Coffee Talk with Scott Kobrick of Kobrick Coffee Co.
Founded by the Kobrick family in the 1920s, Kobrick Coffee Co. has a deep-rooted history that seeps into the walls of the Meatpacking flagship. With its old New York City charm, you’d think the cozy cafe had been there forever—seemingly untouched by the new wave of boutiques and trendy hotels.
The family-owned and -operated coffee company has been serving up beans and brews for many, many years, but now, from the corners of the Meatpacking cafe, they’re combining years of roasting and research with a whole new endeavor: cocktails.
Name, Location, Occupation
Scott Kobrick; 24 9th Avenue; Co-VP of Kobrick Coffee Co.
Kobrick Coffee Co. has has been brewing for generations, why expand to cocktails?!
The fact that the company was founded in 1920, and therefore it’s infancy took place throughout the heart of the prohibition era- it felt natural to incorporate it in a speakeasy type fashion. Manhattan is the city that never sleeps, and that insatiable energy of the city seemed very underutilized- other than diners, nobody was really taking advantage of that. Finally, we saw a tremendous amount of synergies between the craft cocktail movement that was developing at the same time as the craft coffee movement-the word barista literally means bartender, and in other countries such as Italy, there is no distinction.
How did your partnership with Tobin Ludwig of HELLA Bitters come about?
We met Tobin’s two business partners in Hella Bitters at a trade show a few years back. We took an interest in each other’s respective businesses and stayed in touch. When we told them about our idea for the cocktail element of our coffee bar, they suggested we have a meeting with their partner Tobin, a veteran bartender and mixologist who currently develops all of their Bitters recipes, to see if there was any way he could add value. Once we met with Tobin, we were not only enamored with his passion and depth of knowledge for mixology, but he also is a true coffee lover and took a real interest in learning more from us, which we really enjoyed. His specific style of mixology seemed to be a great fit for us. He seemed to have the ability to take think outside the box and, while bearing the knowledge and consideration for the “rules,” he was not afraid to test the boundaries and bend or break them. That seemed to jive really well with us, so we began testing the “waters,” and the rest was history.
What kind of presence do you have in your neighborhood? Are many of your customers regulars?
The neighborhood has been extremely kind and receptive to us. There seemed to be a void in the neighborhood for a casual spot to get quality food and beverages. Large restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs seemed to dominate the meatpacking, and there were not many places to get a great cup of coffee, a quick, quality bite, or for that matter, a casual and relaxed, thoughtfully crafted after work cocktail where you can actually chat with the bartender and not have your eardrums hurt. We have so many regular and loyal customers; they make up the bulk of our business.
Last month, you officially launched the Kobrick Coffee Co. beverage program—what are some of the concoctions you’re whipping up?
Our list consists of three sections- Coffee Cocktails, Seasonal, and Classic.
Very few of the things we consume have the depth of flavor and intense aromatics of coffee. Introducing those flavors into cocktails can be magical. As a roaster, we have the ability to roast to bring out specific notes or flavors complimentary to a specific cocktail or spirit. Also, we have access to all methods of coffee extraction - giving us seemingly endless ways to introduce coffee into cocktails. One of the highlights of our program is the constant pursuit to experiment with different methods of beverage preparation, whether it be a method traditionally used for coffee and we use it to make a cocktail, or vice versa. Some of the current offerings that explore these unchartered synergies are:
Why did you choose this neighborhood for the flagship?
We have a love affair with the Meatpacking District. It has a very colorful history, and as a company founded in NYC in the 1920s, we felt that the Meatpacking was one of the only neighborhoods remaining to still give the feeling of old NY. The low buildings set on wide cobblestone streets is very nostalgic to us, and really captures the romance of the era in which we were founded. Our roasting facility was in Tribeca for many years, until 1983, and during that time there were several other coffee roasters and the whole area was industry. When I walk through Tribeca today, although much more so than other areas of the city, I hardly feel the remnants of that age of industry, short of some old repurposed loading docks and faded lettering on the buildings that take some scouting to find. When I walk through the meatpacking, it still feels like old NY- or at least what I think it would have felt like had I lived in it, maintaining it’s industrial feel with the sidewalk overhangs and many of the buildings have still not been redeveloped.
We love the aesthetic of the coffee shop. What inspired the design for the space?
The place is supposed to look as if it has been there forever. As mentioned above, we picked a location that really felt like old New York- low buildings, cobblestone streets, our building is a very old landmarked building with a lot of history. When people "stumble upon us," they are shocked to hear that we just opened as they otherwise thought we had been there forever and they just never noticed us. The walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, and decor are supposed to feel as if our place has been there since 1920- that doesn't mean that every piece of furniture was from 1920- naturally, it would have evolved as we evolved, we would have gotten some additions in the 30s, 40s, 50s- added and updated things along the way. The back room was modeled after our cupping room at our plant. The wooden tables we found are close replicas to our cupping table, manufactured by the same company that makes our 1930s model roaster, Jabez Burns. The marble tables are custom made out of old coffee urns once actually used to brew coffee in many NYC establishments over the past 96 years, and the walls are furnished with photos from origin, most of which we have taken ourselves-our coat hooks are birds, which are supposed to subtly represent our focus on shade grown, “bird friendly” coffee.
At 4:30PM, the barstools are moved from rail on the far wall where they sit during the day, to the bar, the sliding antique mirror Menu Boards (that cover up the liquor during the day) slide to reveal all of the liquor and bar/glassware, the condiments are removed and stowed, the manual brew bar goes up on the shelf and the service bar station comes down, the pastry cases get stowed, the lights dim, the music gets louder, candles go out, and we begin seating people and offering full table service. We are doing a lot, out of a very small space with virtually no storage. Every square inch of the place has to have a functional use, and with the transition, that respective inch’s use changes throughout the day.