How do you improve neighbor relations? Give them free doughnuts.
That’s one of the many ideas brewing at Brooklyn Speed Coffee (308 Hooper Street, Brooklyn; 347-878-7474). The café opened a few months ago and shares a space with the Flat — a bar and nightclub with a reputation for wild parties that often spilled out onto the street, attracting crime, violence, and the ire of neighbors.
When the bar was closed during the day, Brooklyn Speed Coffee would whip up drinks through the afternoon before the nighttime crowd arrived. However, soon after the coffee shop opened, the Flat lost its liquor license.
“It was a mess,” explains Max Brennan, owner of the Flat. “It really was.” But, he says, that’s all in the past now.
Brennan is currently waiting on a new liquor license application to go through so he can prove his good intentions to the community. Luckily, Brooklyn Speed Coffee’s presence has already had positive effects on the Flat’s reputation.
Michael Greenwald, a former musician and the Flat’s next-door neighbor of several years, came up with the idea for the café after looking for a space to open a coffee shop. He realized the perfect spot had been under his nose the whole time.
“When it was just a bar, I was sitting having a drink and I said, ‘It’s a shame this place doesn’t open until six,'” says Greenwald. “It got back to the owner, and he said he was interested in making it a café. One thing led to another, and we opened up.”
Being in Brooklyn Speed Coffee during the daytime might come as a shock for those who did shots in the VIP room during the Flat’s rowdier days. But for caffeine hounds discovering the café for the first time, they’re likely to find homey appeal in the many couch-filled, pillow-strewn nooks.
There are limited nearby options for places to comfortably sip coffee for hours, so Greenwald and Brennan hope Brooklyn Speed Coffee fills a need for both the laptop crowd and commuters heading to the subway. That is, if they see it.
“You look from the outside you don’t realize what it is,” Greenwald says. “Again and again, people will be staring at it, and they’re like, ‘That’s not a coffee shop.'”
To get people through the doors, Greenwald is thinking up creative lures in addition to the café’s Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee, cayenne chai lattes, and a selection of house-made breakfast burritos. Local jazz musicians regularly play on the space’s small stage, and the café is considering a rewards program for patrons who bring new friends to the space. Then, of course, there are the free doughnuts.
At the upcoming Great Dough Down, customers who buy a drink will get samples of Brooklyn-made doughnuts — including Moe’s Doughs (which the café stocks daily), Dough, Dun-Well Doughnuts, and more — and vote on their favorite. For Greenwald, who loves coffee but doesn’t consider himself a “foodie,” the real attraction of this event is the chance to meet neighbors and help create a more community-minded space.
“I think it sounds fun. There’s a social thing around going to get food with your friends,” he says. “That’s the more interesting thing for me — the doughnuts are only so interesting.”
Part of the character of the space is certainly due to the Flat’s raucous aura, but also comes from the surrounding neighborhood, where the Hispanic and Hasidic communities have spent the past decade watching as more and more young gentrifiers have moved in. While it’s a motley crew that visits the café, it is more reflective of the newer residents than of those more established ones.
“It’s partly the neighborhood and it’s partly the space,” Greenwald says. “When I first conceptualized it, I viewed it as glass and sleek and modern, and then I realized no, that’s not what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be crazy, and a little unkempt.”
As for the Flat, once they get their new liquor license, the old level of “crazy” will be turned down significantly. Brennan says that was already the model at the time the café opened, just before the Flat lost its license. Once the Flat is back up and running, they’re aiming to be a slightly more mellow venue.
“We’re going to stick with the jazz that we were doing previously…and indie rock bands. But we’re not going to have any more hip-hop acts,” Brennan says. “We can definitely not open with the same business model,” he adds. “We have to curb those crazy, rowdy parties.”
Brooklyn Speed Cafe is hosting the Great Dough Down this weekend, on March 5 and 6, starting at 9 a.m. each day, until supplies run out.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 3, 2016