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From barista to co-owners: meet the sister duo running Lenox Coffee in Harlem

When Rosa quit her full-time corporate job to take a part-time position at Lenox Coffee while she finished grad school, she never thought she would be the one running the show. Lenox Coffee opened in 2011 as the first specialty coffee shop in Harlem and has been run by Rosa and her sister, Monica for the past year. 

A little bonus? The cafe is located around the corner from our Harlem home–Common Lenox  (and was listed on Eater New York’s list of best coffee shops two years in a row)!

We caught up with Rosa to learn more about her journey from barista to manager and co-owner, as well as how to brew the perfect cup of coffee right at home. 

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Hi Rosa! Not many people find themselves accidentally owning a coffee shop–can you tell us more about how that happened? 

When I quit my corporate job to focus on my grad school studies, I wanted a job that could help me pay some bills and also allow me to work directly with people. Little did I know that within the first few months of working at Lenox Coffee, I would have two of my managers quit! The owner allowed me to be fully hands-on, so I ended up learning how to run the shop and brought my sister on to help. 

Shortly after that, the owner told us he was looking to sell the shop and that he wanted to sell it to us! Within a year of starting as a barista, I owned the coffee shop. My sister and I focused on making the menu healthier and cultivating a comfortable and safe environment for our customers to relax and get to know one another. So far it’s been a dream come true!

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How have you focused on cultivating a community within your shop? 

We absolutely love being hands-on and interacting with our customers. Since the other owner was more distant, our takeover meant that we were naturally more involved in making sure our team was focused on hospitality and happy while at work, which trickled down to create happy customers! Even during the COVID-19 restrictions, we still have regulars that stop by every day at our walk-up window. 

A core part of our mission is also to celebrate local artists in the Harlem community–our bare walls are constantly covered with customers’ or friends of customers’ artwork. Harlem has an incredibly rich artistic community, and we wanted to celebrate that the best way we could! Before the period of quarantine in NYC, we had open mic nights every Monday night (that are still continuing over Zoom!) as well as a comedy and poetry night in our cafe space.

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Since we’re spending more time at home than ever before, could you give us some advice for brewing the best cup of coffee at home? 

Absolutely! Here are my best tips for the coffee newbies and fanatics alike: 

      1. It’s important to keep the bag of beans or grounds in an airtight container to keep it fresh for longer. 
      2. If you have access to a grinder, grinding the beans as you go will give you the best quality of coffee! 
      3. The water temperature should be between 195-205 F degrees, and for lattes, the milk is around 140 so you can drink it right away. 
      4. If all else fails, support your local coffee shop and grab a cup to go! 

    What’s next for Lenox Coffee? 

    Our main cook and my sister are excited to revamp our menu with more healthy meals and to-go snacks…and we’re going to start selling beer and wine as well! We also just opened up an adorable outdoor seating area, so anyone in the neighborhood can now enjoy a cup of coffee at a safe distance. To get updates on our new menu and openings, feel free to follow us on Instagram or check out our website.

     

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    New outdoor seating AND new hours. 8am-4pm everyday. Tell your friends. 😎

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