Soho cafe trying to find its niche
Elisa Cecola opened her cafe, Petal Belle, in SoHo last July. (Photo by Marie Claire Andrea)
By Lana Bortolot
Special to amNewYork
When Elisa Cecola opened Petal Belle, her SoHo cafe, she knew only two things for sure: she wanted to serve good coffee and she wanted to live above her restaurant in the style of old-world Europeans.
Cecola, a Philadelphian, married into one of New Yorks famed restaurant families: Lombardis Pizza. She and her husband, Michael, managed Lombardis Philadelphia pizzeria for seven years, and relocated to Manhattan when that restaurant closed. Though Michael Cecola returned to the family business, Elisa Cecola wanted something of her own, where she could combine good cafe fare, neighborhood vibe and a European aesthetic. She had dabbled in real estate development, and had a background as a medical assistant, but sought something more creative.
I didnt want to open just another spot, she said. I wanted it to be a conscious decision. When she and her husband found the tiny spota former fish storeon the corner of Sullivan and Houston streets, she saw the potential for a charming place for local residents, artists, tourists and coffee connoisseurs. The makeover included restoring the exposed brick walls and installing tiny bistro tables and an antique counter.
The cafe opened in July featuring organic coffee roasted in Philadelphia, pastries sourced from local purveyors, fresh panini and Lieges, small Belgian waffles commonly eaten like street sweets out of the bag. The latter two have become Petal Belle specialties and the cafÃ© is becoming known for its cappuccino with its extra-fine microfoam.Cecola says plans for the cafe are still evolving: like many other small business owners, shes holding her breath during the current economic downturn and curtailing expansion plans. The cafe hits its numbers on the weekends with increased traffic from tourists and during the week serves the local morning-coffee clientele.
Some days its tough to be in here, but we knew we were hitting a rough patch at a time where everyone is hurting, she said. She has a 10-year lease on the store and hopes that after a full year of business, shell know how and where to expand her offerings.
Coffee is somewhat recession-proof. People will come out to meet for coffee even when theyre not spending $50 on a meal, she said. But we cant make the rent on just cappuccino.
Shed like to open the walls up to local artists for display and host gallery openings, and at some point, host on-site art classes, live music or readings in the spirit of a European salon. For now, though, Cecola is concentrating on building a clientele to see the cafÃ© through the winter and spring.
We didnt have a goal for the first year. I was more about the aesthetics and having a comfortable place for people to enjoy.