Lenox Coffee: Bringing Coffee Culture to Harlem

Opening a new business can no doubt be a challenge, but if that business has always been one of your goals in life, no matter what challenge comes your way, you’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

After much research followed by even more toil, Aaron Baird and Jeff Green opened Lenox Coffee on 129th and Lenox Ave last December. Open for nearly 6 months now and working past the normal headaches that come with opening your first business, Lenox Coffee has become a beloved neighborhood spot for coffee in Central Harlem.

The shops quaint and cozy atmosphere proves just what the neighborhood needed since it can always be found full of locals and even passerby tourists sipping on their signature mochas or munching on some mid-afternoon sweet treats. Artwork from Harlem artists can be seen adorning the walls, which only furthers their growing sense of community attachment.

We caught up with owner Aaron Baird to see how business was holding up and for more insight into their Harlem story.

How’s it going?

Business has been good, pretty laid back…easy going. It’s coffee not brain surgery!

Tell me more about your story?

I’m a classical bass player and I had a job in Germany playing in an orchestra. Didn’t really like my job, so I came back to NY and got into real estate since all my other actor, artist, and musician friends were doing it. I pulled Jeff (Green) into this. We met in music school and became friends. And it was the same deal with him; he was in Sweden playing in an orchestra there, he also wanted to make more money so I got him into real estate with me here in New York. My landlords at this building wanted a coffee shop so we decided on that. It was more of my goal to open a coffee shop but we both looked at it and did our research and decided ‘Yes, we should try this.’

I used to work in a flour bakery in Boston and that was sort of my whole inspiration for this. We don’t bake here in-house but it’s nice to be able to offer that. And really to open up a new coffee shop here in the community. There wasn’t really a great place to get coffee.

I always loved the coffeehouse idea and I always loved going to them. They’re great places for people to meet so I wanted to create a place for people to hang out. And to offer a good product. If you can’t have a good product, I don’t know how you can succeed.

Why Harlem?

Harlem is like the Wild West…it’s the last frontier. There’s nothing restaurant-wise here that you would normally find downtown. There is coffee here but not someone who really specializes in it.

What I love about it is that it’s more personal. Everyone comes in and says hi, you see a lot of regulars, you get to know everyone by name and that’s definitely something you wouldn’t see downtown. Traffic is so crazy downtown that you wouldn’t even get the chance to meet the owners or a company and say hi every time you come in and chat.

I was a little worried about it being off the corner. But it’s been great. The two buildings that surround us have been so welcoming and their customers have been our lifeline. But it’s a good location. It’s really quiet even though it’s right off of Lenox Ave which is great.

The locals have been very warm receiving, I have not had any issues. Everyone has been really awesome. Even the block association comes here and has meeting. It’s been a great mix of people, which is what we wanted.

What have you learned opening your first business?

I think we should’ve been a reality tv show! I wish I would’ve had mini cameras just documenting everything and I would’ve made millions off of it. From getting the space, to dealing with the contractor, and all of the permits and inspections…it’s a lot for a first-time small business owner to handle.

But overall, I really had a good first day when we opened. We got the word out to the neighbors and everyone was very welcoming, and they’ve been coming back since, which is what we hoped for.

Coffee is such a social activity. Tell me about some of your fondest memories over coffee.

I have so many memories with coffee! When I lived in Europe, it was everywhere. Every city or country I traveled to has a different coffee story and coffee culture. There’s not one story in particular, but I definitely experienced coffee in a different way everywhere I went. For example, when I went to the Middle East, the whole coffee experience is so different there compared to here. I don’t have one particular story but drinking coffee is purely social to me.

One tidbit is that my mom always drinks her coffee watered down, but when she came to visit me here at the shop she drank it as is, which made me feel good! And I will say that I do have to make it every morning. I’m addicted. It’s a must-have for every day. I tried being off of coffee for a whole month and a half and I was a totally different person, I didn’t like it.

Photos: Cyndi Amaya