Richard Nieto opened Sweetleaf in 2008, but it took the now-popular biz about four years to become profitable, he said. Nieto has since opened two more locations – one in Long Island City on Center Boulevard and another in Williamsburg on Kent Avenue. “We don’t want to be the best option in the neighborhood, we want to be the best option period,” said the 40-year-old who was born and raised in Flushing. Some of the cozy shop’s signature drinks include a strawberry iced tea and Voodoo Child, a Vietnamese creamy cold brew.
Why did you choose Long Island City to open up shop?
We wanted to be in the neighborhood because we believed there was going to be a lot of development coming. It was an underserved part of Queens and it felt like home. I’ve been working summers here since I was 12 and I would come to hang out. I spent of most of my life here.
What is your favorite memory of the neighborhood?
We used to like to go up around the rooftops in the neighborhood or down by the waterfront and take in the Fourth of July fireworks. There would be thousands of people around the neighborhood. It was crazy because back then it wasn’t as populated as it is now, so to see that amount of people there was like Times Square. So I’m really excited about the fireworks coming back to the East River.
What do you see happening here in 10 to 20 years?
The entire waterfront is going to be different; it has already begun, and will continue. It’s going to mirror the front row of the buildings you see in Manhattan. But I’m hoping that somehow they come up with a way to have a walking bridge in 10 to 20 years to bike over or walk over from Manhattan; it’s not a far distance. To be able to avoid the trains or take a bike would be spectacular.