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If there's a cultural institution for New Yorkers, it has to be their coffee. You can find a shop on nearly every block, and most pride themselves on getting customers just what they want in a New York minute. But, a couple of Aussies are taking over the coffee scene in NYC.
Yes, Justin Giuffrida and Andrew Geisel have been on a mission since 2015 to bring the best of Down Under coffee culture to The Big Apple. They opened their first shop called Citizens in Chelsea, followed by a Gramercy and Bleecker Street location with the same name. Now, the duo is doubling down on its unique model of growth with its latest addition to the family: Citizens of Soho. The new store (debuting end of January) is right behind the famed La Esquina, and they will be the new kids on the iconic "corner" block.
We were able to catch up with Justin Giuffrida ahead of the opening to find out how they're shaking up the coffee culture and what we can expect next from the entrepreneurial team.
Departures: How did the concept for Citizens come to be?
Justin Giuffrida: "When we came to New York and met Andrew, and I noticed that there was a gap in the coffee market compared to what we have in Australia."
And what did you notice was missing?
"I think it's social. Coffee here has almost been for medicinal purposes, meaning that it's about getting as much caffeine in your system. In Australia, it's about creating a friendly, social environment. We literally take a break at work to chat with meet up with a colleague and sit down to have a coffee. And the hospitality was almost nonexistent here in New York. The baristas in Australia go beyond the transaction and build a relationship. Your café is the pillar of your community, whether it's at work or whether it's in your neighborhood. So, Citizens' culture is about having good coffee but getting to know the person behind it."
Do you train your staff in a particular way to make sure that comes to life in your shops?
"I think in any job, especially in hospitality, there's two components of what you need to do. There's a service component, which means that's the technical act of making coffee. Then there's the hospitality. And it's that half that makes you feel a part of this community. Training for us starts with finding people who naturally embody hospitality. So, we look for people that are naturally hospitable and then we teach them all the other technical components that they would need to know. It's very hard to teach someone hospitality."
Were you nervous about bringing this concept to the New York market?
"Not really. We've seen it work before, and you shouldn't be afraid to innovate and to change things up."
You just opened a new shop and have another one opening this month. What's your reaction to the quick expansion?
"We are just so excited for what's ahead. Citizens has some kind of recipe that's working. But, part of that is tapping into the unique communities. What's so funny about New York is that it's one city, but there are individual communities and neighborhoods, each with its own personality. We want to respect every community and look at each shop like a family member. Chelsea is edgy and artistic, while Gramercy is the more traditional cousin. So, we want to change little bits of the concept to match that community."
Do you have any plans to expand beyond New York?
"We do. We've honed in on San Diego as our next spot."
Well, now you can change the coffee culture in Southern California too!