What do you do as a classical violinist and a Ph.D. candidate in Art History in New York City? Open a Harlem-based coffee shop!
Andrew Ding and Karen Cantor, proprietors of The Chipped Cup, both were supporting themselves in their not-so-lucrative career choices as real estate agents and met when they worked for the same company. They learned about the shop’s basement location through work.
When they opened two years ago, there were no other comparable businesses around (and The Chipped Cup is still without company). They transformed the small, initially unappealing, space with a garden with the help of family and friends. Cantor notes that, “making the space usable required lots of sweat equity.”
They knew that the neighborhood had an under-served coffee shop population including students, artists, healthcare workers, Broadway performers, screenwriters and instrumentalists.
Mark Blackman, a regular customer, said that, “This is the best thing that has happened to the neighborhood. I’ve come here since it opened. There was no place to hang out, work, and meet people.”
Cantor was inspired by her grandmother’s attic. Many of the tchotchkes you see around the shop are from there. “I was fortunate that she let me pick through her things. I liked the sense of whimsy they provided.”
The Chipped Cup boasts the coziness of visiting your grandmother’s place, yet the lack of perfection you see in Edward Gorey’s work, hence the name The Chipped Cup. There are individual table settings, but most of the seating is communal. It has many outlets so you can plug in your device of choice and hang out as long as you need to.
As coffee enthusiasts, Ding and Cantor sampled different providers in the New York City area. They looked for the best coffee they could find and settled on Counter Culture Coffee. While it is a sustainable brand, they were most concerned with both taste and the providers’ ability to train businesses to make the coffee well. It looks like the baristas effortlessly pull shots of coffee, however, Ding says “it is surprisingly difficult to do. Counter Culture Coffee has trained us to do that consistently.”
The Chipped Cup also serves food featuring Harlem’s kosher baker Susan Sez. Notable pastry choices are sumptuous versions of croissants and pecan rolls. Ding and Cantor hope to expand the menu to include paninis.
The coffee shop is also home to many Co-Op board meetings and other ways for the public to use the space. It hosts a monthly open mics, local musicians perform there, and Harlem Independent Theater hosts movie screenings there.
“This is your living room,” Ding says. “This is not about social change. It’s a place where people can come and socialize. It’s a coffee shop!”