, Rogers credits the spark of Pushcart to a writer named Ray Oldenburg.
In 1999, Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day. His theory elaborated the third place principle — that in order to live well, citizens of anywhere must balance their existence across three worlds: their home life, the workplace and some separate social space.
Store co-manager Lindsay Brown spent some time with me explaining the unique third space atmosphere that Pushcart cultivates: “The third place is somewhere you feel ownership of. It’s a place that is individually special to you. That’s what makes New York stand out — we can’t even fit in our apartments so we each look for that third place for ourselves. That’s how Jamie felt about this place.”
The suddenly ex-lawyer’s café purchase quickly grew into what is now the world of Pushcart Coffee, named after the immigrant entrepreneurialism that bubbled up through the Lower East Side of old New York. Inspired by that forgotten pushcart culture, this brick and mortar version on 25th Street and 9th Avenue fosters that motley sense of community and togetherness in every way. “The one word that means the most to Jamie is ‘community’. We support the underdog and the little guy here,” Lindsay explained. Behind the counter, they sell cookies that are being made in a woman’s kitchen and have been known to stock muffins from kid kitchen businesses.
Pushcart’s emphasis on local everything helps hone their individuality in NYC’s oversaturated coffee market. That extends to every offering at Pushcart, from coffee to snacks to the craftiest craft beer. Beans, wine and beer are all on rotation depending on the season and what’s on in the community.
Pushcart staff constantly seeks out new samples, feeding their mission to exceed expectations and surpass every average offering. At the coffee bar, they’ve served everything from the ever-popular Stumptown to beans from lesser known roasters like Tandem, Brewklyn Grind, Ceremony, Fortyweight and more. While NYC cafés will always cater to the “gimme a latte, stat!” crowd, Pushcart also hosts a slow bar where they’ll work with you to match the perfect bean with the proper method and the specifics tastes you look for in a brew. Brew methods include the Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave, Aeropress and a handful of others that you’ll have to ask a barista to explain.
Lindsay described the Kalita Wave to me as “a combination of the best of both worlds between pour over coffee and full immersion techniques”, but she was patient when I asked what the hell that meant. She outlined flavor notes, acidity levels, and details about the body of the coffee in the mouth. But coffee education aside, Lindsay swears that her Pushcart journey was an accident.
When Lindsay arrived in Manhattan, she was used to getting the boot before she even had a shot with most shift jobs. As a dancer, her schedule is reliably hectic and requires her to be flexible in every way. But the Pushcart staff functions as a team, and that team is the key to the greater Pushcart community.
Now in charge of hiring, Lindsay plays a crucial role in fostering that family vibe. She says Rogers’ approach to staff was first and foremost to give everyone a chance. “We weren’t looking for someone with three years of barista experience. We wanted to find somebody that fit, and somebody that we could create a connection with. Someone who was going to fall in love with coffee and with the job, so we could train them to be a Pushcart barista instead of just a New York coffee person.”
And a versatile staff is in line with the versatile clientele that walks through Pushcart’s door on a regular basis. A height line on the wall documents the childhoods of neighborhood kids growing up, and regulars stop by for more than just an order on the fly. “They are very outspoken! They giggle, they tell us what they like and what they don’t. They feel like this is theirs”, a true realization of the third place principle.
Pushcart’s Chelsea location at 25th Street and 9th Avenue brings in a steady flow of tourists from the Highline, but Lindsay says the staff knows most of their customers by name. There is a public posting board with no restrictions and plenty of Pushcart-hosted events, and both locations make their own effort to represent their unique local community.
“We have nothing against camping out or hibernating, and we don’t kick people out. Some people treat Pushcart fully as their offices. What’s special to me is that this place really welcomes everybody. From the world’s biggest coffee snob to the person drinking Folgers in the morning, we want to please everybody. That’s what happened to me. I liked coffee, but Jamie is turning coffee into another form of art.”
Today, many people find that the lines are getting blurry between home life and workplace, workplace and social escape. Without three distinct realms to experience our lives as in Oldenburg’s vision, Pushcart Coffee makes the grey in-between feel like a perfect place to call your own. Come for the coffee, stay for the family.