How One Brooklyn Coffee Shop Survived the Pandemic

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May 14, 2022

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(BROOKLYN, N.Y.) — It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on small businesses. 

According to a study done by Yelp, published in September 2020, at least 7,100 businesses in New York City closed and roughly 2,000 shuttered in Brooklyn. While keeping doors open amid the ongoing global health crisis has been challenging, Prospect Lefferts Gardens Coffee House and Tavern, a Black-owned cafe in Flatbush has managed to stay afloat. 

Like most business owners in the food industry, the global health crisis presented challenges, forcing PLG to get creative. 

While the restaurant never closed, Grimshaw said they amended hours and “started selling electronic gift cards.” 

“People were just buying them like crazy. The redemption rate now, it’s been less than 25%. It’s been a way for people to invest in the shop almost. It’s beautiful. It was a nice gesture and felt really good. It helped us out in the early days especially when no one really knew what was going on.” 

Grimshaw explained that in addition to offering electronic gift cards, the shop opened a patio area and became available for delivery — something he was anxious about. However, despite the delivery fees, Grimshaw said people continued to support PLG. “It was amazing.” 

Now, Grimshaw said business is “the best” it’s been.

“The cash flow is good. With two patios now, with everyone has been cooped up the few nice days that we’ve had the sales have been like summer sales. The extra patio combined with the delivery — the sales have been the best they’ve ever been. Every year over the last five years, except for 2020 and part of 2021— every year it’s gone up. Hopefully we continue on that trend.” PLG also received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help pay the salaries of its nine employees.  

Nestled on the corner of Rogers Ave, the coffee house and tavern is a Brooklyn staple. It’s everything you’d expect a local business to be — colorful, welcoming and distinct. When standing outside of the eatery, a message of kindness is clear as the establishment is decorated with hearts and peace signs. 

PLG is small, but mighty. The eatery can fit about 50 people and offers outdoor seating on and near the sidewalk. The environment is ideal for working. It’s not too loud and the sound of blending and brewing behind the counter is subtle. They even have a printer for their work-from-cafe customers. Inside, you’ll find an array of people — some on their laptops with headphones and others catching up over a chai latte. It’s a place that feels familiar with a brick interior and wood furniture. The walls are adorned with artwork made by locals, and the board menu is hand drawn in color chalk. 

“For lunch, our turkey avocado sandwich is a favorite. Like a bestseller,” owner Chris Grimshaw told The Click, adding that patrons also enjoy the reuben and the freshly cured corned beef. 

Patrons can also enjoy breakfast sandwiches, like bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel or croissant. The menu also includes a tuna melt, greek salad, organic smoothies, hot chocolate, cappuccinos, and espressos. 

“PLG Coffee House is a safe haven,” customer and Brooklyn resident Mikey Watkins said. “It’s exactly what I’d want out of a neighborhood cafe. Not only does it provide yummy coffee and delicious food, but the environment is truly the perfect place to work and socialize.” 

Yelp reviewer Jessica S. said: “My husband and I love eating at PLG. Their food is always fresh, great portions and healthy… Once you try food off the menu you will be a forever customer.” She adds: “The only downside is that the morning time rush can delay the way time for your food delivery.” 

Joseph Amari, a barista and kitchen cook, echoed similar sentiments, sharing: “PLG is a family.” 

“I love working with the staff. They make life easy and make work fun,” Amari — who will mark his fifth work anniversary with PLG this year — said. “The customers are amazing. Our regulars are amazing. That’s why I’ve been here all this time.” 

PLG’s mission of love is instilled in the foundation of the business. The cafe, which was originally called Gratitude Cafe, was previously owned by married couple Annalisa Riordan and Rich Otto. 

Before moving to Ireland, the couple announced on Facebook that they were looking to sell their restaurant to locals who will keep PLG’s vibrant spirit alive. 

“We originally created PLG (Gratitude Café) with the aim of giving the community a place to meet and share their joys and grief over good food. But it became so much more than just a café — it has become the anchor of Rogers Avenue,” the couple wrote on Facebook in 2017. Before we attempt to sell the cafe through a broker or real estate agent, we are putting it out there with the hope of finding a local family or entrepreneur who is interested in sustaining with love, and a bit of obsession, the thriving cafe we’ve created.” 

A short time after, the shop was sold to Grimshaw, who had worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years. 

“I’ve only been in New York for a couple years, but PLG has a place in my heart. From what people have told me it’s just as special as before, and now black-owned,” regular Yodit Bitsuamlak said. 

Asked what inspired him to buy the cafe, Grimshaw said, “I used to go there. I liked it. They [ the former owners] were good people.”  And, he continued,  “I love the neighborhood,” adding that the area is reminiscent of Hyde Park “where I’m from in Chicago.” 

“It has a small town feel to it — especially where the cafe is. I know so many people. It’s nice, you walk down the street, you’re like ‘Hey!’ You are first name basis with so many people. It’s a really nice sense of community — especially with the pandemic.” 

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