A social club by and for people of color is positioning itself to become a "cultural anchor" in East Williamsburg.
When it opens its doors in November, Ethel’s Club, at 315 Meserole St., will feature working office space, a wellness room with on-site therapists, a podcast studio, a cafe with coffee produced in Africa, and programming, from speaker series to monthly suppers with chefs and more.
Everything, from the décor to the food, is made by people of color and every service and program at Ethel’s will feature them, too, according to Naj Austin, the 28-year-old founder and CEO.
"People are looking to put their dollar somewhere that resonates beyond the product they’re receiving," she told amNewYork on Monday. "I’ve had a lot of conversations with other people of color about how the world we live in is a white one. There aren’t many places in which like-minded people are tethered together — by their race, identity or ethnicity — to be around another. There’s not a space that centers around that."
The social club is named after Austin’s grandmother, Ethel, who was a force in her own community and created welcoming, inclusive spaces like the social club, just without the fancy title, Austin said.
"It’s important that as a safe space, we make room for socializing and fun but also self-empowerment and personal discovery," she added. "Many people of color are specifically looking to work with practitioners and therapists of color, who are incredibly difficult to find."
Ethel’s Club is one of the first companies to move into The Breeze, a Hudson Companies’ office and retail space, which includes three contiguous industrial buildings. Hudson Companies renovated the space and opened up a passageway between two of them and put the extra floor space on the rooftop, which has just been leased to the team behind the Lavender Lake bar and restaurant in Gowanus.
Aura Cocina, Native Bread & Pastry are also signed on to open there this fall.
"When Naj came in to meet with us, I was personally blown away by what she said — how carefully she thought about the business plan, the way she described the need for people of color, how Ethel’s already had angel investors … it all seemed to be coming together." Alison Novak, a principal of Hudson Companies said. "She’s bringing a young, fresh voice and bringing something that doesn’t exist in the neighborhood."
With an opening date tentatively scheduled for Nov. 4, Ethel’s Club already has a waitlist of 4,000 people, Austin said. And with so much interest, she’s already thinking about the club’s expansion around the city and nationally.
"Trying to get the attention of New Yorkers is really hard because there are one billion things going on," she said. "But I think that if you can make something successful in New York, you’re likely to have success elsewhere."
Membership to Ethel’s Club comes in two tiers: The House membership at $195 per month or an annual due of $2,100 (includes full access to the space and all its amenities, programming, exclusive digital content and deals with local partners), and a Culture membership at $65 per month or an annual due of $600, which is geared exclusively toward access to after-hours and weekend programming and events.