Interview With Michael Clayton: Harlem's Lemonade and Iced Tea Purveyor

By: Michele Wolfson

If you've ever walked around the streets of Harlem and felt parched, Harlem resident Michael Clayton always seems to be right there to rescue you. Michael Clayton offers Lemonade and Iced Tea "like your grandma used to make" all around central Harlem for $2 a cup. He has lived in Harlem for 30 years and sells ice-cold beverages, which are delightful on a warm fall or summer afternoon.

His concept is simple- He only sells three different kinds of thirst-quenchers and the people of Harlem know what they like. One man came over to Michael and asked him for a mixture of all three drinks. "I've never had any of the beverages separately," says Giovanni, a Harlem local who works across the street from where Clayton often sets up shop. "I tried them mixed all together the first time and it's so good that I can't change it up. I call it 'the $2 sangria special.'"

There seems to be something special about Clayton and his beverages since he knows many of the people that walk by and they all shout to me that his lemonade is delicious. It was great getting to know a little bit more about this local and it gave me a closer look at Harlem culture, which is like his lemonade- sweet and refreshing.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What are you selling here?

Every summer on a hot day, I come out and I sell my ice tea, lemonade and pink lemonade to the public people. I come from a family that sells food for a living.

Where did these recipes come from?

These recipes came from my mom. She owned Wimps Bakery up the block, so she knows about making things that taste delicious. Her bakery was even featured on Oprah. A lot of my customer's used to go to my mother's bakery. She made amazing sweet potato pie, apple pie, bread pudding, coconut caramel cake on West 125th street.

What inspired you to start selling your lemonade to the local people of Harlem?

I was talking to my mother and one day she told me, 'You wanna make money? I'll show you how to make some money' She took a barrel that came up this high (motions at waist level) and filled it up with some regular lemonade in there and she sold the whole thing in one day. That made me think 'oh, shoot. Can I do that too?' and I've been selling it for many years ever since. My mother gave me the recipes and I've never quit selling them. I enjoy making money this way. I can come out here any time and sell juice.

I see you have more than one kind of beverage to choose from. And how do you lure people in?

It's all about the taste. The people here in Harlem know that when they come to me, they are going to get an ice-cold drink that tastes delicious. It's all about the taste, so they keep coming back. I sell regular lemonade, iced tea and pink lemonade.

Where do you make these beverages?

I made them where I work at the Lenox Lounge on west 125th street. I usually sell my lemonade right around there. I move around the area a lot though.

Photo: Michele Wolfson

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