70 years ago in The Villager


By Jenna Greditor

Volume 73, Number 24 | October 15 – 21, 2003

Mud offers coffee fans a break from usual grind

Wake up and smell the coffee. The familiar orange Mudtruck on Astor Pl. — where two Starbucks loom — now has an official stomping ground, the Mudspot. While the metal, suspended “MUD” sign on Second Ave. and Ninth St. — where yet a third Starbucks dwells — leads Villagers to the aroma of rich coffee, it’s the brick-walled interior chock full of orange shams, curtains and sunflowers extending to an outdoor garden that entices them to stay.

The fourth outpost to sell the family business’s three-bean recipe, The Mudspot opened two weeks ago. It attracts Mudtruck’s typical student and local following that craves caffeine and light fare that tastes gourmet but sells for one-third the price of the omnipresent Starbucks.

“Around here, every tenth person is someone who has visited the truck,” said co-owner Greg Northrop, who often beckons hesitant passersby to come inside. “I’m in more debt now than ever and there’s more pressure, but by keeping on making friends with our customers, I keep my faith in the project. I guess we’re sort of nonprofit and I think we’ll attract the crowd we’d like to attract.”

Northrop, an East Villager more passionate about his former band, Back of the Bus, than his public relations studies, married Nina Berott, a Hamburg hippie with a knack for advertising. After quitting corporate America, the couple hatched a revolutionary brainchild — crusading against corporate giants like Starbucks from inside two converted Con Ed repair trucks reminiscent of ’60s Volkswagens.

Former ice cream truck builder and vendor Patrick Jankoritis helped Northrop paint the trucks and customize both interiors with stereos, coffeemakers and grills. Jankoritis has worked the Wall St. Mudtruck, the second one they got up and running, each weekday since March 2003.

Three years after refurbishing the first truck as well as opening a Mud coffee bar at the original Kiehl’s beauty products store on Third Ave. at 13th St., the bearded Northrop still sports his pirate-esque bandanna and hoop earring, although he has fine-tuned his rock-star spirit. “My band has become my family,” he said. “As bandleader, I had to get the gigs; this is our gig.”

Between swapping shifts at the Mudtruck on Astor and tracking business at the Mud in Kiehl’s, Northrop and Berott stop into the Mudspot. Pausing from singing to Tracy Chapman tunes droning on the café’s stereo Saturday evening, Berott nudged alongside a newly hooked counter-dweller. “You’re staying — right on,” Berott said with a slight German twang. “While the trucks are great, we finally have a place to settle down and really talk to people and chill.”

Favoring patrons who prefer to settle down for a while, the Mudspot offers only 16-ounce Big Mud cups for $2. (The trucks offer both the $2 Big Mud cups and 10-ounce cups for $1). Patrons who stay receive blue ceramic Mud mugs, while those to-go get paper cups. Either way, their signature dark roast loses bitterness with milk and suggests chocolate with sugar.

Beyond cost and taste, East Villagers also comment that Mud offers an intimate setting that surpasses Starbucks. “We went to Starbucks first, but it was crowded,” Cheryl Chan, 21, said in between sipping her java and reading for a college class. “There’s a more personable feel here. It’s inexpensive, convenient, you don’t have to wait long and the coffee’s fresh.”

Northrop’s Italian grandmother, who called her thick coffee “Mud,” coined the name of the brew and business, and most of the menu is as homespun as the café’s feel. Berott’s grandma conceived the recipe for Mud’s warm streusel fruit pizza ($3), while Northrop’s dad, a chef from Waterbury, Conn., taught the Mud chef the art of his fritattas.

The menu includes breakfast items like prosicutto, basil and parmesan served with warm bread ($7.95), a variety of sandwiches and salads for lunch and about eight dishes of comfort food for dinner. The owners also intend to throw a weekly chef’s night complemented by free-flowing wine: A visiting chef (one being Northrop’s father) will prepare a four-course, family-style dinner of his choosing. When patrons feel sated with wine, they’ll simply turn over their glasses. “It’s gonna be an institution for this place,” said Berott. “I believe.”

As the couple finalizes the Mudspot details, the growing business for now is fixed at four spots, though the idea of expanding to Amsterdam sparks a twinkle in Northrop’s eye. In the meantime, out-of-towners regularly contact Northrop and Berott through e-mail — what the duo terms “Mudmail” on their Web site — requesting franchise information to sell Mud beans independently. “Which is fine by me if they’re inspired,” said Northrop. “After all, we’re all connected to caffeine.”

Mudspot, 307 E. Ninth St., 212-228-9074.

Villager photo by Akiko Miyazaki

Nina Berott behind the counter at Mudspot.

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