But first ... coffee
When I last spoke to Erol Zeren, it was 2020 BC (Before Covid). He'd just qualified as an air steward and was living his boyhood dream – 30,000 feet above Hell's Kitchen. Plus, his coffee shop had just been voted a reader favorite in our Best of 2020 awards.
“I've always been fascinated with flight,” he said, “with airplanes, anything that has to do with aviation. And flight attendants, for some reason, used to fascinate me when I was young. I used to stare at them and say, ‘You know what? I want to do that.’”
The co-founder of Kahve (there are two locations – on 9th Ave - 52nd/53rd St and 10th Ave - 47th St) decided to apply for the job for fun. What was the worst that could happen, right? To his surprise, they called him for an interview and offered him the job. Until the shutdown, he combined the two roles, serving customers on the ground for one half of the month, and others in the sky for the rest.
“For me, it's about the traveling,” he said. “I also love meeting new people. I'm doing the same thing I do in Kahve, but now I'm doing it 30,000 feet up in the air.
“And it's fun. When I put on that uniform, I feel so good. I'm loving every second of it.”
But since NY Pause came into force, he's hung up his wings for the time being and turned his focus back on coffee.
"My scheduled has changed completely,"he says. "I've taken a leave from flying at the moment – I need to be here for Kahve. When things pick up, I’ll be able to return to the friendly skies. I’m very fortunate to have an amazing company to work for that is allowing me to do this leave and then return.
Human beings are great people. I’ve always loved my customers, but now I’m seeing a different side of them that brings a tear to my eye.
"Alex and myself are now working double shifts, 8am-6pm, seven days a week. We're lucky to have Mark, Alex's boyfriend, to help us out with baking and cooking."
As well as all the usual caffeine suspects, Kahve sells 30 varieties of loose-leaf tea, breakfast snacks, and a rotating menu of trending beverages. “We added new things like chai lattes, almond chais, raspberry lattes, lavender. Every season, we change our menu. People went crazy when they would see a lavender-based latte with almond milk.
“We do turmeric-based lattes, and butter lattes. And I think we're the only coffee shop in the country that does not charge for almond, soy, and oat. It's complementary."
They also recently secured a liquor license.
"We're trying to keep as many employees as possible to retain some normalcy, but business has decreased over 50%. We’ve been providing mainly to the local hospitals/police officials/ and health care heroes – we're glad to be open even just for them. And the community has been AMAZING, setting up a Go Fund Me for our staff and needs.
"Although we're not making money, we’re keeping sane and we’re keeping the business alive. We’ve worked too hard to let it go, and failure is not an option. All these loans and grants you hear about are not as easy to get as you may think."
He's been looking after his health, working out at home every morning before work, and taking "long baths every night after a long shift. This helps tremendously," he says. "Those cheap Walgreens facials have become my daily ritual as well. They really do work."
He's learned to no longer take anything for granted. "I’ve always known this," he says. "But now I’ve learned to really appreciate everything. Human beings are great people. I’ve always loved my customers, but now I’m seeing a different side of them that brings a tear to my eye. I’ve met more people by name in the past three weeks than in the past ten hears. Everyone who comes in lately is always happy to see us and smiling – a rare view of a typical NYC coffee shop in Midtown."
And his message for Kahve customers?
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