A Brooklyn coffee shop built a community within its residential neighborhood amid the COVID-19 pandemic despite opening right before the shutdowns.
Nigel Price has always been a fan of pour-over coffee. He ran a coffee stand where he would move around the city selling manual pour-over coffee to New Yorkers on the street and at farmer’s markets. Over time, Price wanted to see if opening a physical location would be something that New Yorkers would be interested in.
“I wanted to do a proof of concept. The process of pour-over coffee and making coffee by the cup, wanted to see if it would catch on and if people would wait 2-3 minutes for their coffee,” said Price. “It’s not new, it’s done in countries in Asia. It’s been done for the past decade or so, but in New York City it hasn’t really caught on. Specialty coffee seems to be working, a lot of bigger brands aided in that. If it wasn’t for them starting to open the door for it, we wouldn’t be able to expose customers to more specialty coffee.”
Price opened the first brick and mortar Drip Coffee Makers location in Brooklyn on Jan. 20, 2020. The shop offers a variety of pour-over brews to sip on while you go about your morning, as well as packages of specialty coffee for purchase to bring home.
Unfortunately, like many businesses in New York City, Drip Coffee Makers had to shift gears in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was devastating in the sense of I spent 12 years preparing for this moment,” said Price. “Having to close, also navigating the thoughts of, am I able to and can I actually afford to stay open, I attribute a lot of it to luck.”
When opening the shop initially, Price sought out areas that we not necessarily high-traffic sections of New York City. Price had the intention of building a clientele over time rather than relying on foot traffic, though with the shutdowns Price began to question that decision a little.
However, with everyone working at home, people who lived nearby the Drip Coffee Makers shop would come by and grab a cup of coffee, which gave Price more of a drive to keep the shop going.
“A lot of people in the coffee industry in Manhattan or Brooklyn were struggling,” said Price. “Because my shop is in a residential area, I had people who quarantining who needed to get out. They would get coffee and chat for a little bit. Even if I wanted to close, I felt like I couldn’t — I felt like I had to be there.”
Throughout the summer, Price kept the store afloat by himself because he could not afford to hire a staff. Having worked 12-hour days seven days a week for months, Price saw what his interactions with his customers meant to them during those months of uncertainty.
“From January to August, I couldn’t afford to hire a staff. I literally just had a conversation with someone who told me what shop meant to her at the time,” said Price. “As exhausting as it was, I felt obligated to do it. It was an outlet, even if it was a short respite from reality or a coping mechanism. We would put those issues aside because this shop became more than coffee for people, it became a hub. I don’t work as much as I used to in the shop, but if I sit out there, they know me. And it’s not just the typical coffee shop banter — I can recall if they got that job they wanted or if someone’s mom got better or if they have gotten over the death of a loved one. “
Business was steady enough for Drip Coffee Makers that the bills could be pay, but Price did not really take a salary despite all of the hours he put in. Looking back, Price is glad that he didn’t open his shop sooner.
“If I had to speculate, the 12 years leading up to 2020 I probably could have opened a place a lot sooner if I took loans. Initially as difficult as it was to borrow money, I’m so glad they made it almost impossible to take a loan. I’d rather save the money, do it on my own, do it on a tight shoestring budget,” said Price. “That was the reason I was able to sustain during the pandemic. I couldn’t imagine paying loans and interest, and the predatory behavior at beginning of COVID, I don’t think we would have survived. I can come out on the other end because I didn’t have a heavy constraining budget, and I didn’t have to pay investors or bank loans.”
Price now has a staff he can rely on to run the Brooklyn shop, and there are plans to open another Brooklyn store this year. Though it’s hard to predict what the future of Drop Coffee Makers will look like, Price hopes to continue building his community slowly but take on some new opportunities that they arise.
“Not in a million years did I think I’d be as successful in an industry recognizing what I was trying to do,” said Price. “I’d like to take the next few years to slow down. I have no aspirations for x amount of stores by 2025. I would have been content with one shop, but so many opportunities presented themselves because of the community I created, there were a few things I couldn’t say no to.”
Drip Coffee Makers is located at 12 Belvidere Street in Brooklyn. For more information, visit www.dripcoffeenyc.com.